A Civil War Biography

William Thompson Martin

Martin was born 25 March 1823 in Glasgow, Kentucky and grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He graduated from Centre College in Kentucky at the age of 17. He is said to have been heading to New Orleans by steamboat in search of a career when he stopped to sight-see at Natchez, Mississippi where he met a local planter and lawyer, John P. Walworth. Walworth, impressed with the young Martin's intellect, persuaded him to stay in Natchez to study law. Martin tutored the Walworth children to earn his way. Admitted to the bar Martin set up a law practice in Natchez. When he was only 22 he was elected district attorney.

A Unionist, Martin opposed secession but followed Mississippi into the Confederacy. He raised the Adams County Cavalry Company and became its captain. He led the company to Manassas, Virginia where, in October 1861, it was organized with one Alabama company and two other Mississippi companies into the 2nd Mississippi Cavalry battalion with Martin as major. In January 1862 the 2nd was merged into the Jeff Davis Cavalry Legion with Martin commanding. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 13 February 1862. He fought at Yorktown and Williamsburg then led hand-picked units of the Jeff Davis Legion on Jeb Stuart's ride around McClelland's Army of the Potomac in June 1862. Martin commanded the Legion and the 4th Mississippi cavalry during the Seven Days. He fought at South Mountain and Sharpsburg as an aide to Robert E. Lee.

Martin was promoted to brigadier general on 2 December 1862 and remained on Lee's staff until sent west in March 1863. Martin commanded a division in Joseph Wheeler's cavalry Corps taking part in the Tullahoma and Chickamauga campaigns. Martin was promoted to major general on 10 November 1863 and led a portion of the Corps during operations in the Knoxville area of East Tennessee attached to James Longstreet's command. Rejoining the main army Martin led his division during the Atlanta campaign.

A confrontation developed between Martin and Wheeler when Martin refused to aid Wheeler's 14 August 1864 assault on the Union garrison at Dalton, Georgia. Wheeler relieved Martin of his command. Martin would finish the war commanding the District of Northwest Mississippi. Following the war he returned to Natchez where he became involved in politics, serving over a decade in the state legislature. In addition to being president of the Natchez, Jackson, and Columbus railroad, Martin was a trustee of both the University of Mississippi and Jefferson College. He died 16 March 1910 near Natchez.

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