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Martin L. Nicks, in MN via TB, died, was 1st burial GAR Lot Civil War often set family vs. family, brother vs. brother

TIMOTHY MCCALL
The tombstone of Martin Luther Nicks is a comparison as it usually looks (left) and how it looks when the sun light hits it at the correct angle (right).

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery
By TIMOTHY McCALL
157th in a Series

Martin Luther Nicks has been something of an enigma, an unknown. Even his marker, which was placed nearly 140 years ago, simply lists him as “U.S. Soldier.” There has been a consistent rumor that he was actually a veteran of the Confederate Army who had been mistakenly buried in the G.A.R. lot. While I’m not certain of the origin of this rumor, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was because he was from Tennessee, had lived in Minnesota less than a year before his death and that there were no known records of his service. With the few facts available, it seemed likely that Martin could have fought for the Confederacy. However, as more information has become available, it appears that Martin chose conscience over family and state.

Martin was born in Hickman County, Tennessee in 1839, the eldest son of nine children. His father Perry Nicks, was born in Hickman County in 1816, and his Grandfather, Absalom Doak Nicks had served in the 1st Regiment Mounted Gunmen of the Tennessee Volunteers in the War of 1812, so the families roots in Tennessee were deep. As the reality of war approached, the pressure to choose sides must have weighed heavily on Martin, and like many accounts of brother vs. brother during the Civil War, Martin chose to go North, while his three younger brothers remained in the South and joined Tennessee units in the Confederate Army.

At the outbreak of war, Martin enlisted in Company B, 1st Missouri Infantry for a period of three months. He saw action early on at the Battle of Boonville (a Union victory) and the Battle of Wilsons Creek (a Union loss), which was the first major battle fought in the Western Theater. Perhaps it was about this time, according to Nick family lore, that they received the only letter from Martin since he had left home. In the letter, he advised people not to go to war. His family never heard from him again and assumed that he had died in the war.

At the expiration of his three-month enlistment, he reenlisted in the 1st Missouri Infantry which was soon reorganized into the 1st Missouri Light Artillery. Unfortunately, due to poor health, he was relegated to hospital work at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, until he received a medical discharge on May 25, 1863. His diagnosis was; Phthisis Pulmonalis or Tuberculosis. Unwilling or more likely unable to return to his southern home, he headed further north to Minnesota. It was a common misconception of the time that the clean, brisk air of Minnesota held curative powers for “lung ailments,” but this of course was not true. Less than 10 months after being discharged from the army, on March 14, 1864, at the age of 26 years, Martin Nicks died from Pulmonary Tuberculosis in Minneapolis and was buried in the Potters Field at Layman’s cemetery, likely at the county’s expense. How, in 1869, the G.A.R. was notified of Martins service in the Union Army is not known. Perhaps he was wearing his uniform when he arrived in Minneapolis and someone remembered this, we may never know. His heavily worn marker, placed about 1879 is still standing in the Grand Army of the Republic lot, Lot 63, Block M in the Northwest corner. It’s barely legible, but if you look at it at the right time of day, when the sun hits it at just the right angle, you can still just make out; “Martin Nicks, U.S. Soldier.”

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