Every night for 110 years, Col. Josias R. King has stood watch in bronzed silence over St. Paul — in the dark.
With the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg approaching in July, Edward “Mike” Murphy III of St. Paul thought it was time to do something about that.
So Murphy and his family members, descendants of two Civil War soldiers who like King fought in the legendary First Minnesota regiment, are donating a lighting system to illuminate King’s 14-foot statue and its 55-foot marble column.
The City Council on Wednesday gratefully accepted the gift, estimated at $20,000 for installation of seven LED fixtures in Summit Park circling the monument at Summit Avenue and Old Kellogg Blvd., along with the cost of five years of repairs.
“It’s a wonderful, generous contribution,” City Council Member Dave Thune said.
“I’m an average citizen,” Murphy said Wednesday. “I’m not a Civil War re-enactor. I’m not what you’d call a Civil War buff. I’m just a person who thought this was the right thing to do. Our family was fortunate enough to have the resources to do it.”
Murphy’s family, a longtime St. Paul clan, founded a couple of trucking firms and currently owns Minneapolis-based Murphy Warehouse Co., the state’s largest such business.
The Murphys and the Richard Donovan family count among their ancestors Pvt. Joseph Tenner, a Swiss immigrant, and Pvt. Jeremiah Donovan, an Irish immigrant, both of whom were wounded at Gettysburg but survived the deadly charge of the First Minnesota to buy time for more troops on the second day of the battle.
About 83 percent of the men were killed or wounded in the charge, the highest casualty rate sustained in a single day by any surviving military unit in U.S. history. “The First Minnesota saved the Union’s bacon,” Murphy said.
King, who lived in St. Paul, was chosen to represent Minnesota’s contributions during the Civil War because he was considered the first man to volunteer for the Union Army. St. Paul and the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War’s veterans organization, gave $9,000 for the monument and dedicated it in 1903.
King posed for the statue, attended its dedication and died in 1916. But his pre-eminence has been challenged in recent years by claims made on behalf of Aaron Greenwald of Anoka, who reportedly volunteered hours before King signed his name in the enlistment book.
Murphy said he often walks by the King statue after exercising and has kicked around the idea of lighting it for at least a couple of years.
A lighting firm has designed a plan putting four LEDs close to the monument and three others farther out. That way, the narrow beams will reach the statue while also throwing light along the column.
The city will connect the monument lights to its street lighting system and activate them with a photocell.
All the permits have been pulled and construction was to start Thursday, said Murphy, who plans to be the sidewalk supervisor.