James Martin was born in 1826 in Derry, Ireland, and later immigrated to the United States. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on July 9, 1847, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and served aboard the steam sleep USS Richmond during the U.S. Civil War. Sgt Martin was awarded the Medal of Honor on December 31, 1864, for his actions during the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864 while serving aboard USS Richmond. He remained in the Marine Corps after the war, and received an honorable discharge on March 27, 1879. James Martin died on October 29, 1895, and was buried at the Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
His Medal of Honor Citation reads:
As captain of a gun on board the U.S.S. RICHMOND during action against rebel forts and gunboats and with the ram TENNESSEE in Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864. Despite damage to his ship and the loss of several men on board as enemy fire raked her decks, Sergeant Martin fought his gun with skill and courage throughout the furious 2-hour battle which resulted in the surrender of the rebel ram TENNESSEE and in the damaging and destruction of batteries at Fort Morgan.