Chapter 5: Going Home on Parole
Having received my parole, I in company with some half dozen others left Vicksburg one afternoon about two o’clock, and started on my long tramp for home. I was a good walker at that time and could hold my own with the best, and as the others of the party were also swift on foot, we made good time and crossed the Big Black River about 4 o’clock.
Here we overtook Captain Watts who had left the previous day. The Captain was at this
time suffering from a form of rheumatism, which rendered his walking very slow and painful, and as he was alone and likely to remain so on account of his slow gait, I decided to remain with him. This was quite a trial to me, as I was anxious to get home and relieve the anxiety that they were feeling about me there, but I smothered my disappointment and jogged along with the Captain as cheerfully as I could.
We made about two miles during the remainder of the evening and camped on the side of a large cornfield. The corn was in the roasting-ear stage, but the field had been stripped by the returning soldiers; however, by going away down to the back of it I found plenty of corn and brought all I could carry to the camp. The Captain had conscientious scruples against taking anything in this way, and when I returned gave me a lecture on the subject. I listened to him without taken the trouble to reply, being all the time engaged in shucking my corn and standing it up round the fire to roast. As soon as it began to get done, I began to eat, inviting the Captain to partake with me, which he declined to do. After a time however my solicitations, coupled with the delightful odor of the roasting corn and the cravings of his stomach, overcame his scruples and he allowed me to hand him a well cooked ear.
After this there was no further trouble, I continued to cook and he to eat, and he ate and ate and kept on eating until I became alarmed for him, and had to counsel moderation. I don’t remember exactly how much he ate, but have the idea that it was about ten ears, at any rate I know there was nothing left of the arm-full I brought up when we were through. The Captain’s scruples never reappeared after this, and whenever a cornfield appeared in sight, he would always get very tired and suggest that it was time to go into camp.
We plodded along slowly from day to day making not more than five or six miles each [day]. We were constantly looking for transportation of some kind, but there was none to be had, everything of the kind had been grabbed by those preceding us. We finally reached Byram in Hinds County, where we caught up with our regimental baggage wagon, one of which was allowed by the Federals for the baggage of each regiment. I at once
looked up Colonel Sears, and on stating Watts’ condition to him, he allowed him to take a place in the wagon. This relieved me of great responsibility, and I felt like a prisoner out of jail.
It was now late in the evening and I crossed over Pearl River and camped for the night on the east side. The next morning I struck out about sunup, and by one o’clock walked into the Brandon depot, twenty-one miles from Byram. When walking through Brandon on that day, dirty, foot-sore and weary, I little thought that I was to get my dear wife and spend the best years of my life there.
At the depot, I met up with Lieutenant Lampley of Company “A,” a splendid fellow and warm personal friend of mine. Lampley told me he had been at the depot for sometime, waiting for a freight train which was then standing on the track headed east, to pull out. We continued to wait with the intention of boarding this train when it did finally move, which it did not do till nearly night.
My uncle Robert Willis was then living in Brandon, and had I known the wait would be so long, I should have gone uptown to see him, and would no doubt have gotten home easier than I did. The train was loaded with fixed ammunition, that is cartridges and shells ready for loading and firing, and as the road was entirely under military jurisdiction, could only run as orders were given. It pulled out about six o’clock in the evening with Lampley and myself on it, although the guard tried hard to keep us off. It ran up as far as Morton and there stopped, where we stayed all night hoping to go on again in the morning. When morning came the conductor told us he had no orders to proceed further and so we concluded to foot it again and struck out for Hillsboro, where we arrived about twelve o’clock.
We stopped at a house on the outskirts of the village to get some dinner, and while waiting for it to be prepared, a cavalryman rode up to the gate and called to me. I went out to see what he wanted, and found him to be Adolphus Wallace, a near neighbor of ours who belonged to a cavalry company commanded by my father. This company had been operating in Sherman’s front during his advance, and having nothing to do just then, many of them had been allowed to go home. Dolphus had a companion Billy Thames, and they proposed that I should go with them, agreeing that they would take turns in walking and allow me to ride all the way.
I tried to get them to take Lampley too, but they were anxious to get home on the following day, and did not think they could do so, if both had to walk all the way, as the distance was about forty miles; so I reluctantly left him, and we started out, going near twenty miles that evening. During the night one of the horses got loose and left, so the next morning both the boys had to walk after all, but being fresh and healthy they did not mind it and made as good time almost as the horse could.
We made it home about one o’clock; I found all well and delighted to see me. The news had already reached them that I was safe, some of the boys having gotten there nearly a week in advance of me. I don’t think I ever saw anyone more completely happy than dear mother was. She would keep round me and near me all the time, as if she feared for me to get out of her sight, and said she felt almost as if I had been given back to her from the grave, having given up hope of ever seeing me again.
It was Sunday when we arrived and quite a number of the neighbors coming in we had a very merry and enjoyable day. Although I had been away from home now for about eight months, my dog “Nigger,” knew me perfectly and was glad to see me as any of the family.
Martin remained at home for about two months, enjoying as he called it, “a delightful season of rest and recreation,” but all too soon the 46th Mississippi was declared exchanged and had to go to war once again.
During the next two years, Martin fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil war; places with names like New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, Jonesboro, Franklin, and Nashville. He survived these killing fields to return home in 1865 after, as he put it, “the star of the Confederacy which risen proud, bright, and full of hope, had set in blood.”
In his memoir Martin professed to having had a great longing for home during his time in service, writing: “The name of home touches every fiber of the human heart.” He returned to Newton County at the end of the war only to find “a picture of desolation met the eye at every turn.” Martin set to work rebuilding what he had lost, and on Christmas Eve in 1868 he took a wife, Ella, and the couple filled their home with one son and four daughters.
About the time he began work on his memoir, Martin moved his family to Vicksburg where he took a job as a bookkeeper. He stayed in the city until his death on Christmas Day in 1917, just one day after his 49th wedding anniversary.
Martin closed his memoir by speculating on how the Confederate soldier would be remembered in the South, and it is a fitting end to this story. Hewas confident that the legacy of the Confederate soldier would be preserved for future generations: “There is no fear that this will not be done; our Southland is inhabited by a brave, generous, and chivalrous race, proud of their traditions and past achievements, which no changes of political condition or modernizing influences will ever cause them to forget.”
Martin, a good judge of character, was right.