Grand Army of the Republic
James 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.
Information submitted by:
Michael Robert Patterson, Webmaster
Arlington National Cemetery Website
Photograph of Commander-in-Chief Tanner submitted by:
George G. Kane
Photograph of Commander-in-Chief Tanner's Grave and Marker Courtesy of: