Civil War Wiki

James Tanner

James R. Tanner (April 4, 1844—October 2, 1927) was an American Civil War soldier and in 1889 Commissioner of the Pension Bureau.

Military and political career[]

Tanner was born at Richmondville, New York, April 4, 1844, where he worked as a teacher.[1] When the Civil War began in 1861, he enlisted in the 87th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment.[1] He served as a corporal with that unit through the Peninsula Campaign of 1862 and at the Second Battle of Bull Run where he received wounds that required the amputation of both legs above the knees.[2] He learned how to walk with artificial legs and in 1863 secured appointment as Under-Doorkeeper of the New York State Legislature.[2] Tanner later studied stenography and worked at the War Department in Washington, D.C., and served as a stenographer at Abraham Lincoln's deathbed.[3]

In 1866, Tanner returned to New York and married Mero L. White.[4] He later took up the study of law in New York and in 1869 was admitted to the bar. From 1869 to 1877 he was employed as Deputy Collector of the Customs for the Port of New York and from 1877 to 1885 was Tax Collector in Brooklyn, New York.[2] In 1876, he ran for Register of Wills in Brooklyn, but was defeated.[2] In 1884, he ran for Sheriff, but was again defeated.[2]

GAR and Pension Bureau activities[]

That same year, Tanner became the New York commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.[5] He organized a GAR campaign promoting the establishment of a Union soldiers' home in Bath, New York, and a home for Confederate veterans in Richmond, Virginia.[5] He later frequently was called on to lobby Congress on behalf of veterans and made many speeches in favor of Benjamin Harrison's presidential candidacy.[6] Harrison appointed Tanner to be Commissioner of Pensions in March 1889.[2] Intending to secure the greatest possible benefits and to "treat the boys liberally,"[7] Tanner proceeded to misconstrue administrative procedures and to vastly exceed his office's budget. At length, Secretary of the Interior John W. Noble, Tanner's superior, was forced to remedy the situation, and Tanner resigned in September 1889.[8]

Later life[]

From 1889 until 1904 he was a private pension attorney engaged in prosecuting various claims against the government.[2] In April 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him a Register of Wills for the District of Columbia.[5] In 1905, he was elected the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.[5]

Tanner died at Washington, D.C. on October 2, 1927 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, along with his wife and daughters.[9]