John Edward Murphy was born on 3 May 1869 in Ireland. He enlisted in the US Navy from New York and served in the battleship Iowa during the Spanish-American War. Coxwain Murphy was one of eight volunteer crew members of the collier Merrimac, which Rear Admiral William T. Sampson ordered sunk to block the entrance of Santiago Harbor, Cuba. On the night of 2-3 June 1898, during the courageous attempt to execute this mission, Merrimac's steering gear was disabled by enemy gunfire, and she sank without obstructing navigation. Her crewmen were rescued by the Spanish and made prisoners-of-war. After the Battle of Santiago de Cuba destroyed the Spanish fleet a month later, Murphy and his shipmates were released. For his "extraordinary heroism" during this operation, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
On 15 June 1898, while he was still in Spanish custody, Murphy was promoted to the warrant officer rank of Boatswain. In October 1898 Murphy was assigned to the battleship Oregon, which soon went to the Asiatic Station. He reported for training duty on board USS Pensacola in September 1901 and several months later began similar service in USS Constellation. In the Summer of 1903 he was assigned to the armored cruiser New York in the Pacific Squadron. Murphy was promoted to Chief Boatswain on 15 June 1904. For his last tour, he served in USS Buffalo, also in the Pacific, and was placed on the retired list on 1 August 1905. Chief Boatswain John Edward Murphy died on 9 April 1941 and is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary, San Diego, California.
This page features the only image we have concerning John E. Murphy.
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Photo #: NH 79954
USS Merrimac Operation, 3 June 1898
Halftone reproduction of a photograph, published in "Deeds of Valor," Volume II, page 370, by the Perrien-Keydel Company, Detroit, 1907. This image shows an artistic interpretation of the scuttling of USS Merrimac across the entrance of Santiago Harbor, Cuba, with portraits of her crew on this mission. The crew members from upper left to right are Lieutenant Richmond P. Hobson, Coxswain Claus K. R. Clausen (note: official sources state Clausen's first name to be Claus, not Randolph), Coxswain Osborn W. Deignan, Watertender Francis Kelly. The crew members from lower left to right are Coxswain John E. Murphy, Chief Master-At-Arms Daniel Montague, Machinist First Class George F. Phillips, and Gunner's Mate First Class George Charette. All the crew members received the Medal of Honor for this operation.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
Online Image: 87KB; 585 x 765 pixels
Medal of Honor citation of Coxswain John E. Murphy (as printed in the official publication "Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy", page 78):
Page made 3 May 2006