Lewis Martin was an escaped slave who defied the odds to join the Union Army during the tumultuous era of the US Civil War. Tragically, he lost an arm and a leg due to injuries sustained in the battle, highlighting his immense sacrifice for the cause of freedom.
Martin was born into slavery in Independence County, Arkansas, around 1840, facing the harsh realities of being owned and denied basic human rights.
Despite the oppressive circumstances, Lewis managed to escape from slavery, seeking freedom and a chance at a better life. His journey led him to Springfield, where he eventually found his place within the African-American community.
In February of 1864, Lewis Martin’s commitment to the cause of freedom led him to join the Union Army. Enlisting in the Illinois 29th United States Colored Troops at Alton, Illinois, Martin embarked on a new chapter of his life. Just a few months later, in June of the same year, Martin found himself stationed near Petersburg, Virginia, preparing for what would become known as the Battle of the Crater.
During the battle, Lewis Martin displayed unwavering courage in the face of adversity. He was struck by both shell and gunshot, sustaining severe injuries that would forever alter his life. Martin’s injuries were so grave that he underwent the amputation of a major portion of his right arm and part of his left leg by a regimental surgeon.
One of the most touching reminders of Lewis Martin’s legacy is a photograph captured by a staff member of Harewood Hospital, where he was transferred in November 1865. This image of Martin was strategically posed to display the visible evidence of his sacrifices. These visual records not only educated medical practitioners but also played a crucial role in documenting soldiers’ injuries and service, enabling them to apply for government pensions.
Following the Civil War, Lewis Martin’s remarkable journey continued. He relocated to Springfield, Illinois, becoming a prominent figure in the community.
Despite his significant contributions to the Union Army and his sacrifices, Martin’s life did not receive the recognition it deserved. After his death in 1892, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the pauper’s section of Oak Ridge Cemetery in Illinois. It wasn’t until 2012 that a local researcher discovered his exact resting place, and in 2013, Martin finally received a headstone.
Today, the photograph of Lewis Martin is an iconic symbol of the sacrifices African-Americans made during the Civil War. His story is also a testament to the countless unsung heroes who fought valiantly for their freedom and the abolition of slavery during one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.