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On August 14, 1862, in the Town of St. Johns, Harrison County, Iowa, a farmer named John Joseph Martin enlisted in the 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Company A, United States. Mr. Martin enlisted for three years of service.

The 29th Iowa was mustered into Federal service December 1, 1862. At that time Private Martin was 34 years old and stood 5 feet 11 inches tall with blue eyes, black hair and a dark complexion.

After a brief induction to army life, John Martin and the 29th Iowa moved to Columbus, Kentucky, where a Rebel attack failed to materialize. The regiment then proceeded down the Mississippi River to Helena, Arkansas.

"The 29th Iowa was soon introduced to the harsh realities of a winter campaign. Upon reaching Helena on January 11, the regiment did not disembark but instead immediately joined a waterborne task force. Brigadier General Willis A. Gorman, commanding the District of Eastern Arkansas, planned to lead this force on a raid up the White River. A 35 boat flotilla. . .got underway January 12, 1863 carrying infantry, cavalry, and artillery.

Gorman’s force made it to Saint Charles the following day only to discover that the Confederate garrison had fled. Amid a winter snowstorm, the Federals steamed upriver taking Clarendon. Devall’s Bluff, along with two heavy guns and twenty-five prisoners, was captured followed by Des Arc with seventy Rebels, some government corn, and a quantity of ammunition. The Yankees destroyed anything of use to the enemy and seized a riverboat with its cargo of livestock.

On January 20, Gorman reported that all the Confederates in Northeastern Arkansas had withdrawn. . . .Nothing more could be accomplished, and the expedition was recalled to Helena.

The 29th Iowa’s first experience in the field was a grim one. Some 400 men were on the sick list when the demoralized regiment returned to Helena on January 26, having spent more than two weeks aboard a crowded transport. At least half of the sick eventually died or were discharged for disability, without firing a shot in anger” (Popchock, B., ed., Soldier Boy: The Civil War Letters of Charles O. Musser, 29th Iowa)

Private John Martin survived the White River Expedition. He most likely became ill as had many of his comrades. Less than a month after the White River Expedition,the 29th Iowa was assigned to another waterborne expedition.

One of the major objectives in the western theater in 1863 was the capturing of Vicksburg. General Grant was attempting to lay siege to the city. Because of its strong defenses on the Mississippi River, Grant attempted a “back door” approach from the north of the city and east of the Mississippi. It was intended that the 29th Iowa, along with other Union troops, would board transports and make their way down the Cold Water River, the Tallahatchie River, and finally the Yazoo River above Vicksburg. However, between the Union troops and their destination were treacherous rivers as well as the Confederate Fort Pemberton. The transports were badly mauled by the rivers’ strong current, low trees, and Rebel attempts to slow the flotilla of 14 transports and 6 gunboats.

Upon reaching Fort Pemberton, it was discovered that the ground was too poor for an infantry assault,and that the rivers were not wide enough for the Navy to maneuver. The Union and Confederate forces exchanged gun fire, but the expedition was called off. After that failed attempt, the Union forces retreated back to Helena.

Upon returning to Helena, the members of the 29th garrisoned the city and performed various duties in the area. At this time rations and water were poor in quality and low in quantity. Disease, such as dysentery (or the “Arkansas quickstep” as the soldiers called it), caused many deaths and disabilities. Small epidemics went through the troops, causing more suffering, disability, and death.

John Martin remained with the 29th Iowa until June 3, 1863. He was transferred to the General Hospital in Keokuk, Iowa, because of illness. He remained there until his discharge on April 25, 1864, which was ordered by General Pope, Commander, Department of the Northwest due to chronic diarrhea, hepatic and splenic enlargement, chronic bronchitis, and general disability.

John Martin applied for a disability (or invalid) pension on June 15, 1880 which he received until his death in 1896. Afterwards, his widow, Catherine Martin, continued to receive John’s service pension until her death on March 18,1902.

John Martin's service in the 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry was short, but it was nonetheless important and will be remembered and honored.

John is listed in the Iowa State Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) roster, but no specific post is given. As the GAR aged, a new group emerged from them called the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The Sons strive to keep green the memory of John Martin and all those Union troops who made a sacrifice during our nation’s Civil War.

Please keep John and all those who made those sacrifices in your thoughts on Memorial Day.

Discharge Paper
Application for furlough
Adjutant Genearl Report
Original Pension Declaration

I would like to thank Peter Eisert of Palmyra ,PA for the tribute to John Martin of Missouri Valley ,IA who fought in the Great American War. Peter is quite a civil war buff and has done a very commendable job of research and presentation.

DEM-Easter Sunday April 23, 2000

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