Streetwise Professor

February 9, 2024

Private Patrick Martin of the 1st New York: Patriot, Rogue, Both, or Neither?

Filed under: Civil War — cpirrong @ 12:31 pm

I have long had a very extensive genealogy of my mother’s family, with the exception of my maternal grandmother’s father, Francis (“Frank”) L. Martin. I knew he was an Irishman from NYC (my grandmother spoke of his thick New Yawk accent) who was born in the 1860s, but finding a particular Irishman in New York City in the 1860s or 1870s is a challenge. Fortunately, a few days ago I was able to find my great-grandparents’ marriage record, which gave Frank’s parents’ names–Patrick Martin and Catherine Kerr Martin.

With that in hand, the 1860, 1870, and 1880 Censuses allowed me to identify which Patrick Martin was my ancestor.

The 1860 Census was particularly interesting. Patrick Martin was 28 years old then. I immediately thought: likely candidate for Civil War service. Using Fold3 I identified the 30 odd “Patrick Martins” who served in the Union army, and using the New York Adjutant General’s reports I was able to narrow down the candidates to one man, who was mustered into the 1st New York Volunteer Infantry (a two-year outfit) on 7 May 1861. His age in 1861?: 29. Bingo.

Now it’s possible that that Patrick is not my Patrick. But there was no other 28 year old Patrick Martin in the 1860 Census for NYC. So it’s highly likely to be a match.

And there the story gets interesting. The 1st New York was–as its regimental number indicates–raised immediately in response to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers on 15 April 1861. (Weird coincidence: Lincoln was assassinated exactly 4 years later.) Patrick’s company (“H”) was the last to be mustered.

One possibility is that Patrick was fervently patriotic and rushed to the colors at the first opportunity. But there are others. He had a wife, 3 children, and a father in his home. Was volunteering an escape from a claustrophobic family life? Or perhaps he was an early example of what William Marvel calls “Lincoln’s Mercenaries,” individuals for whom military service was the best economic opportunity available, especially if he believed (as most did) that the war would be short and glorious. (He was a stage driver by profession, according to the Census.)

If patriotic fervor was indeed Patrick’s motivation, it eventually dissipated. The 1st NY fought in the war’s first significant land battle–Big Bethel–soon after mustering, and then participated in the Peninsular Campaign and the Seven Days’ Battles. Its largest engagement was at Glendale/Frayser’s Farm, when most of its color guard was shot down.

With the rest of the Army of the Potomac, after fighting in a supporting role at Malvern Hill the 1st retired to Harrison’s Landing, where it lingered for more than a month before being ordered north to join Pope’s Army of Virginia near Washington. It was transported by train to Alexandria, and upon debarking there on 22 August 1862 Patrick Martin decided to debark from the army. He deserted.

Again possibilities abound. No doubt the realities of 13 months of active campaigning disabused Patrick of his visions of military service. The crushing of hopes during McClellan’s retreat from before Richmond certainly discouraged many soldiers in his army, especially while they lingered at Harrison’s Landing. (I will do some research to see if there was a desertion uptick at this time.).

But maybe it was the need of his large family, or genuine affection for them, that led him to take a powder when reaching the banks of the Potomac. Was there a plaintive letter (or letters) from Catherine?

All I know so far is that Patrick deserted. His post-desertion fate remains unknown to me. I have ordered his full service record from the National Archives. Perhaps that will reveal more. But based on my experience with these records, perhaps not.

It is things such as these that are grist for historical fiction, where imagination fills factual gaps. I have a slim set of facts which fit numerous alternative explanations. But whatever explanation is the correct one, this Patrick Martin’s (voluntarily) abbreviated military service casts an interesting light on the realities of social and military experience at the outset of the Civil War.

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1 Comment »

  1. I recently discovered that one of my ancestors had volunteered for service in WW1 with the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps).

    What feats of derring do did he accomplish? None: he fell ill during training and was invalided out. Maybe he was rash to volunteer when already well into his thirties.

    Comment by dearieme — February 11, 2024 @ 4:14 pm

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