A couple of years ago Mike Musick – who as many of you know was for a long time the go-to guy for anything Civil War related at the National Archives – contacted me about a recently discovered photograph of Louis Martin of the 29th U.S.C.T. He kindly arranged to have a copy of the photograph and pension application sent to me, which eventually ended up in my Crater book.
At that point the photograph was still not available online. I remember staring at it for what seemed like hours when it first arrived. You can clearly see why. In many ways this image served as a visual reminder of why I thought it was important to use the battle of the Crater as a case study on race and historical memory in American history.
I did a bit of research into his postwar life, but found very little. I knew the year he died and that he struggled with alcohol, but I was unsure as to where he was buried. There is also a question about Martin’s necklace and whether it has an African origin.
It turns out that he was buried in an unmarked grave in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. I am happy to report that there will be a ceremony for Martin on November 2 at the cemetery. Kathy Heyworth and Bob Davis are organizing the commemoration, which will include the unveiling of a grave marker that includes his image.
“When the war was over and the 29th (Colored) came back,” says Bob, “there was a picnic and parade. But once segregation reared its head, then the whole attitude toward colored soldiers and blacks in general changed.” Lewis suffered when he was wounded, again when he faced discrimination and again when his story was forgotten. “Especially,” says Bob, “once you look at him and see the sacrifice he made. Because of that, he ended up never getting married or ever having children.”
People like to say that “it’s never too late” for a lot of things in life, and this is one of them. There is no family to be on hand to watch Lewis finally get his due, so in a sense we will all be his family. And thanks to everyone who contributed in any way toward making this happen.