It is a great badge of honor to have the distinction of serving the
government in the conflict with Mexico, assisting in the arduous campaigns
until the stars and stripes were unfurled on the citadel of the Montezuma,
and also, less than two decades later to have been permitted to serve the
national Union in the four years of polemic struggle between the states.
Among the conspicuous figures of these great internecine conflicts is the
well remembered gentleman whose name forms the caption of this biographical
memoir, who, although his life history has been closed by death, his
influence continues to pervade the lives of those with whom he came in
contact. He was always mindful of his duty to his fellow men and ready with
word or deed to assist them in the struggle up life's steep path. No man in
his day and generation in this locality exercised a greater influence for
the civic, material and moral uplift of the community than General Martin,
for his life was that of the patriot, the Christian gentleman, the true
General James Stewart Martin was born August 19, 1826, in Estillville, now Gate City, Scott county, Virginia, the son of John S. and Malinda (Morrison) Martin, pioneers of that part of the Old Dominion state and a fine old Southern family of great influence in their day, his father having been a man of considerable political prominence and highly educated. He served as County Clerk, Circuit Clerk, and Master of Chancery for about twenty years. The mother of the subject, who was born in Sullivan county, Tennessee, was a woman of many commendable attributes, noted for her broad charity and high culture, and before she was called to her rest, in 1828, she emancipated her slaves. The subject's father moved to Illinois in 1844 and settled on a farm seven miles north of Salem where his son, our subject, resided for a period of three years, assisting in developing the farm from its primitive state into a highly productive place.
James S. Martin, our subject, received his education in the public schools of his native community in Virginia, making such notable progress and manifesting such a thirst for the higher learning that he was subsequently placed in Emery and Henry College, Washington county, Virginia, where he made a brilliant record for scholarship. A lad of strong patriotism from his early youth which continued to increase with advancing years, he was glad to have an opportunity to enter the army during the Mexican war, having enlisted in Company C, First Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, in the spring of 1847, and he made such an excellent soldier that he was made third sergeant of his company. The regiment was mustered into service at Alton, then transported to Fort Leavenworth and marched across the plains to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He performed conspicuous service during the strenuous campaign against the Mexicans. After the war, while on the homeward trip, his company nominated him for County Clerk of Marion county, and the people here ratified their action upon the arrival of the men at Salem. He was duly elected and in a most able and creditable manner discharged the duties of the same for a period of twelve years. He was also Master in Chancery for two terms, in which he also showed his superior ability in official capacity. Being an ambitious man he sought every means possible to improve himself and to be of the greatest service to his fellow men, consequently while holding these offices he devoted his spare moments to the study of law, and upon admittance to the bar, July 4, 1861, formed a partnership with B. F. Marshall and D. C. Jones and opened an office in Salem. Owing to the great strength and prestige of this well known trio their legal business was heavy from the first and the reputation of the firm soon spread throughout this part of the state.
In 1862, when the clouds of rebellion were the darkest and the lambent flames of discontented citizenship of the South were the most direful, our subject realized that every loyal son of the North should do what he could toward preserving the integrity of the Union, consequently he sought and obtained permission from Governor Yates to raise a regiment, with the result that the famous One Hundred and Eleventh was mustered, and Mr. Martin was selected as the man most worthy and able to command it, therefore he became colonel of the same. It was composed of seven companies from Marion county, one from Clay and one from Clinton county, the regiment comprising nine hundred and thirty men and officers, and it was mustered into service September 18, 1862, and joined General Davies at Columbus, Kentucky. Our subject served in the capacity of colonel all through the war, his services showing that he was a man of much military courage and genius, having from time to time led his men into the brunt of the fighting. During 1863 he was in command of the post at Columbus and later at Paducah, Kentucky. From there he went to Florence, Alabama, whither he was ordered by General Sherman, and he later went into winter quarters at Pulaski, Tennessee. From March 16, 1864, he served with the Sixteenth Army Corps, until the close of the struggle, having seen much hard service during that time, being with Sherman on his march to the sea and having led his regiment at the great battles of Resaca, Dallas, Kenesaw Mountain, Atlanta, Jonesboro, Fort McAllister and received the surrender of the commander of this fort. He was brevetted brigadier general in July 1864, and participated in the grand review in Washington City, and was mustered out in Springfield, Illinois, in June 1865.
After the war General Martin plunged into the active affairs of civil life and won signal distinction in the field of politics and business. He launched into banking in Salem, building up the nucleus of a large fortune through his wonderful executive ability. Taking an interest in Republican politics after the war he was elected County Judge in 1866, overwhelming a Democratic majority of six hundred. He was nominated for Congress in 1872 and was elected over Judge Silas L. Bryan, father of Hon. William J. Bryan. He ably served one term in Washington.
General Martin was appointed Commissioner of the Southern Illinois Penitentiary by Governor Cullom, September 4, 1879, which position he creditably served for four years. He served as a member of the Republican State Central Committee for a period of nearly twenty years, and was chairman of the same during the canvass which elected Governor Fifer. He was a delegate to the National Convention in 1876, when he voted for the nomination of James G. Blaine for President. As might be expected he was an interested member of the Grand Army of the Republic and was honored in the same by being elected department commander of Illinois for two terms. He was largely instrumental in 1882 in organizing the Southern Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Reunion Association, of which he continuously served as commander. In all the official positions, General Martin conducted himself as a most able and worthy exponent of the country's good, and proved at all times to be an unselfish public servant of the most humanitarian and altruistic motives and principles.
The domestic life of our subject dates from 1852, when he was united in marriage with Jane Elston, of Salem, Illinois, to whom four children were born, three surviving. They are: Grace M., the wife of George O. Webster; Luther and John E. A complete history of the last child named is to be found on another page of this work. The subject's first wife passed to her rest in 1889, and in 1903 General Martin was married to Margaret Savage, of Ashland, Kentucky, who, with their daughter, Daisy, a cultured and refined lady, survive in 1908. Three brothers of the subject, Robert, Benjamin and Thomas, are also living in Salem.
Thus after a most active, useful and exemplary life which the kind Heavenly Father greatly prolonged he passed to his rest, November 20, 1907.
The city of Salem owes a great debt of gratitude to General Martin for he aided in many ways in its upbuilding and general development as he did also Marion county, where he was for many decades held in the highest esteem by all classes, for he was universally regarded as a hero both in war and in peace, one of the component parts of the nation's substantial pillars, and the reverence with which the citizens of this locality cherish his memory will serve as a greater monument than marble shaft or bronze obelisk. He was truly a brave and good man whose life was a continued sacrifice for others, a benefactor in the true sense of the term. His career was fraught with untold blessings to the world, and when in common with all things human his earthly course was ended and he was called to a higher plane of action, the memory of his noble deeds and honorable achievements continued to constitute a record to which each passing year will give additional luster.
Extracted 10 Jul 2017 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 267-270.