Lewis J. Martin papers  1861-1862
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Biography

Martin, Lewis J., d. 1862

Rank : 2nd Lieutenant (1861); Major (1862)

Regiment : 25th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Co. D (1861)
96th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment (1861-1865)

Service : 1861 April-1862 September 14

When leaving to enlist in the National Light Infantry in April, 1861, Lewis Martin bared his heart to his wife:

"It is possible, as I have acknowledged, that I did very wrong in leaving home under existing circumstances, I can hardly convince myself that I did not; then, there are two sides to the question; could I, after having taken the part I did in the preliminaries, have declined when the time for action arrived? True it may be said I owe a duty to my family which is paramount to that of any other worldly one, but what if all would make use of the same argument, who would there be to rescue the honor of Our Country and its flag, which, when dishonored, dishonors its People..." (1861 April 28)

Having married his wife, Minerva Smith, in the 1850s, and having begun to raise a family of three in Pottsville, Pa., Lewis Martin was initially torn by the conflicting obligations of home and country. Yet impelled by a powerful sense of duty, he helped organize and command one of the first five units in the state to respond to Lincoln's emergency call for troops: as a Lieutenant in the National Light Infantry, an independent militia unit incorporated as Co. D of the 25th Pennsylvania Infantry (three months' service), Maxim arrived in an anxious Washington, D.C., early in May, 1861, expecting that the show of Union force would dissuade the Rebels from their "suicidal course." Stationed at the arsenal, the regiment saw more tension than action before their muster out in August, but Maxim's hopes that the rebellion would fade away soon ran headlong into reality.

Returning to Pottsville, Martin and Col. Henry L. Cake assisted in the reorganization of the National Light Infantry, and reentered as the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry, with Martin enjoying a promotion to Major. Returning to Washington, and later Fairfax, Va., for the winter, the regiment occupied a position free from fighting. Though a conscientious man, Martin became as critical and concerned about the irregular postal service as he was about actual warfare, and he became embroiled in a dispute among officers and enlisted men in the regiment played out largely through anonymous letters published in the newspapers at home.

During the spring, however, the regiment got down to business when they were attached under the command of George McClellan and sent to the Peninsula. The 96th were ordered to Yorktown, but arrived on the day after the Confederate withdrawal, and finally went ashore only ten miles from Richmond, facing a brisk engagement at West Point. Although they missed most of the major engagements on the Peninsula, they were tested at Gaine's Mills, suffering severe casualties, and were in the reserve at both Malvern Hill and Second Bull Run. During the Antietam Campaign, the regiment was again seriously engaged, and on September 14, 1862, Martin was shot in the head and killed at Crampton's Gap.