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First Name: John

Last Name: Martin

Birthplace: Liguria, ITA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Date of Birth: 1853

Date of Death: 24 December 1922

Rank: Sergeant

Years Served:
John Martin

•  Indian Wars (1775 - 1924) intermittent


John Martin
Sergeant, U.S. Army

Giovanni Martini (later John Martin) was born in January 1853 in either Sala Consilina, Salerno, or in Apricale, Liguria Italy.

Martin was the last white man to see Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer alive (and survived to tell the tale) at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Martin, the 7th Cavalry's "orderly bugler of the day" on that fateful day, 25 June 1876, spoke with less-than-fluent English, which may have contributed to the Regiment's disastrous predicament. Minutes before Custer pitched into the Indian encampment on the Little Big Horn, Martin was sent in search of Captain Frederick Benteen with a written request for support and ammunition. According to some eyewitnesses, when the hard-riding bugler delivered the note to Benteen, he excitedly reported in a heavy Italian accent that the Indians were "skedaddling" (Army slang of the era for "retreating").

Whether or not this alleged miscommunication had significant impact on the outcome of the battle, Custer's last messenger was not lacking in courage. Like many young immigrants in the frontier Army, he had endured hardship in both the Old World, and the New, in his struggle for a better way of life.

As a youth, Giovanni Martini had fought for Italy's independence, serving as a drummer boy under Garibaldi. After the Risorgimento, he left his homeland for the U.S., where he Anglicized his name and became known as John Martin. In 1874 he enlisted in the Cavalry as a trumpeter, embarking on a military career that would eventually span 30 years. When a court of inquiry into the events at the Little Big Horn was held in January 1879, he was among the survivors whose testimony proved crucial to the defense of Major Marcus Reno.

Martin retired from the Army with the rank of Sergeant in 1904. He spent his twilight years as an employee of the New York City subway system, working as a ticket-taker at the 103rd Street Station. The former cavalryman, who took great pride in his frontier service and participation in the most famous battle of the Indian Wars, died at his Brooklyn residence on Christmas Eve in 1922.

Martin has been memorialized in Arlington National Cemetery's "Taps Project," a permanent exhibit honoring Gustav Schurmann, John Cook, and other famous buglers in U.S. Army history.

Death and Burial

Sergeant John Martin died on 24 December 1922 in Brooklyn, NY. He is buried at Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Honoree ID: 2810   Created by: MHOH




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