Martin, Part II

William Martin in 1910
In November, 1863, Wheeler’s Cavalry needed time to recover after the October Raid. They would not get that respite. Instead, they were dispatched to join Confederate General James Longstreet in East Tennessee, tasked to support his attempt to recapture Knoxville from Union control.

The Cavalry Corps was in turmoil during this time. Nathan Bedford Forrest was gone, transferred to Mississippi. Most of Forrest’s men had accompanied Wheeler on the October Raid, ‘temporarily’ loaned to Wheeler for the purpose. Then Bragg made the subordination permanent, and Forrest, who heartily disliked Wheeler, was outraged. Forrest renewed an old request to return to his native region – West Tennessee and northern Mississippi – in order to raise a cavalry corps to operate semi-independently against Union troops there. (This incident also sparked the legendary – and probably apocryphal – confrontation between Forrest and Bragg where Forrest called the latter a coward.) Forrest’s distaste for Wheeler carried through to his subordinates. It is reported that Brigadier General Frank Armstrong reported sick rather than accompany Wheeler into Middle Tennessee.

November 1863 proved a trial for the Rebel horsemen. The Knoxville Campaign went badly. Wheeler was recalled halfway through to join Bragg just in time to take part in the rout of Chattanooga on November 25th, leaving Martin in command of a rump command, nominally a corps in size, but numbering only about 5,000 men.

All of the old evils were present. Discipline problems abounded, with desertion and absenteeism hitting record levels. Longstreet, frustrated with his own failure to capture Knoxville, lashed out at various subordinates, including Martin. Martin was too young an inexperienced to control his men, lamented Longstreet, who blamed him for problems at Bean’s Station and Dandridge, in December, and for a badly managed action near Pigeon River in January, 1864. Finally, Longstreet requested Richmond to send him Wade Hampton as a replacement for Martin, stating that the cavalry “only wants a good leader to render it very efficient.”

Of course, Longstreet had fallings out with many subordinates at this time, and they each had rebuttals to his charges. Martin blamed his misfortunes on the mess he inherited from Wheeler: ill-disciplined troopers, broken down animals, and lack of decent company and field officers. Worse yet, charged Martin, Wheeler deliberately withheld both wagons and replacements needed to restore his command’s efficiency. This latter charge should have resonated with Longstreet, who similarly blamed Bragg for deliberately withholding wagons needed for his campaign.

Martin and the remnant of his corps finally returned to the Army of Tennessee in February, now led by Joe Johnston and encamped at Dalton. He also returned to Wheeler’s command, a position that had to grate. He reverted to divisional command, and the cavalry were recruited back up to reasonable strength by May, 1864. He served throughout the Atlanta Campaign, commanding another refugee from Lee’s Army – Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, who came home to command a brigade of Georgia State Cavalry in the wake of a disastrous first day at Gettysburg.

Service outside Atlanta was arduous, and eventually problems between Martin and Wheeler saw Martin leave the army. That August, as Wheeler was attempting to operate against Sherman’s supply line, things broke down completely between the two men. Wheeler was attempting to capture Dalton, Georgia, and counted on Martin to reinforce him. In what Wheeler thought was deliberate disobedience of a direct order, Martin never arrived, and Wheeler relieved him of command.

Martin finished the war back home in Natchez, commanding the District of Northwest Mississippi – a backwater theater by this stage of the war – and Martin saw no more active service. The war in Mississippi ended in May, 1865, with more of a whimper than a bang, and Martin returned to civilian life.

His post-war career was illustrious enough. He was active politically, helping to re-write the state of Mississippi’s constitution twice. He advocated outward co-operation with the Federals, in order to hasten an end to reconstruction. Privately, both as a lawyer and railroad executive he restored his finances, and held a plethora of civic and government posts, including postmaster of Natchez. He died in 1910.

In retrospect Martin’s transfer to the west, which initially opened the door to greater opportunity and fame, proved detrimental in the long run. He demonstrated clear talent as a soldier, and in 1863 he showed himself – along with Frank Armstrong of Forrest’s command – to be among the better cavalrymen in Bragg’s army. Had he stayed east, he might well have been one of the ‘young Turks’ that rose to divisional command under Lee. But he could not single-handedly overcome all the problems endemic to the western mounted arm, most especially the ill-discipline that marred so many western mounted units. Further, Wheeler’s continued presence commanding the Rebel cavalry in the Army of Tennessee for the last two years of the war proved to be a huge negative influence, one that greatly hamstrung Confederate operations and ill-served army commanders Bragg, Johnston, and Hood.

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5 Responses to “Martin, Part II”

  1. Stanley Beers Says:

    As a direct descendent of General Martin, I found this article well written, insightful and in general agreement with other information I have found.

  2. Thomas Martin Says:

    A fascinating account of my great-great grandfather.

    • Farar Elliott Says:

      Thomas, I’d love to know your lineage – he’s my great-great-grandfather, too, via his son Farar. Are you John’s grandson?

  3. Tom Sabetta Says:

    Ffter reading this insightful account, your argument in the last paragraph might be well suited to a book or small monograph. I know of no books written on this general. I would think his papers at the University of Mississippi’s archives given his involvement with the board of the university.

    Tom

  4. Farar Elliott Says:

    I believe his papers are primarily at LSU. A large number have been transcribed, and there’s a particularly good account of the Duck River engagement that Martin wrote right after it happened, in such detail that one can easily imagine that he was documenting it for future use.

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