An US Civil War Medal of Honor for Action at Weldon Railroad Consignment 21
An American Civil War Medal of Honor for Action at Weldon Railroad; Army Medal of Honor, Type III (1904) (silvered bronze and green enamels with a bronze gilt suspension, engraved "Captain Sylvester H Martin, Co. K, 88th Pa. Inf. Vols. - Weldon Railroad, Aug. 19, 1864." on the reverse, 38.2 mm x 56.5 mm inclusive of its eagle and VALOR suspension, original ribbon with pinback); Army Civil War Campaign Medal (bronze, numbered "M. No. 1610" on the edge, 33 mm, original ribbon, brooch pinback); Grand Army of the Republic Veteran's Medal 1861-1866 (bronze gilt, 42.7 mm x 45 mm, original tri-color flag ribbon with 21 mm x 39.5 mm eagle and armaments pinback hanger, marked "PAT. MAY 4, 1886 / JUNE 22, 1886" on the reverse); and Civil War Union Regular and Volunteer Army and Navy Officer's Medal 1865 (blackened bronze, 39.5 mm x 42 mm, integral bar suspension with flag ribbon and 15.2 mm x 52 mm pinback eagle hanger). Un-mounted, light contact, near extremely fine. Accompanied by copies of his Service Records, Muster Rolls, Power of Attorney, Officers' Casualty Sheet (dated June 9, 1865), Application for a Medal of Honor (dated February 10, 1894) along with his citation and other CMOH related documents, Application for Medal of Honor of New Design and for Rosette (1904 version, dated June 6, 1908), Application for Enrolment on the Army Medal of Honor Roll and for the Medal of Honor Certificate (dated July 5, 1916), Medal of Honor Certificate (dated October 4, 1916), Application for Admission to the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (dated April 13, 1896) along with other MOLLUS related documents, a letter from the Pennsylvania Soldiers' and Sailors' Home in Erie (dated October 7, 1916), a Declaration for Pension (dated August 6, 1923) and other pension related documents, Marriage Certificate (dated October 17, 1916), Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Certificate of Death for Martin (dated September 26, 1927), Declaration of a Widow for Accrued Pension (dated September 5, 1928), various articles from Philadelphia newspapers, printed illustrations related to the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, two original pages taken from the book "Sparks from the Campfire" by Joseph W. Morton (one of which has an etching showing the Charge of the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry) and assorted research papers. Please note that this fine medal group was the subject of The Medal Collector article for Orders and Medals Society of America in Vol 46, No 5. (C:21) Footnote: Sylvester Hopkins Martin was born in Campersville, Chester County on August 9, 1841, the son of Michael Martin and Sarah Martin (nee March), both of old Chester County families. His parents moved to Philadelphia while he was in his youth, where he entered the public school system, educated at Lombard Street School and Southwest Grammar School. The young Martin was identified as a quick learner in 1850, at the age of nine, while he was attending the higher grade school. However, he was forced to leave school that year, taking employment as a workman in the brickyard of Thomas Irwin in the summers and as a textile operative in the textile mills of Thomas Drake and Caleb Milne in the winters, until the war broke out. He acquired a good practical education by hard study at night and read a great deal. Martin was nineteen years old and an early recruit upon the outbreak of the Civil War, signing on one week after its launch, on April 12, 1861. He enlisted in the Union Army as a Private in Company A, 23rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, on April 19, 1861, where he was to serve three months in Maryland and Virginia, seeing skirmish action against the rebels before being mustered out on July 31, 1861, upon expiration of service. Six weeks later, he rejoined the Union war effort, being mustered in as a Private in Company F, 88th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, on September 14, 1861 (AKA the Cameron Light Guards, named in honor of the Secretary of War, Simon Cameron), which was made up of troops from the Reading and Philadelphia areas. The 88th was organized and had its basic training north of Philadelphia at Camp Stokely, where Martin achieved the rank of 4th Sergeant. Martin was transferred to Company K, 88th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, on January 18, 1862, where he was to serve until the end of the war. The regiment originally served in garrisoning forts around Washington, D.C. and Provost Duty in Alexandria, Virginia. The regiment was then ordered to field duty in the Army of Virginia, where it participated in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, and the Battles of Cedar Mountain, Rappahannock Station, Thoroughfare Gap, Second Bull Run/Manassas, and Ox Hill/Chantilly. After the consolidation of the Army of the Virginia and the Army of the Potomac, the 88th served in the First (I) Corps through the battles of Antietam/Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Mine Run. Martin was promoted to 1st Sergeant on July 1, 1862. Martin's first wounding would come in his right leg at the Battle of Antietam (AKA Battle of Sharpsburg), Maryland, on September 17, 1862, during one of the 88th's assaults through the East Wood and into the Cornfield, attacking Brigadier General Lawton's Georgians. It was to be the first major battle in the Civil War to take place on Union soil and the the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with a combined tally of dead, wounded and missing of 22,717 where the 88th had their highest casualties of the war. Afterwards, Martin convalesced at Ascension Hospital in Washington, D.C. for about two months. While convalescing, he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on November 11, 1862, before returning to K Company on December 14th, followed by a promotion early in the new year to 1st Lieutenant, on February 25, 1863. Martin and the 88th participated at the Battle of Fredericksburg, The "Mud March" and the Battle of Chancellorsville. It was at Chancellorsville, from May 1 to 5, 1863, that Lieutenant Martin first distinguished himself. General Reynolds, through Colonel Wayne, had directed Martin to take a squad and collect the entrenching tools which General Meade's men had left in the works. When he went for the tools, he found that the line had fallen back, and the entrenching tools were in the hands of the enemy, whose line of skirmishers had just passed over the place where the picks and shovels were lying. It made no difference to Lieutenant Martin, he had been sent to get them, and did not feel like retiring without them, so he quickly deployed his men, made a dash for the Confederates, drove them back, and held them in check long enough to gather up the tools and get away with them, without the loss of a man. It may seem like a reckless risk of life in recovering those tools, but they were badly wanted, and within an hour, they were in use throwing up works across the Bowling Green Road, to shield the troops from the raking fire of the enemy's artillery that enfiladed the line. One account describes the heroic actions: "Lt. Martin acted with valor when at great risk and in face and under range of fire of the enemy, went out between the lines and secured and recovered entrenching tools that had been abandoned in rifle pits between the skirmish lines in front of the V Corps. The tools were subsequently used to barricade a road running parallel with our lines, one which the enemy had planted a battery to enfilade our lines, the said works prevented their object and defeated an attack while our troops were recrossing the river." This action was cited later as evidence of Martin's gallantry, when he was recommended for a Congressional Medal of Honor by the veterans of the 88th. Lieutenant Martin was in command of Company K when the regiment fought at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, where it took part in the first day's fighting, north of the town of Gettysburg, with the 88th Pennsylvania's Brigade helping to repulse an attack by the Confederate Brigade of General Alfred Iverson. The 88th was later re-subordinated into the Fifth (V) Corps in the post-Gettysburg consolidation and reorganization. In the Spring of 1864, Martin married Sarah S. Sykes on March 7th, herself born in the same year as the Captain (1841). They were to have five children together, two of which died young, George S. Martin (1868-1869) and Leora Martin (1871-1873), the other three, Hannah Martin, Laura Martin and Sylvester H. Martin, Jr. (who was later slated to inherit his father's CMOH) living to adulthood. Unfortunately, his wife Sarah died in October 1877, leaving the Lieutenant a widower. When his period of enlistment had expired in 1864, Lieutenant Martin re-enlisted and served until the conclusion of the war. While serving in V Corps, the 88th fought in the Battles of the Wilderness, Laurel Hill, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Jericho Ford, Totopotomoy, Bethesda Church, Cold Harbor, White Oak Swamp, Petersburg, Jerusalem Plank Road, Weldon Railroad, Hatcher’s Run/Dabney’s Mill, Gravelly Run, White Oak Road, Five Forks, and ultimately Appomattox Court House. The regiment was active during the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia, fought between June 9, 1864 and April 3, 1865, which turned out to be the costliest battle of the war with over 70,000 (42,000 Union, 28,000 Confederate) casualties during the ten months of conflict. In order to break General Robert E. Lee's supply lines to Petersburg, it was necessary to cut the railroad lines. The closest of these was on the Union left flank, the Weldon Railroad, connecting Petersburg with Weldon, North Carolina to the south, and further east and south, Wilmington, North Carolina, the Confederacy's last major port. The 88th was in Brigadier General Samuel W. Crawford's 2nd Division, struggling through thickets and swamps, on a rain soaked day, August 19, 1864. Martin was to distinguish himself that day, which would ultimately lead to his award of the Congressional Medal of Honor. An official statement by Corporal William Boocock Threapleton, K Company, who was under direct command of Lieutenant Martin, would confirm the heroic actions of his superior officer: "On the morning of the nineteenth of August, 1864, our regiment, the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteers, being detached from its Brigade, was in position on the Weldon Railroad and occupying a position as skirmishers at the extreme right of out (Fifth) Army Corps. Very early in the morning we were relieved by some other troops taken to our Brigade which occupied a position further to the left of the line. When we arrived there, we found them entrenched behind a line of breastworks, and we were at once put to work with the rest of the brigade strengthening the works, and cutting down the timber in front of the breastworks. Nothing occurred during the day to disturb out work until late in the afternoon, the skirmishers on our right began to fire, and before very long it was evident by the very heavy firing that our men were being attacked on that part of the line, and as the firing became heavier and nearer, it became evident to our part of the line that we were being flanked, if not altogether surrounded. At this juncture our line became alarmed and there seemed to be a general stampede. The firing from the enemy upon our men, who by this time had changed front to the rear. It was at this juncture that Lieutenant Martin of our Company (K) suggested to Col. Wheelock of the 97th New York, and in command of the Brigade, that we had better get on the other side of the breastworks. Acting on this suggestion, we were ordered to take the outer side of the breastworks. The woods being very thick, we could not see what was going on - only we were under fire and a few of the enemy were being captured as they came in sight of our works. After the firing in a measure ceased, we found ourselves somewhat isolated from the rest of the line, as there were only part of our Regiment and the 97th New York left. Col. Wheelock, seeing that we could not stay there very long without being captured, drew a brace of revolvers and told the men that if they would follow him, he would make a way out of that somehow. The men were only too glad, and immediately a line was formed and we were making our way through the woods as best we could in the direction from which the firing had come. We met with no resistance and finally emerged into an open cornfield. We had hardly gotten through the woods and in the open clearing before General Crawford (our Division Commander) rode up and asked what Regiment that was. Col. Wheelock answered this is the Second Brigade. The General seemed somewhat startled at this, and asked why we had left the breastworks. After some explanation between the two officers, we were ordered by General Crawford to retake the breastworks. We were therefore "about faced" and marched again towards the spot we had left. We had not gone very far when the firing commenced again in our front, and finally became so heavy that the line began to waver. We had already lost Captain Howder of Company H commanding the Regiment; he having been killed; this together with not knowing who were firing at us, caused the men to lose heart. When Col. Wheelock found that the line was wavering and not making any headway, he stepped out and said, "If I can get a Lieutenant and three men who will volunteer to go ahead and see what is in front of us and report to me, I will see that they are rewarded." At this appeal, Lieutenant Martin of Company K stepped out and said - "Col. Wheelock, I will go."; three men of our Regiment immediately stepped out and volunteered to go with Lieutenant Martin. Upon Lieutenant's Martin's reporting the situation, the men took fresh courage and with a cheer went forward and retook the breastworks. Outside of this event, I want to add my humble testimony in regard to Lieutenant Martin. Of course, he was a Lieutenant of my Company, but I know of what I am talking when I say that of all the soldiers I have met and observed in the army - for real, downright bravery, and without that excitement which sometimes leads men to acts of courage. Lieutenant Martin, in my opinion, stood head and shoulders above his fellows; and I believe it was this trait of coolness and bravery in the man that led me with others to stay with him in the breastworks when the rest of the line had fled. Being young - only about 17 years of age, I looked upon him as a leader worth following and worth standing by. History says of the day that General Warren's casualties were 382 killed and wounded; 2518 missing, of which 1805 were from General Crawford's Division." In summary, the 88th became aware of their predicament upon seeing a Confederate officer leading a squad of men to their rear. They were forced to surrender, but as Sergeant John Wallace of Company G and his men escorted the prisoners through the woods, they were in turn captured by an enemy column. About now artillery opened fire on the Confederate forces. The 88th, and the rest of Crawford's division, was caught in the fierce crossfire and was in danger of being wiped out. The line crumbled despite Crawford riding among the men. Lieutenant Martin ordered the men of the 88th to man the other side of the breastworks. Many men of the 97th NY followed Martin's orders as well. Colonel Wheelock of the 97th NY and now in command of the 2nd Brigade thought that the regiments had been surrounded and decided to break out with the men. This was accomplished only to have the divisional commander, Brigade General Samuel Crawford, order the breastworks retaken. Colonel Wheelock called for an officer to volunteer, and with some other volunteers to advance the rest of the men. Lieutenant Martin volunteered straight away. Martin reminisced later: "We were between two lines of the enemy and entirely isolated from our corps and after a consultation among the officers of both regiments, the colonel of the 97th being in command, decided that we should fight our way out. Having accomplished this, we reached our rear in an open field, but were immediately ordered to re-advance and recover our former position. The missiles were now coming from our front. Men were falling fast; among them was the commander of our regiment, pierced through the face. The colonel in command of the two regiments then called for an officer to take a skirmish line and send word back to him whether it would be safe to advance the line. I moved forward with men of my company as skirmishers, reconnoitered the position and made it possible to reestablish the line, which we held during the remainder of that action." Despite the Union grip on Weldon Railroad, the Confederates continued to use it, stopping their supply lines just south of the Union troops and hauling supplies by wagon around them. The bravery Martin displayed on August 19, 1864 at the Battle of Weldon Railroad, Virginia, would be recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded on March 29, 1894 and issued a week later, on April 5th, his citation reading: "The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Sylvester Hopkins Martin, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 19 August 1864, while serving with Company K, 88th Pennsylvania Infantry, in action at Weldon Railroad, Virginia. Lieutenant Martin gallantly made a most dangerous reconnaissance, discovering the position of the enemy and enabling the division to repulse an attack made in strong force." He was later to receive a second CMOH, the 1904 Type III version, as issued on June 9, 1908. In November 1864, the 88th received 200 conscripts, which helped many veterans to be promoted, ncluding Martin, who was made Acting Regimental Quartermaster on November 23, 1864, then promoted to Captain, although never mustered in that rank and made Acting Adjutant on January 30, 1865. The 88th was involved in the action at Boydton Plank Road in December 1864, and at the Battle of Hatcher's Run (AKA Dabney's Mill) on February 7, 1865, both hard fought battles. Fighting in similar environs as that at Weldon Railroad, and in appalling weather, Crawford's division fought off A.P. Hill's attacks to impede Grant's lengthening lines. Captain Martin was severely wounded in the thorax and the abdomen (just below the right shoulder) when a musket ball entered his back and fractured two transproceps of the dorsal and the mixable dict. (sic). The ball was finally removed from the back left side of his spinal column eight days later. Martin returned to duty on March 27, 1865, in time for the last battles of the war, and finally, on April 9th, the surrender at Appomattox Court House. They remained at Appomattox until April 15th and returned to Washington, D.C. on May 1st. Martin, along with less than one hundred of the original members of the regiment, marched to the Grand Review on the 24th. He never lost a day's duty except when absent, suffering from wounds, during the entire four years of the war and served until the war's conclusion. He was about to be commissioned a Major, when the severity of his wounds rendered him unfit for further service. Captain Martin resigned his commission and was Honorably Discharged due to wounds on June 7, 1865, brevetted Captain in June 1866, earning the Chevrons of the Non-Commissioned Officer, with the Shoulder Straps of Lieutenant and Captain for Bravery in the field of battle. He was also a recipient of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) Medal. In hindsight, the 88th Pennsylvania was a small and relatively healthy regiment, and as such escaped the post-war recognition bestowed upon those larger regiments suffering greater numbers of combined battlefield and health related deaths. William Fox, in his “Fighting 300 Regiments” sought to provide a post-war analysis of those regiments who most distinguished themselves in battle. Fox used the regimental casualties as his barometer for this military prowess. In his comparisons of the Union regiments, Fox examined losses in terms of raw numbers rather than losses proportional to the size of the regiment. Unfortunately, this did a great injustice to many distinguished regiments. The relative good health of the 88th was however, more than compensated for by battlefield casualties. In particular, the 88th exceeded many other regiments in the sheer numbers of officers killed and incapacitated while leading the regiment. During the course of the war, the 88th had the extraordinary distinction of having been commanded by twenty-two different officers, three of whom were killed in action, four more that were incapacitated by wounds, and one captured on the field of battle. By mid-1864, the regiment was reduced to having field grade officers from other regiments periodically assigned to serve as the 88th’s acting commander. At various times, officers from the 11th Pennsylvania, the 56th Pennsylvania, the 107th Pennsylvania, and the 147th New York commanded the 88th. While the soldiers consistently acquitted themselves well in battle, the constant turn over of regimental commanders took a severe toll on command continuity within the regiment. It is in part due to this lack of continuity in command, that the 88th remained relatively obscure in the post-war years. Officers temporarily detailed from others regiments were unfamiliar with the soldiers of the 88th and often had no strong interest in recognizing soldiers who distinguished themselves. Conversely, junior officers of the 88th who rose rapidly from the rank of Lieutenant to acting regimental commander often lacked the experience writing detailed after action reports. The combination of scant and un-detailed reporting, coupled with the ever-revolving command structure, consigned the deeds of many heroic soldiers, and the regiment at large, to relative post-war obscurity. This obscurity however, makes their story all the more compelling, especially Captain Martin's. After the war, Martin returned to Philadelphia, where he took employment as a Clerk at the Cold Spring Ice and Coal Company in 1866 and later, at the textile mill of James Erben, from whence he retired in 1868, upon being appointed an Inspector with the Department of Public Health and Charities in 1868. He held this position for five years, before moving on to the Bureau and Street Cleaning in 1873, a career that would see him connected with the Board of Health for twenty-five years, until 1903, with the exception of six years, during which time he was employed as Chief Inspector of Nuisances. He was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Street Cleaning in 1877 and was in that post for sixteen years. Martin was described as exhibiting "tireless energy and to the indefatigable attention with which he discharges his sometimes onerous duties that Philadelphia is largely indebted for its generally excellent sanitary conditions, and for the cleanliness of the highways," substantiated by the adoption of with his house-drainage laws under his tenure. Although he officially "resigned" from his position in April 1903, Martin was allowed to do so, as his leaving the position was regarded as a removal, recognized as the beginning of a policy of new Mayor Weaver, who had determined before he was inaugurated, that he would get rid of every official who had been closely associated with the previous Ashbridge administration. During his time in Philadelphia, Martin married his second wife, Mary E. Westerman Martin (born 1849) on November 27, 1879 in Philadelphia but she too passed away, in December 1896, the couple having no children, leaving him a widower for a second time. He was elected a 1st Class Member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), Pennsylvania Commanders and was active in regimental reunions. Martin moved to Erie, Pennsylvania in 1903, where he was employed, first as Assistant Adjutant, then Adjutant and finally, Commander of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home for twenty years. He applied for the 1904 new design of the Medal of Honor and its accompanying Rosette, on June 6, 1908, his application being accepted. He re-married again on October 16, 1916 in Erie, at the age of 75, taking his third wife, the 27 year old Cecelia Martin (nee McQuillan), a nurse at the same facility, calling her his "soulmate". He died from Arteriosclerosis due to valvular heart disease, in Erie, on September 25, 1927, at the age of 86, survived by his third wife, Cecelia, along with the two daughters and one son from his first marriage. The body was returned to Philadelphia for burial at Mount Moriah Cemetery. The location of the Congressional Medal of Honor issued to him in 1894 is unknown. There is evidence that a fire occurred at his house in Philadelphia and a notation that his son, Sylvester H. Martin, Jr. was to inherit the original medal. However, multiple attempts to locate descendants, the 1894 CMOH and his MOLLUS 1st Class medal have been unsuccessful. The Civil War Union Regular and Volunteer Army and Navy Officer's Medal 1865 is a period medal but has been added to the group in the 1980's.