Was he the Forest Gump of the 1800s?
Randolph Martin’s life had touchpoints on remarkable events in Kentucky and US History. As a Civil War soldier, he was in Washington as the John W Booth co-conspirators were tried and hung. After the war ended, he worked on the railroads helping the tracks reach Eastern Kentucky. His life was ended too soon by a Chesapeake & Ohio commuter train leaving his wife with four children to raise alone.
In 1847, Randolph Martin (1847-1883) was born to Nathaniel Martin (1816-1877) and Maria Schenck (1822-1893), who was living in Montgomery County, Ohio. He was the oldest of eleven children. His father was born in Piscataway, New Jersey, a son of a Revolutionary War soldier.
Within a few years, the family moved across the border to Bartholomew County, Indiana. When the Civil War started, his father enlisted as a First Lieutenant in the Indiana 53rd Infantry. His military career would be short-lived. After spending a few months in Indianapolis guarding war prisoners, he was deployed to Corinth, Tennessee, for a battle. After four weeks of battle, he resigned and returned to Indiana. The family returned to Montgomery County, Ohio, where his father worked as an innkeeper.
In 1865, the eighteen-year-old Randolph enlisted in Ohio’s 194th Regiment. The unit was organized in Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. In March 1865, Colonel Anson G. McCook was assigned to the unit. Their first movement was to West Virginia, where they were assigned to General Thomas Egan’s Army of the Shenandoah. They spent the first few weeks performing drills and getting ready to support the troops in Virginia. This would be a short operation.
On Apr 9, 1865, General Robert E Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia. If the country released a collective sigh of relief, it was short-lived. Barely a week passed before John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater.
Even as Lincoln had laid dying, the government started their search for Booth and his conspirators. Within a week, they found Booth hiding in a barn. They killed him. They captured eight others.
Chaos Fell Upon Washington
A strong military presence was necessary. The army ordered Randolph’s unit to Washington City for garrison duty. Garrison duty means anything from performing daily drills to digging latrine trenches.
In a letter from another soldier in his unit, they were staying within two blocks of the capital and performing guard duty for the trials. There was one military base east of the capital. Otherwise, the soldiers slept in tents. They fought off mosquitos and measles.
Today, the capital city is one of the most beautiful in the world, because of the beautiful monuments. When Randolph arrived in 1865, there was only one incomplete monument. The city was hardly the tourist destination it is today.
Conspirators on Trial
With the War of Rebellion ending, people wanted to punish the southern states. They wanted to avenge their beloved president.
The US government had a military tribunal; they considered the conspirator’s deeds treasonous and war crimes. From May through June, the trail continued. Soldiers were on guard duty as the defendants were tried. Each morning, they placed hoods on the defendants while transporting them to the trial.
To say this trial was unfair would be an understatement. By the end of June, a death sentence was apparent. Three men and one woman were sentenced for their participation. Mary Surrat ran the boarding house where the planning occurred. She was the first woman sentenced to death by the US Government.
The others, including Dr. Mudd who had repaired Booth’s broken leg, were sentenced to life in a Florida prison.
Execution Day Arrives
On July 6, 1865, the federal government executed the plotters. In the following photo, you can see the huge military presence on 7 July 1865 when the death sentence. They set up the scaffolding in the gallows of the Old Arsenal Penitentiary, on the shores of where the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers meet.
It would have been the most talked about event in the country. As the summer continued, the government tried more Confederates with similar results. I’ve wondered if my grandfather understood the gravity of the situation. In several cases, the government paid witnesses to testify. It doesn’t seem like the right path toward rebuilding. Everyone was so angry and worn out from a war that seemed unnecessary.
Railroads Ruled Kentucky After the War
In 1874, Randolph was living in Louisville, KY, where he married Martha Jane McGill (1853-1903). Mattie was the daughter of John McGill (1823-1904) and Elizabeth McCutcheon (1826-1904). Born in Ohio, her family moved to West Virginia (Virginia then) before settling in Kentucky.
Before 1870, they moved to Bullitt County, KY, where they lived near the depot. Her father was a railroad contractor, which might explain how she met Randolph.
By 1881, the couple had three sons: John William Martin, Henry Nathaniel Martin, and Robert McCutcheon Martin. They moved to Winchester, KY, where the Kentucky Central Railroad was expanding its line. Randolph was a conductor and part of the construction crew for the line.
In 1880, the Kentucky Central Railroad reached Winchester. The plan was to expand to Rockcastle County and meet the Louisville & Nashville Knoxville line. To complete this 75-mile extension, the railroad needed a bridge to cross the Kentucky River and over sixteen tunnels. The construction company needed blasting powder to create a tunnel. This powder was carried to the tracks by the railroad car. One of these cars was sitting in Winchester on the last day of Randolph’s life.
A Fateful Morning
On a summer morning in 1883, an accident that shook the city of Winchester occurred. As the commuter train from Lexington arrived, it collided with the Kentucky Central freight train loaded with blasting powder.
The Chesapeake & Ohio conductor, Michael McMichael, realized the impact was imminent. From the top of the train, he tried to turn the brake wheel to stop the train. It was too late. He was blown over 100 feet away. The injuries were significant. His eyes nearly burned out, his skin was torn from his body, and he was blackened from the burns. He died before noon.
Randolph was standing near the freight train when it collided. Probably he couldn’t see the train was still in motion. It was blocked by the depot.
The blast threw him fifty feet away. He sustained considerable injuries to his head, his abdomen was torn open, and the skin removed from his hands. It was a gruesome scene. They had no way of helping him. Within two hours, he succumbed to his injuries. The family buried him in the Winchester Cemetery.
The blast damaged the newly opened depot and adjacent restaurant. Workers in both buildings received bruises from being thrown against a surface. The accident made national headlines. The Louisville Courier-Journal had the best coverage. [Read transcribed copy here.]
Mattie was pregnant with her last son, James Randolph Martin. She moved to Lexington and later worked in a laundry. She sued the railroads for her husband’s death, but it was not clear if she was successful. The following year, her lawyers sued her. It’s likely she mounted fees without a settlement from the railroad.
After applying in 1891, she collected her husband’s military pension. She appears multiple times in the Clark County real estate records. Each time, she was purchasing a better property. By 1900, she was living in downtown Winchester with her parents and sons. By 1903, the fifty-year-old died. The following year, both of her parents died. They are all buried in the Winchester Cemetery.
John William Martin (1878-1947) moved to Indianapolis where he worked on the railroads until he retired. After marrying Dora Allison (1839-1936), they raised two daughters and one son. He died of kidney failure. They buried him in Washington Park East Cemetery.
Henry Nathaniel Martin (1879-1968) remained in Winchester. Many of the stone buildings and churches in Kentucky are because of his craftsmanship. He married Mary Louise Hollearn and they raised eight daughters and twin sons. They are buried in the Winchester Cemetery.
Robert McCutcheon Martin (1882-1964) served in all major military conflicts from the Spanish-American War to World War II. He retired from the military with the rank of Major. Robert was a guard for one of Kentucky’s most notable governors, William Goebel.
Early in Goebel’s career, he fought the railroads to create safer working conditions for their employees. He didn’t charge his clients and soon became the “poor man’s lawyer”. After being elected to governor in Jan 1900, a political opponent shot him but did not kill him. He would be sworn in as governor but die a few days later. [More about Governor Goebel’s life.]
Robert married Ora Adele O Kinsman (1880-1975). After his military career ended, the couple retired to California. They are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Of all their sons, James Randolph Martin (1884-1963), seemed the most aimless. His mother died when he was eighteen and his grandparents died a year later. He served in the military through World War I. After the war, he lived in Boston, where he married Marie Antoinette CHOUINARD (18??-??). He worked as a truck driver, a salesman for a mailer company, and security for the District Attorney’s office. After they divorced around 1940, he moved to Indianapolis to live with his brother, John.
Later, he moved to Los Angeles and married widow Ednah SPAULDING (1883-1963). He died in 1963 and is buried in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Francisco, CA.
- History of the Railroads in Winchester was covered in this report.
- In the Wake of War, Book Review, Patrick Young; describes garrison duty.
- For a more complete discussion of the Booth co-conspirators, refer to the Historic Camden County, New Jersey site.