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Report for the

Family Reunion,
Walnut Creek, California
August 1, 1998 /

Ernst F. Tonsing, Ph.D.

One hundred and forty years ago, a young editor of a Kansas newspaper put pen
to paper and wrote words that inspired a city, a county and a territory to respond to what
had been a relentless campaign by violent mobs of ruffians invading from the state of
Missouri. They were intent to force a scattered, newly immigrated people to accept one of
the crudest of institutions of which humanity is capable—slavery. John Alexander
Martin warned about the consequences of allowing slavery into the Kansas Territory in
his editorials in his newspaper, The Freedom's Champion, of Atchison, Kansas. With
rhetorical skills far beyond what one would expect from his limited education and youth,
Martin called for the elimination of all human bondage.

John A. Martin was clear on his goal. He withheld little in presenting his case.
The South may talk about honor, gallantry, self-rule and injured feelings that the North
was treading upon its soil. But, Martin responded, who fired the first shot at Fort
Sumter? Who invaded Maryland and the District of Columbia? Who sent their armies
into neutral Tennessee?

In the end, it mattered little to Martin who did what first. Slavery was still bitter
slavery. What glory, what gallantry, what honor can there be to fight to preserve that
inhuman and immoral institution? In an editorial, May 15, 1858, in The Freedom's
Champion, a nineteen year old John A. Martin writes:

Majorities are of no avail in this question of right, and all the votes of the people
that could crowd into the Territories could never make it right to render them up to
Slavery. On questions of Governmental policy, the will of a majority should always rule,
but in matters where God has set his seal of condemnation that they are wrong the
conclusion is foregone, and unanimity will ever fail to render that just or right which the
Almighty has fixed in the very nature of things as wrong. Men might as well endeavor to
decide by majorities that ice is fire, as to vote that wrong is right.

In three years, the Territory of Kansas would become a state, the majority held by the
slave states in Congress would be broken, shots would ring out over the Fort Sumter,
Southern armies would begin to march, and Kansans would go to war.
A remarkable insight into this war is to be found in a cache of one hundred eight
letters that, under a solemn pledge to a twenty one year old sister, Belle Martin, a twenty
three year old soldier, John A. Martin, wrote home from the battlefronts. Letters are the
most personal, most intimate expression of one's life. But, letters written by a person
fighting in war, scratched out as one sits surrounded by the dead and dying while enemy
shells are singing overhead or chunking into the ground just feet away from the writer,
take on an intensity, a sense that each word written may be one's last. These letters
disclose, poignantly, the situations and emotions of this "champion of freedom."

The Civil War letters long rested in a shoe box at the bottom of a cabinet in the
large library of the great house at 315 North Terrace in Atchison. Occasionally,
Grandmother Ruth Tonsing would take her father's letters out and let me read them.
Eventually, they came into the hands of my father, the Rev. Ernest F. Tonsing, and,
several years before his death, to me. Most of these letters are by Colonel John A. Martin
to his sister, although some are directed to his mother and father. A few of them are
written by others: a friend, a chaplain, a general and a governor. They are written on a
variety of papers of white, blue and gray colors, and decorated with embossing and
watermarks of various designs. The writing at times is elegant and studied, and, at times
hurried and cramped, depending upon the circumstances of their composition. They are
ephemeral documents, meant only for reading at the moment of their delivery, yet their
contents are timeless in that they reveal the physical consequences and psychological
impact of war for its human participants. As such, they are worthy to be read again in our

For many months I have been studying, copying and editing these letters, and
intend, shortly, to publish them. For nearly a century and a half the letters have been
silent. It is appropriate that here, among the relatives of John A. Martin, the words of the
young soldier will become re-embodied in sound for the first time perhaps since they
were written, and that as they moved the hearts not only of a dear sister and those who
surrounded her, they move the hearts of his family that is even more remote in distance
and time from that war.



On May 18, 1862, Martin displays a romantic contemplation of an evening in an

army camp at Fort Leavenworth:
My Dear Sister:

I have had a rather busy day to=day, and this evening as I sit down to reply to
your last letter I am somewhat tired and weary. The languor and weakness of the ague,
from which, hapily, I am recovered, yet oppresses me a little, or I suppose I should not
feel the exertion.
7/ is a beautiful evening, balmy with the sweetness that follows such a slight
summer's shower as has just passed over us, cooling the atmosphere and laying the dust.
The clouds, evanescent as the shower, have vanished; the sky has but a speck or two of
white upon it to break the pale and luminous blue of the great arch; but over the river,
above the distant hill=tops, are the fleeting children of the rain, and in the distant west
you can catch a glimpse of how they have gathered to that grand ceremonial of sunset
about to be accomplished The sun has just sunk behind the hills, but a lingering, tender
smile of light is on the river and its trees. Though he will see them all tomorrow, the sun
is loth to part with these companions whom he loves so well to embellish and caress; and
the glory with which he touches the broad river, is like the smile of a full heart. It is like
a parting, but for a short period, of dear friends; sad and tender, yet smiling and hopeful
for the morrow...

My love to mother, father, Aunt Bell, Ella, Ajfy, and allfriends. And believe me
Your loving brother,
Jno A. Martin
Three weeks later, June 6, 1862, Martin writes from Columbus, Kentucky,
Dearest Sister:

I wrote to you at St. Louis, and I again commence a letter, as we leave here
to-morrow to go to Union City, 35 miles south of this, in the direction of Memphis. Our
Corinthian expectations were obscured at Cairo, where we received orders to go to this
place, and arrived here safely three days ago...

The Regt. behaves splendidly. I never saw a better, more enthusiastic, or happier
set of men. Danger cannot chill their ardor; hardships cannot dampen their enthusiasm;
nor can peril check the resolute progress of their onward march. We came off the boat in
a severe rain=storm, and it rainedfor two days afterwards, but the boys were as earnest
and happy during the whole time as though they were living in marble palaces, and had a
retinue of a hundred waiters to serve them. We have our band along, and itsfinemusic
does much to relieve the monotony of the time...

I am in the best of health, and we have, as yet, no sickness in the camp. We are
living on the roughest fare; hard=bread, salt bacon and coffee without milk comprising
our list of substantials as well as delicacies. I found a rebel chicken yesterday, and he
went to pot as "contraband of war."...

My love to mother, father, Aunt Bell, Ella, Affy, and Jim, and my best respects to
all who ever think of me as absent or wish for my return.

Your loving brother,

Jno. A. Martin
In a letter on June 13, 1862, from Union City, Tennessee, Martin begins with an
elegant description of an evening at camp, but soon turns to the misery and devastation of

Dearest Sister:

I wrote you last on the evening before I supposed we would start for this place.
We did not leave then, however, as contemplated, for next morning, after our wagons were
all loaded, our marching orders were countermanded, and we again pitched tents. We
remained at Columbus until Sunday morning, 8th inst., when we pushed forward reaching
a camp ground beyond Clinton, Ky, at about three o'clock. Our camping ground here
was the most beautiful spot I have seen for one. It was a large, square wheat=field,
entirely surrounded by a dense forest of maple and beech. The night was a lovely one;
the new moon was unobscured by a single cloud; the red camp fires illuminated the white
tents and threw a fitful glare into the dark shadows that hung about the woods, and our
tired, dusty andfoot=sore columns threw themselves down on the cool, green grass with a
perfect abandon of repose. And at about 8 o'clock the different bands of the Brigade
commenced, one after another, filling the air with delicious melody. First the band of the
eighth struck up; next that of the seventh; and then that of the Ks'=cousin twelfth. The
deep woods rang with the echoes of the grand old tunes; the soil of Old Kentucky never
before heard such a carnival of music. John Brown "marched on" over her roads and
through her woods; her forest aisles rang with Hail Columbia and Yankee Doodle; and
the Star Spangled Banner had come to its own again, gladly and like a wanderer to his
home, greeted with music and with cheers.

At six o'clock next morning we had tents struck, wagons loaded, and were on our
way again. We halted at about one o'clock at Moscow, and went into camp, striking tents
on the banks of a small creek called the Bayou des Cygne. Here for the first time I saw a
cypress swamp; a dull, dark, dreary, slimy looking place it was, too, the dripping
branches of the trees hanging close to the green water, and shutting out the air and the
sunshine, that had never kissed its face. Moscow, like all the places we have passed, is a
deserted village. Goldsmith must have had it in mind when he wrote. Kentucky has fared
but little better than Missouri. The hot fury of secession has scorched her, and blasted
every prosperous interest that ever blessed her with wealth or surrounded her people with
comforts. Salt was selling here at $1.25 per lb. and all other provisions in proportion.
The people are begarded. Want stares them in the face, and yet they cling with feeble and
tottering grasp to the bony skeleton of "southern rights" that has brought all this misery
upon them, and look upon the army of the nation, that comes to again fill their land with
plenty and their homes with peace, as ruthless invaders and enemies.


In the same letter of June 13, Martin describes how his troops were received in the
There is not one single healthy throb of union sentiment in this country. They
protect their property; we pay them more than value for everything we get; and yet they
look upon us as aliens andfoes, and repay us with insults and sneers. The women are
worse than the men. Because we will not make war upon them, and shielding themselves
behind our respect for their sex, they openly flaunt their treasonable doctrines in our
faces; wantonly insult our soldiers on every occasion, and heap upon our army every
opprobrious epithet to be found in the vocabulary of Slang...

The state of Tennessee was split in its loyalties. On June 20, 1862, at Trenton,
Martin gives a description of the reception the Union troops.

Dearest Sister;

The mail leaves in a short time, and I have only opportunity to write you a very
short letter.... We had expected to remain at camp Etheridge for 8 or 10 days, but at
about 3 o 'clock in the night I was called up and ordered to start with the 8th Battallion
[sic] and the 2d Ks. Battery at daylight, notice of an expected rebel attack on a company
of our forces sent in advance to that place, having been rec'd at H'd. Quarters.
Accordingly we started off, and got through /in fine condition and good time. The boys
were in splendid spirits at the prospect of having a fight, and although carrying their
knapsacks and guns, a heavy load, as you may well imagine, marched twice as far as we
ever have before. We reached here, however, and found no rebels except those not in
arms. The others had fled at our approach.

About six miles out of Union City we struck a Union District, and such
demonstrations of joy I never before saw and never expect to see again. Man and
women, who had been persecuted for clinging with undying love to the oldflag, actually
wept with joy as we passed along. They crowded along the roads, following us from one
house to another, giving our soldiers milk, vegetables, &c, and pressing us to stay. They
tell the most heart=rending stories of the persecutions to which they have been subjected
by the traitors, and if ever I felt like murdering anybody, it was while listening to the
melancholy recital. The section of country was in Emerson Etheridge's district, and the
sentiment is undoubtedly due to the efforts of that brave-hearted patriot. The people
seem to love him beyond all conception, and everywhere we went cheers for "The Union
and Etheridge " rent the air. "God bless you, my brave boys, " said one old woman who
stood by her farm house gate with whole family around her, the tears of joy streaming
down her aged cheeks; "I never expected to see the dear old flag again, but it's come,
and God bless you ten thousand times over for bringin' it. I hope you '11 pay them—the
traitors and murderers—for the way they 've persecuted us for loving it all through, and I
wish our Etheridge was here to see you, and to shake all your hands." So for eight miles
we found Union men and women everywhere, when we again struck a mixed rebel and
loyal county. This place is an old town, and has in it some of the most beautiful and tasty
private dwellings I have ever seen. They are generally built in the cottage style, and the
grounds around them elegantly ornamented with evergreens, flower gardens, poplars and
elms. The people, too, are generally at home, although most of them are violently sesesh.
But the business part of the town wears the same venerable and tottering look of decay
that characterizes every Southern town through which we have passed. It store houses
are generally vacant, and in those that remain open only a ghostly stock of goods tells of
the business that once was but now is no more. You can buy nothing to eat except the
bare necessaries of life, and only those at the most exorbitant prices.

We are quartered in the Railroad Depot, having been compelled to leave all our
tents behind. The 8th has the advance ofMitchell's brigade, the balance of which will not
probably be here for eight or ten days. We move slowly, having to repair nearly all the
bridges, burned by the rebels, as we march, and having also to transport all our
commissary supplies from Columbus...

Write me all the news. My love to mother, father, and all at home, and my best
respects to Miss Lou, Lizzi and Fanny Graham, as well as to all "inquiringfriends."

Your loving brother

Jno. A. Martin


Sister Belle and her friend thought that soldiering was great fun, like an extended
camp-out. Her brother writes from Corinth, Mississippi, on July 8, 1862, to persuade her
that military life is really quite different from her conceptions of it.

Dearest Sister:

Your truly welcome and so long and anxiously looked for letter of the 29th and
3&h reached me to-day, and I was so glad to receive it that although weary after a hard
day's work, I shall reply to it to-night...

We left Humboldt on the 2nd for this place, stopping over night at Jackson, and
reaching Corinth at noon the next day. From Corinth we marched out six miles to Gen.
Rosecrans' division, and bivouacked in the woods for the night, not having time to pitch
tents. At night bivouac in the woods, with the great trees towering above you, their heavy
branches lit up by the lurid camp=fires and the gaunt shadows throwing darkness
wherever they fall, is one of the most splendid sights you can imagine. But camped in a
Mississippi woods, with lizards and snakes for bed=fellows and mosquitoes singing
"Home, Sweet Home " in your ears all night, it isn 't so pleasant an experience. I believe
I should prefer a comfortable bed in Kansas, or at least a clean, white tent, and a policed
camp. I couldn 't help thinking ofyou and Miss Lou wanting to go along, and imagining
how you would have liked the experience of a nights [sic. J bivouac in the Mississippi
woods, with its brilliant retinue of black bugs and white, blue bugs and green, as well as
bugs of all the various hues of the rainbow, and a few hundred lizards croaking about
you and running races over your blankets.

I got a taste of soldier 'sfare coming from Humboldt here. We left the latter place
at 12 o 'clock noon, and I was so busy that I could not get my dinner. Just at dark we
reached Jackson, and hungry and tired, after seeing my men as comfortablyfixedas I
could, I went to a hotel rejoicing in the pretentious title ofManassas House. They asked
me whether I would take ham or mutton, and on replying "ham," the waiter brought me a
musty piece of side-meat, with not a redeeming streak of lean in it, and which looked as
though some starved rebel after having lived on half-rations for a month, had thrown it
from his haversack in disgust. I didn't eat any, but asked for some mutton, when the
waiter brought me a piece of the identical sheep that Jacob herded The coffee they
brought me some water diluted with burned rye, andfor bread some Mississippi dodgers,
that would make excellent grape and canister to fire from ten pounders. I was hungry,
but the meal was so disgusting that I couldn 't eat, and, I went to bed, and for the
remainder of the night the starved mosquitoes that swarm about Jackson made a meal of
me. Next morning we were off byfour o 'clock, andjust at noon reached Corinth, where I
was ordered by Gen. Hallech to move out to Gen. Rosecrans' division, and put off
through the broiling sun on a six miles march, without my dinner...

So you may know that soldiering isn 't all roses, and I imagine that yourself and Miss Lou
wouldn 7 have found a two days fast so enticing...

Martin is able, however, to maintain his humor and romantic perspective in spite
of the difficulties of the march. He notes on July 16, 1862, near Corinth, Mississippi:

Dearest Sister:

Your welcome, though exceedingly brief letter of the 2nd inst. reached me
yesterday, and I hasten, although very busy, to reply... Our camp here is one of the most
pleasant ones we have found It is situated on a sloping hill=side in the woods, the grand
old pines, and maples, and beech, hoary with the moss of centuries, tower far above our
heads and form a green arch through which only rifts of blue sky and hot sunshine look
down upon us; while a small stream flows just in front of the hill=side, and one of the
finest springs I have ever seen bubbles out from its banks. The men are rapidly
recoveringfromall sickness here, although the extreme heat is very debilitating.

The lizards, too, have quit troubling us since we policed the leaves and
underbrushfromthe ground They can find no place to hide, and so were forced to hunt
a more congenial abode. Now and then a green lizard runs up a tree, and perching
himself on the first limb looks quizzically down at us, as much as to say: "What are you
Yankees doing here, I wonder," and then, like the rebels, makes a hasty retreat...


War and soldiering—so far—are exhilarating for the young officer, as Martin
writes from the same place on July 21, 1862.
Dearest Sister:
We leave to=morrow morning for Jacinto, 12 miles south, and so I thought I
would write you a short letter, as I may not have opportunity soon again ...It looks now as
though we were to have a fight below. The whole army is in motion, or ordered to move.
The 7* Ks. left this morning, and as I write a large force is filing down the road past our
encampment, and has been for more than two hours past. I should judge that at least
20,000 men, cavalry, artillery, and infantry have gone by this morning; their haversacks
filled with provisions and their cartridge=boxes with ammunition, looking like work to be
done. It is a splendid sight, and one to be long remembered. Their brilliant banners
flutter proudly in the breeze, as though conscious that before long they will lead a
conquering host, engaged in a righteous cause, to victorious battle; and their bright
bayonets gleam with a vengeful light, that speaks ofpunishment for violated laws and a
just retribution for outbreaking crime.


In this same letter Martin makes that complaint which is universal for all who serve in the

/ have not rec'd a single letter from any one in Kansas except you. I used to think
I had some friends there, but I begin to doubt it. Certainly, however, if my acquaintances
knew with what joy a soldier in this miserable country receives the shortest letter from
home, and how be blesses the writers for their kind remembrance, they would not fail to

Martin then adds his concerns for his younger brother and sister.

Are Affy and Ella going to school? Tell Afify that if he learns to read well before I
come back, I will bring him a soldier's uniform and a drum...

News from home, its affairs and concerns, is but a fragile cord that ties a soldier
to realities outside the arena of the war. The exertions and deprivations of the march
loom greater. Martin writes on September 5, 1862,fromNashville, Tennessee:

Dearest Sister:

I have but time to write a word or two, and I avail myself of the opportunity... The
march to Nashville was one of the most exhausting ones ever made. The weather was
intensely hot; the roads excessively dusty, and water very scarce. We started each
morning at about 2 or 3 o'clock and marched until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon. The
whole division, numbering about 6,000 men, with its train, was probably six miles long.
We left Murfreesboro, the place where Gen. Crittenden and his brigade
surrendered to the enemy, last evening at 5 o'clock, and marched until 2 at night, when
we bivouaced in the road, and waited until 6 in the morning, the men sleeping on the
bare ground, having neither tents or blankets. The railfence for six miles along the road
was torn down and usedfor bivouac fires, and the sight as far down and up as you could
see, was one of the most sublimely picturesque and romantic I ever beheld. It was a long
lane of lurid light, between which the sleeping soldiers reposed and the watchful sentinels
paced their weary beats, and its gleams flashed on the long row of stacked arms like
burnished silver... I will write again as soon as I can. My love to all at home, and my best
respects to all old friends.
Your loving brother
Jno. A. Martin


For Martin, the realities of war arrive quickly, grimly. He writes "On the
Battle=Field," October 9,1862:

Dear Sister,

We have passed thro' a three days battle, one of the most hotly contested of the
War, and I am safe and unscratched. Our army has lost probably 3000 men, including
Gen. Jackson. Our Regt. did not lose a man. We were first in the fight on the evening of
the (>h, and our forces pushed on for two days succeeding, each night camping on the
battle =field, surrounded by the dead and dying. The scenes were terrible. Last night we
slept on the field of yesterday, and yet remain there. Bragg has retreated to
Harrodsburg, and we shall pursue him. The rebels left all their dead on the fields, but
carried off most of their wounded. ..My love to mother, father, & all at home...

Your loving brother

Jno. A Martin

From Crab Orchard, Kentucky, Martin writes on October 18,1862:

...It was a desperate conflict, and the sights we saw will never be forgotten. They
were terrible. We slept on the field two nights surrounded by the dead and dying, and not
knowing when we should be aroused by the roar of the cannon announcing another

In these circumstances, news from the outside became even more important. But,
a constant worry was that letters mailed would be delayed, or, worse, lost. These
concerns appear over and over in the letters, such as here on January 9, 1863:
Dearest Sister:

Your long expected letter of Dec. 21st, reached me this afternoon, having been
delayed by the break in the Railroad until this time. I presume my letters of the same
date were as long delayed in reaching you as yours in reaching me. We have been for
several weeks, until within three days, completely isolated from the outside world;
having had neither papers, letters, or news. It was, as you may imagine, terrible dull at
first, but the excitement of the great battle at Murfreesboro furnished news and themes
for conversation. Andfor the future, as a kind Providence has favored us with bountiful
rains, and the Cumberland is now in good boating order, [The Confederate raider] John
Morgan can tear up as many Railroads as he pleases, but he can't cut us off from our
friends again.

I have been uneasy all along least [sic] my last letters had not reached you,
informing you of our transfer to Provost duty at Nashville and my appointment as
Provost Marshal of the city; for I knew that if they had not you would of course, seeing
that our old Brigade was engaged in the Battle, suppose we were also, and be frightened
least [sic] something had happened to me. I trust my letters came through in safety, so
that you have felt no uneasiness on my account...I need not, I presume, give you any
particulars of the Battle, as you have doubtless read everything respecting it in the
papers. It was the most terrible battle of the war, and the result is a brilliant union


But, there were to be some remarkably pleasant aspects of his duty as Provost Marshal.
In the same letter of January 9, 1863, Martin says:

...I have quarters now in the State House, probably thefinestState Capitol in the
United States. I am thrown into close contact with Gov. Johnson, from my position as
Provost Marshal, and meet and consult with him every day. I had always a high opinion
of him, but my association with him has greatly increased my admiration. He is one of
the most noble=hearted men, one of the sincerest patriots, and one of the ablest
Statesmen of the country. He is modest and unassuming as a child, and get as firm,
unwavering and unbending as adamant and as brave as Cromwell.

We shall probably remain here all winter. The boys are all well, and greatly
enjoying the luxury of a rest after their long and wearing marches. We hope to have our
Regiment together before long, and shall be heartily glad of it.

From Nashville, on April 16, 1863, Martin remarks on the tedium of his life there.
For all soldiers there are long periods during which there is little to be done. But these
times suddenly can be brought to an end by orders to march or go into battle. Upon
receiving directives from commands above him, Martin tells how the uncertainties of
existence during war come upon civilians as well. He also mentions his brother, James.
Dearest Sister:

I have not received a letter from you for over two weeks, nor heard a word from
home except the news found in the papers. I have written twice in that time, and I again
sit down to the pleasant task, although very busy, and in addition to that having no news
of any moment, to write. The routine of our duties is monotonous, and the army is so
quiet that I can find nothing to write about battles or strifes. I was ordered to arrest
about one hundred of the most prominent citizens of the city, last week, by Genl.
Rosecrans, and did so. They are now in the penitentiary, and will be sent South by way
of Vicksburgh. The affair has created the greatest excitement and alarm among the
wealthy rebels of the city, as they do not know whose turn may come next. It is a just and
righteous order, and will prevent much trouble.

The weather now is beautiful, and we are enjoying ourselves well. The health of
the men is excellent. Jimmy is in good health, and I am enjoying my usual health, always

Along with the mails, clothing and weather, an army is concerned always about
food and its procurement. The letters often tell how food was purchased from the
Southern farmers. In the letterfromNashville of April 16, 1863, Martin writes:
Dearest Sister:

I wrote to you a few days ago, but having a few leisure moments today, I write
again... The weather now is very pleasant. We have had several fine rains lately, which
have cooled the atmosphere and cleaned the city of dust and filth Vegetables are plenty.
We have green peas and beans, strawberries in abundance, and almost everything else.
They still cost high however, as with so great a number of men here the demand is very


Despite being enemies, Union and Confederate troops were able to meet each
other under surprising circumstances. After a day of combat, soldiers would come out to
exchange items on neutral ground between the camps. In his letter from Murfreesboro,
Tennessee, June 21, 1863, Martin comments on this extraordinary custom.
Dearest Sister:

I reached camp of the Regt. on Wednesday last, and found them comfortably
situated, having a beautiful and healthy location, plenty of water, and purer air. The
Regt. had just returned from picket=duty, as they now go out by brigades. The men
generally were in good health, although the sudden change from quarters in the city to
camp in the field, had affected many of them. Jimmy is among these. He got wet while
on picket=duty, and fever and ague is the result. He is now nearly well, and will be
entirely so in a few days... Our picket lines are in full view of those of the enemy, and the
brigades when on duty can plainly hear the rebel bugles sounding the camp=calls. By
mutual agreement, however, the pickets do notfire on each other when merely on post, or
unless an attack is made. The pickets frequently pass over, or meet one another halfway,
talk, exchange newspapers &c. How strange it seems that men who are every moment
likely to imbrue their hands in one another's blood can meet on such terms of friendship.


Not only skirmishes with the enemy, long marches, over-extended supply lines,
destroyed rails and roads, and fatigue of troops and horses, but also the weather often
makes soldiering hard. In a letter from camp near Wartrace, Tennessee, June 26, 1863,
Martin writes:

... We left Murfreesboro on the morning of the 24, and marched twelve miles that
day. The next day we lay in camp all day. To=day we have marched about eight miles.
It commenced raining about an hour after we left camp, and has been raining ever since
almost with/out cessation. The roads are terrible. I never saw them in such condition.
The wagon trains passing over them cut them up awfully, and the wagons run hub deep
all the time. The men sink in over shoe=top every step, and are soaked through and

We are all in good health and spirits, and anxious to take part in the battle.
Whether we shall get a chance to or not, I do not know. We shall whip the rebels, I feel
confident. The army is enthusiastic and full of confidence in our chief.

Jimmy is getting along well. He is much better than he was before we started',..

A letter from camp near Manchester, Tennessee, June 30, 1863, describes more
difficulties with the weather.

...We reached here on the night of the 28th at about one o'clock, after one of the
muddiest and most disagreeable marches I ever made, and we are now camped in the
woods about one mile from Manchester, on the bank of Duck river, with the mud about
four inches deep. It has been raining every day and every night since the day we left
Murfreesboro (the 24th,) and there seems to be a good prospect of its
continuance... Jimmy is well, and strange to say, notwithstanding the hardships, the rain
and the exposure since leaving Murfreesboro, the health of the Regt. is better now than it
was while we were in camp...


Miraculously, though always in the middle of the battles, John A. Martin

remained unhurt in the war. That was not the case with his horses, however. Two fell
beneath him, one at Chattanooga, Tennessee, on September 23, 1863:

.../ telegraphed to you this morning that I and brother Jimmy were safe, but for
fear the telegram does not go through I send again. My horse was shot under me, and I
had two bullet holes through my blouse, but escaped without a scratchf.J Regiment lost
32 killed, 138 wounded, and 17 missing; in all 187. I send list in same mail to

Throughout the war Martin sends reports of the battles to his newspaper, The
Freedom's Champion. From Chattanooga, Tennessee, September 25, 1863, he tells his

.../ telegraphed father a day or two ago that I was safe, as also was Jimmy. I
also wrote to you at the same time, and also forwarded complete list of killed and
wounded in 8th to Champion. Having an opportunity, I write again, for fear my other
letters have not gone through. I am nearly exhausted. We are closely besieged here.
Expect reinforcements soon. Below is list of killed and wounded of Co. "C."...

This is followed by a roster of the names, which he then summarizes as follows:

Total—Killed 4
Wounded 10
Missing 2_
Total 16
The Regiment fought splendidly. Fight lasted two days. We were in the thickest
on both days. Our total loss is 187 killed wounded and missing, including ten
commissioned officers. We hold Chattenooga, and have it strongly fortified. If
reinforcements come as expected we will beat the rebels back. Rosecrans has fought the
whole rebel army. They had two corps from Lee's army, all of Johnson's army, and large
reinforcements from Charleston and all other Southern points.

Am well, but worn down with fatigue. Have barely slept an hour since Saturday,
the 19th, the day the battle commenced. Jimmy is not well. The Governor of Kansas
should send down surgeons and stores for our wounded and sick. We need them badly.

My love to mother, father, Aunt Bell, Ella & Affy, andyourself. God bless you all.
I may not come through safely, but will do my duty to my country and our glorious cause.
I am now commanding the 3rd Brigade. Col. Heg was killed.
Bullets from the enemy are hazardous not only on the field but also in camp.
Even there one is not safe, as Martin notes from Chattanooga, Tennessee, on October 7,

... / write today only to let you know that I am well yet, and that we still hold this
place, now so strongly fortified as to be almost impregnable. The rebels surround us on
the South side of the river. Our pickets and theirs are only about forty yards apart. They
talk together and exchange papers every day. Our Brigade is now on outpost duty, and
will be on four days. We go on every eight days, and remain four.

Day before yesterday the rebels shelled us from 11 am. until dark, and threw an
occasional shell during the night. Their balls flew all over our works and all around us,
but did no damage. Not a man in our Division was hurt. I understand that three in
Negley's Division were slightly wounded, but this is all. Bragg evidently gave it up as a
bad job, as he has not renewed his experiment since. One solid shot struck about three
feet from me, during the bombardment.

Jimmy is sick and is in Hospital down town. There is nothing dangerous about
him, however. He has been sufferingfromDiarohra [diarrhea] for some time back, and
is weak.

All are in good spirits, although living on half rations. Our wounded are all
getting on very well—most of them having been sent away north. You will undoubtedly
see many at home soon, as they will all getfurloughs...


One young soldier would not return home, however. Throughout his letters, John
A. Martin constantly reports on the wellbeing of his seventeen year old brother, James.
His concern is well-placed. On November 14, 1863, Martin writes his family from
Chattanooga not only to report his brother's demise, but, also, to give them courage
which they, too, need to meet the awful consequences of war.

Dear Mother:-

I telegraphed to father on the 11th the sad news of the death of brother, Jimmy, at
Stevenson, Ala., on the l(fh inst. He died in the Field Hospital there, of chronic Diarorha
[sic.]. He had been for a long time sick, but never so unwell as to be confined to bed
before he left here...It will be sad news to you all at home, who loved him so tenderly,
and God help you to bear it with patience and resignation to His will. A soldier's life is
full of dangers that are not on the battle=field, and oh! how many have cause to mourn
the loss of all they hold near and dear. The Hospitals claim their victims more
relentlessly than the enemy's bullets, and soldiers take their perils among the thousand
others they brave for their country's safety. Hard and terrible as it is, and crushing as
the sorrow must be, how many thousands in our broad land have made such sacrifices,
and are making them every day. It is a fearful war, and the end is not yet. The
death=angel has left his mark on every door=step, and still goes on...

My love to all at home. God bless you, and help you to bear His good pleasure
with resignation.

Your loving son,

Jno A Martin.

Ernst F. Tonsing, Ph.D.

California Lutheran University
Thousand Oaks, California

© Ernst F. Tonsing