Author Topic: The Story of Timothy Murphy?  (Read 918 times)

Offline TaosGlock

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The Story of Timothy Murphy?
« on: August 19, 2017, 12:33:05 PM »

We all love this story.  We tell it with passion how one man, known as "The Rifleman", changed the entire course of the Revolutionary War.

On the other hand, this is often a ridiculously embellished story around the inter-web “gun” forums and even marksmanship schools. Everything from 500 yard shots to one shot one kill kind of stuff.
I have read most of them and this one below seems the most realistic.

Here is the guts of the story as told by Kris Kyle from The 6/2013 American Rifleman:

Spotting the British general’s success at marshalling his troops for a final attack, Gen. Benedict Arnold, then considered the finest officer in the American army and George Washington’s anointed favorite general, called out to Daniel Morgan, commander of an elite brigade of Virginia riflemen: “That man on the grey horse is a host unto himself and must be disposed of—direct the attention of some of the sharpshooters amongst your riflemen to him!”

Colonel Morgan then said to Murphy, one of his finest marksmen, “That gallant officer is General Fraser. I admire him, but it is necessary that he should die. Do your duty.”
From his shooting perch in a tree, Murphy pointed his flintlock longrifle at the general, riding on a hill some 300 yards away, and squeezed the trigger.

The British had never heard of such behavior as the deliberate targeting of officers, and they were totally shocked. To them it seemed repulsive, very un-European and a tactic born of sheer cowardice. But their leaders like Fraser had not fully absorbed the implications of the tactic, and on this day on the battlefield at Saratoga, Fraser was a sitting duck, out in the open, and he had fallen into the gun-sight picture of Timothy Murphy’s eye.

The British general could actually see Murphy in his distant sniper post in the tree, but at 300 yards away he probably felt in little danger. His own troops, for example, were armed mainly with British Army regulation .75-cal. “Brown Bess” muskets, which—because of their quicker-loading smooth bores—usually couldn’t hit much past 80 yards on purpose.
Murphy’s bullet missed. Instead of hitting Gen. Fraser, it lightly nicked his horse. Murphy, who reportedly was armed with a rare handmade double-barreled rifle, would have pulled a catch to flip up the pre-loaded bottom barrel. He would have performed a quick series of complex mental calculations, trying to adjust his aim for wind, elevation, and for the inevitable vertical and lateral drift of the bullet, which at that far distance could be severe.

The American sniper fired again. The second bullet missed, again clipping the general’s horse. At that point, Murphy either would have paused to begin the time-consuming process of reloading his flintlock longrifle, which even for a crack shot like Murphy could have taken as long as 30 seconds, or more likely, someone would have passed him up another, pre-loaded longrifle.
In any event, Sgt. Timothy Murphy lined up his target for his third attempt. The fate of the United States of America hung in the balance. He squeezed the trigger. The bullet flew.

Sgt. Timothy Murphy’s third shot found its target. It squarely hit British Gen. Simon Fraser in his belly, who probably never dreamed he was in danger of being shot from so far away, at least not 300 yards. Murphy’s bullet created one of the most painful of battle injuries, a stomach wound. As he lay dying, Fraser spoke of seeing the American rifleman who shot him, far off in the distance.
When they saw their leader fall and get dragged off the battlefield, British troops panicked, broke ranks and soon fell back in retreat. The tide of battle was reversed. The loss of Gen. Fraser, explained his boss, Gen. Burgoyne, “helped to turn the fate of the day.” Ten days later, he and 6,000 British troops surrendered to the Americans, handing them a spectacular victory.

The American triumph at Saratoga, the first time the rebels beat the British in a set-piece battle, stopped the British plan to sever the rebellious Colonies in two. And in Paris, the French ministers of government were so impressed that they soon decided to formally enter the war on the American side, a development most historians now believe meant that from that moment on, in the long run, the war was essentially won, or at least the chances of defeat were radically reduced.

So now, just when we think we have the details hammered, the whole story gets another light cast on it (see link below) from another source that suggests that “However, the story of his shooting of Fraser, like the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, is not history.  The real story of Timothy Murphy is the story of the power of the written word.”

This article was written just a few months before the Kris Kyle version:

Interesting indeed.

« Last Edit: August 19, 2017, 01:29:39 PM by TaosGlock »
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Offline hogfamily

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Re: The Story of Timothy Murphy?
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2017, 02:49:33 PM »
I don't recall the sources at the moment, (I will find them later), of the versions of TM that I have read.

The stories were similar to the above and each other but different enough, written at different times, all with primary sources, to lead me to believe that they were not just copies of each other. One that I read cited a British officer's diary that was more recently found in England that described the event as he claimed he was there. He wrote that a few days after he paced the distance and if I recall it was nearly 300 yds. The officer also said that three shots were fired.

I recall that TMs rifle was a double rifle that he had custom built.

I have come to the conclusion, from reading a lot of the articles in the JAR, that some of them are more opinion that fact.

It is a good thing that we research the history that we tell as it is quite easy for folks to google. If we don't tell the story with the most recent historical facts as we possibly can our credibility will be questioned.

An example of AS history that gets oft repeated that has no basis in fact is that Margaret Gage is responsible for reveling Gage's plans to march to Concord and that they were estranged after Gage returned to England.

If there is any doubt to the story that I am telling I always preface it with "The legend", "One version of the story", "It is believed that", etc.
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Offline Rocket Man

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Re: The Story of Timothy Murphy?
« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2017, 01:52:38 AM »
I'm away from my sources at the moment, but this is retold in "The Life of Daniel Morgan," which adds two important and credible details.

First, Timothy Murphy's own personal rifle was a double.  However at Bemis Heights he borrowed a more accurate rifle from one of his fellows.

Second, there were four shots, not three.  After finally anchoring General Fraser, he remained, and managed to pick off Sir Francis Clerke, Fraser's aide-de-camp, in a single shot (having now doped the shot).  Although interestingly divers sources do not agree whether Clerke was killed instantly or lived long enough to be captured before expiring. 

One of the things I find entertaining is that the contemporaries really didn't think riflery was all that special.  It bedeviled the British -- they went to extraordinary lengths to recreate our success with riflemen (see Maj. Patrick Ferguson and his very expensive regiment) -- whereas for our side, it was just part of doing business.  See for instance this announcement from General Washington to his army, celebrating the good news.

Whatever really happened that day, Murphy got it done.  I find the tale remarkable but entirely believable. 

... if ever a mistaken complaisance leads them to sacrifice their privileges, or the well-meaning assertors of them, they will deserve bondage, and soon will find themselves in chains. -- Joseph Warren (anon)

Offline hogfamily

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Re: The Story of Timothy Murphy?
« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2017, 04:58:55 AM »
You are correct about a total of four shots. The three shots that were referred to in the British officers diary were the shots taken at Fraser.

The sources that I have do say that TM did use his double rifle for the first two shots and was then handed another rifle(s) for the other shots.

The British did also have riflemen / sharpshooters. They also did practice marksmanship with their Brown Bess. They did not turn their heads when they fired as some like to claim.

Some folks also believe that the British did not aim the BB which is not true. The order "Present" meant to shoulder their firelocks and aim.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2017, 05:05:08 AM by hogfamily »
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