John B. “J.B.” Martin was born in Patrick County on the first of September 1838 to Moses Josephus Martin, Jr. and Sarah Moles Martin. J.B. had two older sisters, Nancy Elizabeth, born in 1832 and Catherine, born in 1834, and an older brother, Reid, born in 1837. Following the birth of J.B. was Easter Jane “Ellie” born in 1840, William Green, born in 1843, David Harbour, born in 1846, and lastly, James Moses Martin, born in 1848.
J.B. married Miss Ellen Elizabeth Moles of Patrick County on the fourth of March 1858. J.B. and Elizabeth’s first child, William Lee Martin, was born on the sixth of December 1858. The union was blessed with a daughter, Mary Josephine, on October 22, 1860.
War came to Patrick County in 1861 with most men joining or being conscripted into the local 51st Virginia Infantry. Moses Josephus and Sarah Moles Martin gave four sons, David Harbour Martin and William Green Martin, both joined the 51st Virginia, but for reasons that I have not been able to confirm, J.B. was placed with Captain Charles Fry’s Virginia Light Artillery, also known as Orange Artillery and Reid was placed in Company D of the 12th Virginia Infantry. After many battles, companies were combined because so many men were killed or wounded, and I suspect this was the case with J.B. and Reid. Sadly, Reid Martin died of disease in Petersburg, Virginia on the twelfth of July 1862.
J.B. was conscripted on the first of April 1862, leaving a wife, a three-year-old, and an 18-month-old at home. The following is the heartbreaking account of Private J.B. Martin, recorded in the Morris, Orange, and King William Artillery Regimental History compiled by Gregory J. Macaluso. “On Saturday, December 26, 1863, Private J.B. Martin of the Orange Artillery was tried by the Military Court of the Army of Northern Virginia for desertion. Martin, a married conscript from Patrick County in the southwestern part of the state had deserted on two previous occasions and had been picked up near his home each time. In these prior incidents, when he was caught and returned to his company, his illegal absences had been treated as absence without leave (AWOL). His punishments upon conviction were meted out accordingly, loss of pay, and extra camp duties.”
“This time he deserted on June 6, 1863, while on march to Somersville Ford along with two others. Since this was the third time that Martin had run away, it was required under the existing law in force in the Confederate Army, he was to be tried as a deserter…..Martin was remanded to jail when captured near his home and not tried until December 26th. As a result of his alleged association with a group of North Carolinian deserters, no mercy was shown him and he was convicted and sentenced to death by the court. Pending approval of the sentence by General Lee and President Davis, J.B. was remanded to the Castle Thunder Military Prison in Richmond to await his fate.”
While J.B. was at Castle Thunder awaiting sentence, his wife Elizabeth gave birth to their third child, John B. Martin, Jr. on November 5, 1863. The Regimental History concludes with this report, “The fate of J.B. Martin of the Orange Artillery was settled on January 9, 1864. The artillerymen of the Second Corps were forced to witness his execution for desertion. Having been convicted of desertion the previous December, and his sentence being upheld by both General Lee and President Davis, Martin was returned to Frederick’s Hall and shot to death in front of the witnessing artillery force. The firing party was made up of men from the Second Corp Provost Guard and not from the men of his own unit, as was the usual practice. J.B. Martin had the distinction of being the only man of Carter’s battalion executed during the war.”
Naturally, things were extremely difficult back home for Elizabeth; in 1870, she married Joseph Addison Alley. In 1873, J.B. and Elizabeth’s oldest son, 14-year-old William Lee Martin, was murdered at a local grist mill. The assailant allegedly killed William with an ax and was originally given the death sentence, but it was commuted to life in prison. Elizabeth and her remaining children moved to Hancock, Tennessee. In the next few weeks, we will look at the remaining children of Moses Josephus Martin, Jr. and Sarah Moles Martin.
Woody may be reached at email@example.com or (276) 692-9626.