Webster, Martin S., b. ca. 1840
Rank : Corporal; Sergeant (1863 June 10), 2nd Lieutenant (1865 March 30, with rank from February 18)
Regiment : 3rd New York Light Artillery. Battery I and C (1861-1865)
Service : 1861 May 9-1865 July 14
A 20 year-old machinist from Auburn, N.Y., Martin S. Webster was among the first to respond to Lincoln's call for troops in April 1861, to crush the southern rebellion. Five feet eight and a half inches tall with dark eyes and auburn hair, Wesbter mustered into the service on May 17 as Corporal of Co. I, 19th New York Infantry, a three months regiment whose enlistment was extended by the state to two years. Little more than a month after arriving in the Shenandoah Valley, however, Webster was taken prisoner on July 11, while on a scout between Martinsburg and Winchester. Confined in a series of Confederate prisons, including those at Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Salisbury, N.C., Webster was held for almost a year before receiving parole.
Upon is release, still suffering from the effects of dysentery and emaciation, Webster returned to his regiment (now re-designated as the 3rd New York Light Artillery) and fulfilled his two year obligation. Undaunted by his experiences in southern prisons, on June 4, 1863, he reenlisted for the duration of the war, accepting a promotion to sergeant of Battery I.
The various companies and detachments of the 3rd Artillery served virtually independently of one another during the war, and were often distributed in entirely different theaters. Battery I, more than most of the others, was comparatively sedentary. Having entered New Bern, N.C., during Burnside's expedition against the Carolina coast in March, 1862, Webster's battery rarely strayed far. As part of the artillery brigade of 18th Corps, the regiment formed part of the garrison force in New Bern, and with the exception of four months in 1863 when they were sent to South Carolina and the last few months of the war, the regiment remained near New Bern for its entire service.
Soldiers in the garrison at New Bern had a very different experience than their comrades in northern Virginia or the west. Although it was a federal base in hostile territory, New Bern was something of a backwater, with the most dramatic scenes of action taking place to the north, south, and west. For most of his service, Webster's life there was one of long periods of boredom punctuated by a few, intense episodes of extreme violence. Webster was present during the two most important of these -- the Goldsboro expedition of December, 1863, and the Confederate effort to retake New Bern on February 1 and 2, 1864 -- but was otherwise occupied with keeping his men as sober as possible, as well drilled as possible, and as healthy as possible. A tough soldier, Webster was often critical of the performance of his superiors and the enlisted men alike, accusing them of cowardice and laxness, writing, for example, that his "detchment gits all the Dead Beats of the Battrey" (1864 January 4).
In 1864, the daily round of drill and drink was broken mainly by drunken violence, petty larceny from civilians, and the punishment of deserters and thieves. After a Confederate assault was repulsed in May, the greatest danger facing the camp was a devastating yellow fever epidemic in the fall that took several dozens of lives. From July through September, Webster was hospitalized due to illness, and during October, he suffered what was almost certainly a malarial infection, though recovering sufficiently to continue duty. Boredom and protracted ill health, however, seem to have contributed to a creeping sense of frustration over his lot. After being denied by Col. C.H. Stewart in his effort to obtain a furlough to attend to unspecified personal business at home, Webster exploded : "Col. Stwart had no right to say who gos on Fourlougs but this was not Col S___t true reson that I know , I am sure of that . he dont want to let me go Home, and he knows why no true man would stop me, but this is but one mark that scores on my a count for Col. Stwart, and as God is a just Judg for all I will not let him go unpunished for this time and when wee air both out of the Servis and Soldiers no more then Mr. C.H.S. and me will squair the Yards..." (1864 December 2).
In December, 1864, Battery I was sent to Plymouth, N.C., to take part in an expedition to Rainbow Bluff, and in January, 1865, in several half-hearted forays toward Colerain. Led by Jones Frankel, these expeditions accomplished little, but Webster's battery did participate in the more significant engagements at Wise's Fork (March 7-10) and Bennett House (April 26), during the closing stages of the Carolina's Campaign.
After mustering out of the service in July, 1865, Webster appears to have returned to Auburn and resumed work as a machinist. He was employed for some time as a supervisor of the machine shop at Auburn Prison, but was removed in 1876 for what he claimed were reasons of politics and personal animosity. In 1882, he was rejected in his application for an invalid's pension due to "exposure and effects of said disease" while a prisoner of war, from the privations of life as a soldier, and from the bout of malaria he suffered at New Bern. In 1890, he renewed his efforts, this time meeting with success.