This Month in History – May 13, 1919: Traveling Home from War


On May 13, 1919, a World War I soldier, Private Hugh Tate Murphy, used this ticket to travel from Camp Lee in Petersburg, Virginia to Wilmington. Murphy had received an honorable discharge from the service the day before he traveled home. The Wilmington Morning Star reported that Murphy had been “…cited for bravery in the St. Mihiel fight, and although he was in the thick of things for several months, came out without a scratch.” 

During the war, Murphy was a private in Co. A., 117th Engineers, 42nd Division. The 42nd was known as the Rainbow Division.  The division got their rainbow nickname when Colonel Douglas MacArthur declared “The 42nd Division stretches like a Rainbow from one end of America to the other.”  It was put together by the army from numerous states’ National Guardsmen. The idea was the Rainbows would be more ready to fight when they got to  France than new draftees or inexperienced volunteers.

Hugh T. Murphy fit the Rainbow bill—he was a private in Engineer Company A of the North Carolina National Guard and served in El Paso during the Mexican Border conflict in 1916-1917.  Although the company returned to North Carolina in late March 1917, they were kept in service rather than being mustered out.  Army officials knew the war was coming, and they wanted these already-trained troops to remain on active duty. Murphy and his company were stationed in Goldsboro and then in South Carolina in the months after war was declared in April 1917. 

In the Summer of 1917, Private Murphy was attached to the Rainbow Division and sent to New York’s newly-created Camp Mills.  Murphy was one of 19 men from Wilmington who went to France with the 117th Engineers.  The division left New York on October 18 and sailed to France. Once in Europe, after another training period, Rainbow Division members fought for months in the trenches and in more conventional battles. Men like Murphy performed a lot of different jobs in Europe. Members of the engineering companies helped build a range of different kinds of infrastructure, maintained trenches, and served as wire cutters. They also served as infantrymen in battle. Because the division was formed quickly, Murphy and his fellow division members were overseas for a comparatively long time. As one historian put it “the 42nd Division and its engineers served in France longer than all but two other American divisions and participated in the most important U.S. engagements.”  Although the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, the Rainbow Division remained in Europe, on occupation duty in Germany, until April 1919.  Murphy finally made it back to Wilmington in May 1919.

Private Murphy returned to Wilmington after the war, and worked as an electrical engineer. In the 1920s, Hugh followed his older brother Robert to Richmond. He lived the rest of his life in Virginia. Murphy suffered from some health problems in the 1930s and he turned to the Veterans Administration hospital systems for care. The VA expanded after World War I as returning soldiers – especially those who had been exposed to mustard gas and other toxins — needed specialized care after being in the war. In 1933, he was admitted to a National Home for Disabled Soldiers in Hampton, Virginia, suffering from amnesia and lapses in memory. He died on March 4, 1940 in Veterans Administration hospital at Kecoughtan, Virginia. Private Murphy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 Hugh Tate Murphy’s wartime memorabilia, including the ticket, were donated to Cape Fear Museum by his brother, Robert N. Murphy.


Previous Columns

April: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated: April 4, 1968
March: Sending Victory Mail Home
February:  Human Relations Month
January 2018:
Galloway’s Sick Note
A Ship is Launched
Election Day and a Parade
Developing the story
A soldier/artist sketches a famous dancer
Urban Renewal Takes Off
Launching Concrete River Vessel No. 5
Wilmington Meets Los Angeles
Bellamy Sails to France
World TB Day
February: David Walker is Honored with a Marker
January 2017:
Two Brothers Honored on One Memorial Stone
Holiday Gifts
A nurse comes home from war
Wartime football takes the bases by storm
Circus Day
Motorboat Racing
Celebrating Independence Day at the Beach
Wilmington Turns 200, June 21, 1939
Laura Grace Cox graduates from Tileston
Saint Marks Turns 100, April 1969
March: Troops Return Home, March 29, 1919
February: Black History Month turns 40
January: Fort Johnston and Fort Caswell are seized, January 8, 1861

Norfolk and Western Railroad ticket
Gift of Robert Murphy
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382