“You damned Yankee sons of bitches…can kiss my arse”: A Less than Loyal Irish Union Soldier in California

The site has previously explored Irish motivations in fighting for the North, as well as the widespread views many had towards Republicans, Abolitionists and African-Americans. Although the evidence is clear that many Irish soldiers were not in favour of emancipation, and were often politically opposed to the “black abolitionists”, the majority nonetheless continued the fight. However, Roscommon native Thomas Martin appears to have had his doubts about the cause for which he fought long before preliminary emancipation. Indeed such was the strength of his anti-Union feelings, and his pro-Southern sentiments, that what is truly remarkable is that he ever entered Federal service in the first place. 

Route of the "California Column" in which Thomas Martin participated (Starwars1977 via Wikipedia)

Route of the “California Column” in which Thomas Martin participated (Starwars1977 via Wikipedia)

Thomas Martin was working as a miner when he enlisted in the Union army at Camp Latham, Los Angeles on 7th December 1861. He was described as 28-years-old and 5 feet 10 inches tall, with blue eyes, light hair and a fair complexion. Thomas became a member of Company C of the 1st California Infantry, composed mainly of men from Amador County. In 1862 he and the majority of the men of the 1st became part of the “California Column”, assigned the task of driving Confederates from New Mexico in 1862. It was during the operations of the Column that Thomas’s sentiments about the Union, the Confederacy, and his fellow soldiers, first came to the fore. (1)

The first incident appears to have occurred at Rattlesnake Springs in May 1862, while the Column was marching towards Tucson (then in New Mexico Territory, later Arizona Territory). For Thomas, it appears that drink loosened his tongue, and made him all too ready to express his true feelings to comrades around him– who for their part don’t appear to have been too fond of the Irishman. At Rattlesnake Springs, Thomas apparently shared with his colleagues that “he wished to God he was where the Secession flag floated, he would be damned quick [to] leave this ‘outfit.'” Thomas, who had apparently got into an argument with one of the other men due to his slowness at making their food, also allegedly declared that “when he got on the edge of the Secession country…he intended to go and fight on that side.” (2)

The very next month, in Tucson, Thomas was at it again. Around the 26th June, when he heard that the troops were going to continue the march to the Rio Grande, the Roscommon man declared that “he wished to God he was there now he would desert and join the rebels.” Lest there be any doubt as to his feelings, he is also said to have shared the view that “he was on the wrong side and damn the black abolition sons of bitches.” Not long afterwards he was confined to the guardhouse for “disrespectful language concerning his commanding officer”, though he must have had some redeeming qualities, as his Captain interceded to request the charges be withdrawn, as “the offense was committed when the man was intoxicated [and is] the first time…that he has been either in that state, or in the guard house…” (3)

For a few months Thomas managed to keep his head down. February 1863 found him in the town of Mesilla on the Rio Grande, where perhaps his proximity to the Southerners stirred up old sentiments. He again allegedly stated that he was “on the wrong side in this war” and apparently called the men of his company and regiment “damned black abolition sons of bitches.” In the words of on his comrades (and in what appears something of an understatement) “I never thought he talked very loyal from the jump.” (4)

Thomas appeared unconcerned about the potential issues that his repeated loose talk may cause him down the line. At El Paso, New Mexico on 24th May 1863 he called Private Thomas Johnson of Company G “a damned Northern son of a bitch” and stated that he “was in a place now where he could express his true sentiments, and that his principles were with Jeff Davis.” Johnson himself gave a detailed account of the encounter:

In the first place I heard him say that he was where he could express his sentiments now without any danger. He said he was coming over on this side no more. I told him that he ought not to talk so after swearing into the service of Uncle Sam– by that he called me a damned Northern son of a bitch, and said he could whip me…he said that his principles were with Jeff Davis. (5)

There seems little doubt that both Johnson and Martin were drunk at this juncture, and Martin also later claimed he didn’t remember anything other than he had been robbed of some money when intoxicated. Far from giving Johnson a whipping, it seems it was Martin who was on the receiving end. According to Johnson, the next morning Martin asked him why he had beaten him up:

He wanted to know what I gave him a whipping for, and I told him because he had come over here and was blowing about the Secessionists over here, and that that was partly the reason I gave him the whipping… (6)

The Rio Grande in West El Paso (B575 via Wikipedia)

The Rio Grande in West El Paso (B575 via Wikipedia)

After his litany of ill-advised comments stretching across California, Arizona and New Mexico, things finally came to a head at Franklin, Texas on 26th May 1863, when the Irishman engaged in a blazing row with fellow Company G man Theaphilus Metzger. According to Metzger (whose account may not be reliable):

I called him to one side, and told him that he was not much of a man to go over the river, and call himself Secesh. He denied it. I told him I could prove it. He then rushed into the room and got down his gun… (7)

In his rage, Thomas had charged into the hut to retrieve his gun, going so far as to fix his bayonet. Another witness took up the story:

They [Martin and Metzger] came to the door quarreling. Martin came in, took down his musket and fixed his bayonet, and as he was coming to the door, Metzger remarked at him “you hurrahed for Jeff Davis in El Paso yesterday.” Martin denied it at first, and as he came toward the door he said “I did, and any of you damned Yankee sons of bitches that don’t like it can kiss my arse.” I got up and left the room immediately, Martin was very much excited. (8)

According to another version, Martin had said “I am a Jeff Davis man; and if any of you damned Yankees sons of bitches don’t like it you can go to hell”, while another man remembered he said “that he could whip any one Union son of a bitch there was in the column.” Yet another witness stated that “he rushed into the room and got down a gun and said something about Yankee sons of bitches, and something about Jeff Davis, I could not hear all of it.” As Martin went out the door, Metzger had apparently got a pistol, followed Martin, and fired off his pistol near him. This time, the Irish emigrant soldier had gone too far. Arrested, he was brought up on charges. On 10th June 1863 he faced a court-martial, accused of “expressing sentiments of disloyalty to the Government of the United States.” (9)

Thomas Martin’s court-martial at Franklin, Texas, had (perhaps unsurprisingly) no shortage of witnesses, with at least six of his fellow soldiers testifying against him. As the mornings proceedings wore on, Thomas occasionally asked a number of questions of his own in an effort to defend himself, at one point inquiring of one of the men: “did you ever hear me express sentiments disloyal to the Union when I was sober.” By the time all the evidence had been heard at 1.10pm things were looking bleak. The officers decided to take a recess, which developed into an adjournment until the following day. The court-martial never reconvened. The following reason was recorded: “the prisoner Martin, having, during, the recess, made his escape from the Guard.” (10)

Thomas Martin seems to have run out of Franklin, and the Union Army, and become lost to history (if any readers know any more of his story I would love to hear from you!). Did he join up with the Southern cause, or was he more concerned with leaving the hardships of military life behind? The harsh realities of campaigning in the west, along with the dual threats posed by both Confederates and Cochise’s Apaches, no doubt had a bearing on Thomas’s dislike for service. But he appears to have made too many statements on the matter not to have had deep-lying sympathies for the Southern cause. Without knowing more with respect to his background, such as when and where he emigrated to, we are unlikely to uncover what led him to that mindset, though it seems probable he had affinity for and possibly links with southern California’s pro-secessionist movement. What we can say with certainty is that Thomas Martin was definitely not one of the many Irishmen who donned Union blue armed with the ideological comfort that he was fighting to save his country.

Californian Bear Flag. Originally a symbol of the Republic, bear flags were flown by some Californian supporters of Secession in the early part of the war (Wikipedia)

Californian Bear Flag. Originally a symbol of the Republic, bear flags were flown by some Californian supporters of Secession in the early part of the war (Wikipedia)

(1) Thomas Martin Service Record; (2) Ibid.; (3) Ibid.; (4) Ibid.; (5) Ibid.; (6) Ibid.; (7) Ibid.; (8) Ibid.; (9) Ibid.; (10) Ibid.;

References

Service Record of Thomas Martin, Company C, 1st California Volunteer Infantry.

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Categories: California, Roscommon

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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One Comment on ““You damned Yankee sons of bitches…can kiss my arse”: A Less than Loyal Irish Union Soldier in California”

  1. CC Lester
    June 7, 2017 at 7:32 pm #

    Good afternoon, Damien. I wanted to add one thing to your story as I live in El Paso, Texas and have been researching another member of the California Column who lived in Mesilla, New Mexico and was possibly murdered, along with his 8-year-old son, by a political rival and/or cattle rustlers. The city of Franklin, Texas became El Paso, Texas when it was incorporated in 1873. During the Civil War, most of the settlers living in Franklin (El Paso), Texas were sympathetic to the confederacy as was the rest of Texas. Indeed, Confederate forces occupied Fort Bliss (here in El Paso) in 1861 until the California Column liberated the fort in 1862. I love your articles! You make these men and women human beings again, not just some forgotten name on a piece of paper somewhere.

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