George Murray was only eighteen years old when he enlisted in the Union Army in August 1862. He joined the ranks of the 114th Pennsylvania regiment, which is considered one of the most famous Zouave regiments of the Civil War. Zouave (pronounced Zoo-ahve) regiments were modeled after French soldiers operating in North Africa throughout the nineteenth century. They were considered to be the elite soldiers of the French Army, and dozens of regiments in both the Union and Confederate armies modeled themselves after the Zouaves. This included adoption of the brightly colored Zouave uniforms, which often included a red fez, an open jacket with red piping, and bright red pants.
Murray spent time in and around Washington DC throughout the fall of 1862, before heading into Virginia in early November. He wrote often to his parents in Pennsylvania of the regiment's activity and the life in camp. In a letter dated December 5th, 1862, Murray complained of being unable to write due to the cold, and the despondency of his fellow soldiers after the "removal of Little Mac". Murray's first major engagement was at the Battle of Fredericksburg, just a week later. The 114th PA fought on the southern end of the battlefield at the Slaughter Pen Farm. The regiment held off a counter-attack from the Confederate forces advancing from Prospect Hill after the short-lived Union assault on their position. The short but savage fight almost resulted in a rout of Union forces, until the commander of the 114th PA, Colonel Charles Collis, took up the colors and rallied his men. The Confederate counterattack was held off, but Union forces suffered terrible casualties and a demoralizing defeat.
Murray survived the battle of Fredericksburg, and although he writes to his parents to let them know that he was "safe and sound", he did not furnish them with the details of the horrific fight. In the aftermath of the fight, his regiment served picket duty and kept close watch on the Confederates across the Rappahannock River. Murray's regiment was deployed once again at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where he was wounded on May 3rd, 1863. He was shot in his right clavicle and through his lung, and spent quite a bit of time in an army hospital. In his first letter home after his wounding Murray reassures his family that he is well, and apologizes for any mistakes with his writing, as he has to use his left hand. Murray's jacket was patched after his wounding and is on display at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center.
Murray served in the Veteran Reserve Corps after his wounding, but was reassigned to his old regiment in August 1864 and served through to the end of the war. He was formally mustered out of service at Arlington House in May 1865.
Text by Maureen Lavelle
Last updated: August 9, 2016