“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”
– Frederick Douglass
As a woman of color, while doing research on the Invalid Corps one of the things that I wondered about was what happened to African-American injured soldiers? In fact, while doing research on the Invalid Corps it occurred to me that I had not seen one image of an injured black soldier. So, I started where everyone does: Google. I put in “Black Civil War Soldier” and found several images. I added the term “Injured” and I found a Thomas Nast illustration from Harpers Weekly came up a lot.
Considering that more than 180,000 African Americans served, making up about 10% of the Union Army, and more than half survived the war, I would think there would be some evidence of their presence and their survival post injury. I changed to the word “amputee.” Granted, it’s very specific but so far I had not been able to find ANY images of injured black soldiers.
With that change, one image came up. Only one. It’s a photo of Private Lewis (sometimes spelled Louis) Martin, of Company E, 29th United States Colored Troops. His photo was found glued to his certificate of disability for discharge by Civil War Conservation Corps volunteers while compiling records at the National Archives. His wounds were described in his discharge form: “Loss of right-arm and left-leg by amputation for shell and gunshot wounds received in battle at Petersburg on July 30, 1864 in charging the enemies works. In consequence of which is totally disabled for military service and civil occupation wholly.” He was a forgotten Civil War veteran for more than 120 years, buried in the paupers section of Oak Ridge Cemetery in an unmarked grave until a community effort was made to mark his grave with a tombstone.
From what is known, Private Lewis Martin was born in Arkansas, a slave, but somehow became free, enlisted in Illinois in February of 1864. A muster roll record lists his place of birth as Arkansas, his age as 24 years, his height as 6 feet, 2 inches, and his occupation as a farmer. A few months later he took part in the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Virginia and was wounded, resulting in the amputations. He was sent to the General Hospital at Alexandria, Virginia, then later transferred to Harewood Hospital in Washington, DC before finally being discharged. He returned to Illinois.
After that, his story is hard to follow, but from what I can find, it is a sad tale. He obviously was unable to work, and was the victim of discrimination and public humiliation. He became an alcoholic. It would seem his obituary and articles in several papers made mention of it:
Died from Exposure & Drink
Louis Martin, a Colored Man, Dies Alone
At FindaGrave the IL State Register’s obituary reads:
A negro named Lewis Martin, who is well known in this city as the one-legged and one-armed old soldier, was found dead yesterday morning in his bed. He resided in a house, corner of Lincoln avenue and Jefferson street, and up to a short time ago he had been having a white woman at his home as a housekeeper, but she left him recently and he had since lived alone. About 7 o’clock yesterday morning, Mrs. Carrie Boone, colored, who came to the house frequently to look after him, found him dead. Mrs. Boone immediately notified some of the neighbors.
He was a private in the Twenty-ninth Illinois volunteers during the war, and received a pension of $72 per month for the loss of his limbs and one eye in the army. He received some time ago back pension money amounting to $6,500, a portion of which he invested in property on West Jefferson street, including the place where he lived. He also had some money saved up. He was about 45 years of age, and has two brothers residing in Alton, who have been notified of his death. IL State Register, Springfield, IL 1-27-1892
On November 2, 2013, citizens from the Springfield community held a ceremony honoring Private Martin. A marker for his grave was erected and Civil War re-enactors presented the colors; a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps,” all the things Lewis did not get when he died. Considering, the dedication was exactly 2 years ago today, it seemed pertinent to write and reflect on Private Lewis Martin, his service and his sacrifice.
Some great resources, articles, and posts of Private Martin’s story
Dave Bakke: Black Civil War veteran’s grave identified at Oak Ridge – http://www.sj-r.com/article/20120516/NEWS/305169913/?Start=1
They were Men who Suffered and Died – http://usctchronicle.blogspot.com/2011/01/they-were-men-who-suffered-and-died.html
Public Comes Through for Civil War Icon – http://www.sj-r.com/x452551251/Public-comes-through-for-Civil-War-icon#ixzz2ieFsiaGJ
Teaching With Documents: Preserving the Legacy of the United States Colored Troops – http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war/article.html
Please don’t forget we are in the middle of our Kickstarter to raise funds to tell the story of the Invalid Corps; of soldiers with disabilities who continued to serve: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dayalmohamed/the-civil-war-invalid-corps-and-the-battle-of-fort