A lawyer, state legislator, and Civil War general, William Thompson Martin was born on 25 March 1823 in Glasgow, Kentucky. He was the eldest son of Emily Monroe Kerr Martin and John Henderson Martin, a lawyer; a native of Albemarle County, Virginia; and a veteran of the Battle of New Orleans. Martin graduated from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, in 1840 and moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where his parents then lived, and studied law in his father’s office. Martin relocated to Natchez in 1842 and was admitted to the Mississippi bar in 1844. He won election as district attorney the same year, serving until 1860.
A Whig and staunch unionist, Martin opposed secession in both 1851 and 1860, but after Mississippi seceded, he organized a cavalry unit, the Adams County Troop, and was elected its captain in the spring of 1861. After Fort Sumter he led his men to Richmond, where they became part of the 2nd Mississippi Cavalry in the Jeff Davis Legion.
Martin received a series of rapid promotions, becoming a major in October 1861, lieutenant colonel in February 1862, and colonel in July 1862. During the Peninsula Campaign he commanded the rear third of J. E. B. Stuart’s column when he rode around Gen. George B. McClellan and commanded the legion in the Seven Days’ Battles. Martin served as Gen. Robert E. Lee’s personal aide at the Battle of Antietam. Martin’s performance won him a brigadier general’s commission in December 1862, and he was ordered to the West, where he served under Gen. Joseph Wheeler. Martin again distinguished himself in Tennessee, commanding a division in the Tullahoma Campaign and the Battle of Chickamauga. He received a promotion to major general in November 1863 and subsequently led a portion of Gen. James Longstreet’s cavalry in the capture of Knoxville. Martin then returned to Wheeler’s cavalry in the Army of Tennessee and led a division through the Atlanta Campaign. In December 1864 Martin was transferred to the Subdistrict of Northwest Mississippi, where he rounded up deserters and protected the region from guerrillas. There is no record of his surrender, but he was paroled at Meridian on 11 May 1865 and pardoned on 5 October 1866.
After the war Martin returned to practice law in Natchez. He served as a delegate to the state constitutional conventions of 1865 and 1890 and to every Democratic National Convention between 1868 and 1880. He represented Adams County in the State Senate from 1882 to 1894 and served as president of the Natchez, Jackson, and Columbus Railroad, overseeing the completion of a rail line from Natchez to Jackson in 1884. Martin also spent a dozen years as a trustee of the University of Mississippi and presided over the board of trustees of Jefferson College in Washington, Mississippi. In 1905 Pres. Theodore Roosevelt appointed Martin postmaster of Natchez.
In 1854 Martin married Margaret Dunlop Conner. They went on to have ten children and resided near Natchez at Monteigne, which Martin had built in 1854. He died in Natchez on 16 March 1910.
- John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands (2001)
- Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 6 (1933)
- Jon L. Wakelyn, Biographical Dictionary of the Confederacy (1977)