Remembering Louis Martin

Louis MartinA 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.


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11 comments… add one
  • Charlotte E. Johnson Nov 19, 2015 @ 10:21

    Hello, My name is Charlotte E. Johnson- Lewis Martin was from Alton, Illinois. He was born in Missouri but moved to Alton has a young boy. He had a brother Lathy Martin. His parents lived in Alton, Illinois. I found them on and also in the Madison Co. Census. Some of this information I shared with a friend from Springfield, Illiinois when they first started looking for his family. But no one ever connected me. His brother had a farm down the road from me. He enter the army with other men from Alton. One was Robert Walker who was killed in the Battle of the Carter.

  • Mike Musick Nov 4, 2013 @ 17:13

    Thanks for the kind mention, Kevin. Credit is due to the late Budge Weidman and her all-volunteer Civil War Conservation Corps at the National Archives. These folks arranged the USCT Compiled Military Service Records for microfilming and discovered the photo of Lewis Martin in them. Budge gave me a copy of the picture to send to you.

  • Yulanda Burgess Nov 4, 2013 @ 12:02

    You’re welcome.

    I had the pleasure of attending the ceremony honoring Lewis Martin this past Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013. It was a very emotional ceremony. Prayer, songs, tributes, a twenty-one gun salute and taps were played over the grave of this Civil War veteran who finally received a tombstone with his name, rank and regiment. A marble plaque is place in front of the tombstone summarizing Pvt. Martin’s life. Several people who contributed to securing the marker where endowed to become his honorary descendants and continue to remember Pvt. Martin by placing flowers at his grave and talk about his life.

    Two people were instrumental in locating Pvt. Martin’s grave and setting in place the funding of his tombstone: Robert Davis and Kathleen Heyworth. They are both the best advocates to telling Pvt. Martin’s story. In many ways, they have become the children he never had based on their steadfast commitment that resulted in Saturday’s memorial. In summary, Pvt. Martin was a member of a black GAR post located in Springfield, Illinois. He was known to be Civil War veteran. He sue the government for his back pay. He was successful and along with his pension was able to support himself during the rest of his natural life. Instead, a personal representative took charge of his estate and she, along with others, stole those funds. Furthermore, the GAR did not step up upon his death to ensure that he had a proper burial in either the GAR section of Oak Ridge Cemetery or at Camp Butler Cemetery. Instead, he was place in the farthest section of Oak Ridge in the paupers section and his grave was unmarked. Instead of honoring him as a Civil War veteran, newspaper articles said he squandered his money at the local salons. These newspaper articles published during his life time are not consistent with the court records and other primary sources. There are a lot of “instead” attached to Pvt. Martin. Although the neglect of his burial was been corrected, there is more housecleaning to do.

    I will not provide a link to the recent newspaper articles and the newsfeeds as they seem to dwell on old articles highlighting the claim that Pvt. Martin was an alcoholic. Furthermore, they pick up the misinformation that Pvt. Martin became impoverished. You all can search for them yourselves. It is undoubtedly that Pvt. Martin suffered the psychological and physical effects of battle that could not be totally compensated by the medical treatments of his era. This is compounded by the racism of that era. The time period between his birth and death (crable to grave) needs to be corrected. Therefore, Robert and Kathleen should be encouraged to continue their research and publish the complete story of his life.

    I lieu of the recent articles, you can access the following:

    You all visit Pvt. Martin’s grave when you visit Springfield. Although Pvt. Martin has been in heaven for more than a hundred years, you will feel his smile upon you.

  • Yulanda Burgess Oct 24, 2013 @ 14:41

    Three articles written by Dave Bakke of the State Journal-Register give information on finding Pvt. Lewis Martin’s grave and securing the headstone.

    May 15, 2012: “Black Civil War veteran’s grave identified at Oak Ridge”

    May 2, 2013: “Civil War figure still without grave marker”

    October 12, 2013, “Public comes through for Civil War icon”

    Overall, it’s a sad story that a veteran would have such a life after serving his country. Sad that it continues today. Pvt. Lewis Martin is symbolic in so many ways. Hopefully, the publicity of Pvt. Martin will help us rethink how we can help today’s veterans avoid living in emotional and physical poverty.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 24, 2013 @ 15:25

      Thanks for the links, Yulanda.

  • Peter Winfrey Oct 24, 2013 @ 0:19

    Quick Question: Were prostheses easy to obtain in those days? I’m just trying to think of how he got around after an such an injury. Amazing story nonetheless.

  • Neil Hamilton Oct 23, 2013 @ 19:53


    Thank you for the link and all the information you provided on Louis Martin. Very much enjoyed it.


  • Angela Walton-Raji Oct 23, 2013 @ 14:47

    In January 2011, I wrote a detailed piece on Louis Martin, on my blog, The USCT Chronicle. I am happy that he will at last have a headstone.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 23, 2013 @ 15:06

      Thanks for adding the link, Angela.

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