Corporal, United States Army
Tanner served in the Civil War and lost both legs due to wounds that he
received at Second Manassas in 1862. He was fitted with two wooden prostheses.
Tanner studied stenography and worked at the War Department in Washington. On the evening of April 14, 1865 he hurried to Ford's Theater on hearing that President Lincoln had been shot. He remained there throughout the night with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and took a complete shorthand notes as the search for the assassin was planned and carried out. His record of events that evening at the Peterson House (across from the theater) remain the most comprehensive record of the events that followed the President's shooting. He later founded a Veteran's organization and spoke at the dedication of the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.
He was born at Richmondville, New York, April 4, 1844. He was a teacher in the local schools when the Civil War began and he enlisted in September 1861 in the 87th New York Volunteer Infantry. He served as a Corporal with that unit through the Peninsula Campaign, April-July 1862 and at the Battle of Second Bull Run (Manassas), August 29-30, receiving wounds which required the amputation of both legs just below the knees.
He learned how to walk with artificial legs and in 1863 secured appointment as Under-Doorkeeper of the New York State Legislature. In 1864 he obtained a clerkship in the War Department in Washington.
He took up the study of law in New York at the end of the Civil War and in 1869 was admitted to the Bar. From 1869 to 1877 he held posts in New York Customs House and from 1877 to 1885 was Tax Collector in Brooklyn, New York.
He was also very active in Republican politics and in the Grand Army of the Republic. As State GAR Commander in 1876, he organized a letter-writing campaign that moved the legislature to establish a soldiers' home. He later frequently was called on to lobby Congress on behalf of veterans and between 1886 and 1888 made several national tours on the stump for Benjamin Harrison's presidential candidacy.
In reward for these activities, he was appointed in March 1889 Commissioner of Pensions. Declaring his intention to secure maximum possible benefits to "every old comrade that needs it" Corporal Tanner (as he was often known) proceeded to make hash of administrative procedures and his office's budget. Honest in ineptness, but many subordinates were not, a fact that added to the confusion. At length, Secretary of the Interior John W. Noble, of whose Department the Pension Office was a part, was forced to step in, and Tanner resigned in September 1889.
From then until 1904 he was a private pension attorney engaged in prosecuting various claims against the government. In April 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him a Register of Wills for the District of Columbia. In 1905-06 he was the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.
James Tanner died at Washington, D.C. on October
2, 1927 and was buried in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery. His
wife, Mero T. Tanner (1844-1906), is buried with him. His daughters,
Ada (1868-1959) and Antionette (1870-1953) are also buried with him.
HELENA, Montana, June 29, 1906 Ė Mrs. James Tanner, wife of the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic was killed this afternoon in an automobile accident.
Corporal Tanner and his wife arrived here this morning. This afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Tanner, Mrs. J. K. Toole, wife of Governor Toole, and General Lester Wilson made up a party to visit points near Helena.
On the way to Fort Harrison, while going at a fairly swift pace along a narrow road, the chauffer turned out to make room for a wagon. The road was so narrow that the automobile ran off the edge of the embankment, turned over and threw the occupants out.
Mrs. Tanner struck the ground first and Mrs. Toole and General Wilson fell on her. Mrs. Tanner, unconscious, was taken immediately to a hospital, dying just as she reached there. The other members of the party were not seriously hurt.
Mrs. Tanner was a daughter of Alfred C. White of Jefferson, New York. She was married in 1866.
Mrs. Tanner had lived in Washington since 1888,
when her husband was made Commissioner of Pensions by President Harrison.
She leaves four children, Captain Earl Tanner, U.S.A., James A. Tanner
of the Department of Justice, and Misses Ada and Nettie Tanner of Washington.
CORPORAL TANNER DIES AT CAPITAL
WASHINGTON, October 2, 1927 Ė Corporal James Tanner, one of the capitalís most picturesque citizens, a Civil War veteran, former United States Commissioner of Pensions and Register of Wills in the District of Columbia for nearly a quarter of a century, died here today. Formerly he was the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Corporal Tanner, who was 83 years old only a few months ago, was born in Richmondville, New York, on April 4, 1844. When he was barely 18 years old he responded to Lincolnís call for volunteers and enlisted in the 87th New York Infantry. The title of Corporal was his proudest boast and by it he preferred to be known even when occupying the high positions to which he was named in after years.
Corporal Tanner participated in the battles of Yorktown, Fair Oaks, the Seven Days in the Wilderness and Malvern Hill. In the Second Battle of Bull Run, he was severely wounded and both legs were subsequently amputated. After the operation he came to Washington and was given a place in the Ordnance Bureau of the War Department. As a clerk in the bureau, he was assigned as a reporter in connection with the investigation of the assassination of President Lincoln.
Subsequently Tanner was Collector of Taxes in Brooklyn, New York, for four terms and in 1889 was appointed United States Commissioner of Pensions. He resigned with the Harrison administration, which had appointed him, objected to his activity toward increasing Civil War pensions. He was then appointed Registrar of Wills in the District of Columbia by President Roosevelt in 1904 and served continuously in that capacity until his death.
Corporal Tanner was for many years a leading Republican orator, prominent in all conventions and campaigns.
Webmaster: Michael Robert Patterson
TANNER, MRO L W/O JAS
TANNER, ADA D/O JAMES
TANNER, ANTOINETTE D/O JAMES
Updated: 13 September 1999 Updated: 2 November 2000 Updated: 28 April 2002 Updated: 29 April 2003 Updated: 14 May 2004 Updated: 31 May 2005
Updated: 24 Decembe 2006 Updated: 11 November 2007
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 23 April 2004