Sifting through last week’s books from Loyola’s Special Collections we have made another interesting find: a 1647 Roman Missal with an inscription from a Union Army Chaplain. As we dug into the inscription, we discovered a connection to a Chaplain who spent some time in the suburbs of Chicago, was present at the start of one of the most important Northern campaigns in the Civil War, and likely met a painful end.
This Missal was handed to / me in camp near Canton Miss / Where is was found how it / was obtained or by whom / I am entirely ignorant
PJR Murphy / Chaplain 58th Regt /Ill[inois] Vol[unteers]
Pastor of St Charles Ill[inois] / Feb[ruar]y 27th 1864
At first the inscription seems to lead to a dead end, stating, “where it was found how it was obtained or by whom I am wholly ignorant.” However, this inscription actually opens up a whole world of questions: who was P.J.R. Murphy? Was he Catholic? What was happening in Canton, Mississippi at this time? This questions and their answers paint a vivid picture of a moment in the life of this book took before it arrived at Loyola.
It turns out that P.J.R. Murphy was Patrick Joseph R. Murphy, a Union Army Chaplain serving in the 58th volunteer regiment of Illinois. According to a reference in Civil War: The Magazine of the Civil War Society (Vol IX, No. 2, March-April 1991), Murphy was 40 years old when he mustered and his enlistment dates spanned from 8/?/1863 to 8/13/1864. A list of “Irish Born Officers in the US Army” on Rootsweb reveals that Murphy was originally from Ireland and that his muster happened even earlier on January 21, 1863. Murphy is listed as a Roman Catholic Chaplain in the book Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains (on page 181).
Before joining the Union Cause, Murphy was the Pastor of St Patrick’s Parish in St. Charles, Illinois in 1862 and 1863. Modern day St Charles was founded on the site of an important Pottawatomie village on the Fox River forty miles west of Chicago. After the Blackhawk War in 1832, white settlers moved into the area and established a community. According to a 1975 history of St Patrick’s Parish, Catholic missionaries from Chicago and Joliet made there way out to the new settlement as early as 1833 and the first mass was celebrated in 1837. By 1851, St Patrick’s Parish had been erected and established. Murphy was only the second resident pastor of St Patrick’s.
Turning our attention to the site where Murphy received the book finds him at the start of one of the War’s most important campaigns. A search of Canton, Mississippi, during the Civil War gives us the picture of a town in the grip of war. General William Tecumseh Sherman, during his famous Meridian Campaign, left Meridian on the 20th of February 1864 and went through Canton, Mississippi. On February 24, 1864 there was a skirmish near Canton that likely stemmed from Sherman’s arrival. Three days later Chaplain Murphy received this book. According to a Regimental history, the 58th then returned to Vicksburg, from whence they had arrived on February 3rd to participate in the engagement, rather than traveling on with Sherman across the South.
How Murphy met his final end seems to be of some debate. According to the History of St Patrick’s Parish, “[s]ometime after returning to St. Patrick’s in 1863, Father Murphy fell while stepping off a train, sustaining injuries from which he later died.” The author of that work puts the date sometime between May and December 1863. But Murphy was alive in February 1864 when he received this book. The Rootsweb article states that Murphy joined the Hospital Chaplain of Volunteers on February 27, 1865 and was honorably mustered out August 21, 1865. Was his death falling from the train something that happened soon after? It appears that Murphy did not return to St Charles. Perhaps this is just a rumor that they heard?
Although we have learned a lot about this book from this single inscription we are still lacking some definitive answers to questions like: Who owned it originally? Why would someone be carrying around a two hundred year old book on a Civil War battlefield? Was it stolen? It could be that this book was taken by a Union soldier as some form of war plunder but without anything concrete this is only a guess. Finally, how did the book make it into the St Ignatius College Library in 1870? Did it travel up the river from Vicksburg to Chicago? Or did it make other stops along the way? Hopefully with your help we will get more answers to these questions. Thank you all for reading!
Jim Naughton, Project Intern