Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site

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James Tanner


James Tanner was born at Richmondville, Schoharie County, N. Y., April 4, 1844.

His Early life was spent on a farm, where he received the usual privileges of education furnished country boys in the district school.

When the war broke out he was engaged in teaching, and though but a lad, he resigned his position and enlisted in the 87th New York Volunteers, Company C, as a private soldier, being at the time but seventeen years and six months of age. Shortly after his enlistment, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal, which was but the assurance of further promotion had not his soldier's career brought suddenly to an end, by the terrible disaster which befell him.

The 87th New York was hurried to the front, and was soon engaged in the conflicts of the ever memorable Peninsular campaign.

Being attached to Kearney's Division, Corporal Tanner participated in most of the battles which marked the advance of the Army of the Potomac, including Williamsburgh, Fair Oaks, the siege of Yorktown, the Seven days battle in front of Richmond and Malvern Hill. After leaving the Peninsula, the Regiment fought at Warrentown, Bristow Station, and Manassas Junction, in all of which battles Tanner took part.

The next battle was his last with the regiment, for there followed his terrible fight for life.

When his regiment marched to the second battle of Bull Run, he was in his place, ready, as he had ever been, to do the work assigned him. It was in this battle that he received the terrible injuries that resulted in the loss of both his legs. His regiment occupied a position on the extreme right of the line, with Stonewall Jackson's corps lying in front.

While undergoing a terrific shelling from the enemy, by order of General John C. Robinson, the men were lying down. While in this position, a piece of a shell struck his limbs, completely severing the right limb as to make amputation necessary.

He was picked up by some of his comrades, and carried to a piece of timber near by, where the surgeons were at work. There, he said he lost consciousness, but when he recovered it, found that both of his limbs were off, having been amputated four inches below the knee.

Meantime the Union lines had been broken, and the army was retreating.

Hurriedly picking him up, Tanner's comrades sought to make good their escape, but were compelled to leave him at a farm-house, in order to prevent their own capture.

There he fell into the Rebels hands, and for 10 days, lay in the door-yard with six others, who had lost either a leg or an arm.

At the end of the ten days, he was paroled, and taken in an ambulance to Fairfax Seminary Hospital, near Alexandria, Virginia.

After remaining here four weeks, his brother found him, and took him back to his old home in Schoharie County. By the next spring he was able to get about on a pair of artificial legs, and soon after was appointed to the position of Deputy Doorkeeper in the Assembly.

He was subsequently appointed to various positions under the Legislature, and then went to Washington, as a clerk in the War Department, under Secretary Stanton.

On the night of President Lincoln's assassination, he was employed to take notes of the first official evidence of the assassination, and attempt upon the life of Secretary Seward. He was among the number who stood at the bedside of Mr. Lincoln when he died.

Resigning the position he held under Secretary Stanton, he returned to Richmondville, Schoharie County N.Y. and entered the law office of Judge William C. Lamont in the spring of 1866. He remained in the office of Judge Lamont until admitted to the bar.

In 1866, he married Miss M. L. White, daughter of Alfred C. White, of Jefferson, Schoharie County, N.Y. To them there have been born four beautiful children--two daughters and two sons.

In the spring of 1869, soon after he was admitted to the bar, Mr. Tanner was appointed to a position in the New York Custom House, and immediately took up his residence in the city of Brooklyn.

In the Custom House, he rose on competitive examination until he became Deputy Collector, in which office he served four years under General Chester A. Arthur.

In 1871, he was the Republican nominee for the Assembly in the 4th district of Kings county, and though it was conceded that he ran far ahead of his ticket, and was really elected, he was deprived of his seat by the enormous frauds of that year, which have become part of political history of the city of Brooklyn--frauds which were only possible because of the fact that there was no registry law that year. In 1876, Mr. Tanner was the republican candidate for Register of Kings county and was defeated by less than 2,000 votes though the Democratic majority that year in the county was 19,000.

In November, 1877, Mr. Tanner was nominated by Mayor Schroeder, and confirmed by the Board of Aldermen, to the responsible position of Collector of Taxes for the city of Brooklyn. Upon the expiration of his first term, although the mayoralty had in the meantime passed into the hands of the Democracy, he was nominated and confirmed by the entire vote of the Board of Aldermen with one exception. He instituted many reforms in the administration of the office, extending greater facilities to the tax-payers, and at the same time reduced the expenses of the office one-half. Under his regime the first day's collections on a new levy has grown from $300,000 to $2,000,000. On the induction into office, January 1, 1882, of Hon. Seth Low as Mayor of Brooklyn, he appointed Mr. Tanner as collector for the third term, and his action met with the hearty approval of all classes.

While in the office of collector he has not forgotten the claims of the soldier, for the records of the office show that during his term as collector there have been in his office twenty-two veteran soldiers whose aggregate salaries have amounted to $80,000. Thus he is always when opportunities offer, reaching out in a substantial manner to the aid of the ex-soldiers. This spirit ever manifesting itself has given him great popularity among the soldiers of the State.

For years Corporal Tanner has been a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, seeking in every way possible to advance its interest. Repeatedly his comrades had felt how great was the value of the advice which he gave, and for long had looked upon him as a leader whose judgment was sound and whose heart was true. Consequently in 1876, he was elected to the position of Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of New York. He came in command at a time when the members of the Grand Army were discouraged because of the failure of the attempt to make provisions for the poor and homeless ex-soldiers in the State. It had long been felt that New York had neglected to provide for the wants of many of her maimed and helpless soldiers. Some futile attempts had been made to secure relief but nothing substantial had as yet been done.

When he assumed command of the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of New York, there was as yet no home provided for the maimed and homeless soldiers of the State. While other States had provided for their homeless soldiers, New York had failed, as yet, to make any provisions.

Several attempts had been made to erect a home, but each attempt had failed. The outlook was discouraging, it was an Herculean task to attempt a work which had repeatedly failed, and around which, because of previous failures there had gathered much of prejudice.

But realizing the fact that the alms-houses of the State were filled with crippled soldiers, and believing that by persistent and untiring effort, and proper putting of the facts before the people especially the soldier element, a better result could be secured, he resolved to undertake the work. He traversed the State from one end to the other. He made public and private appeals in the interest of the soldiers' home. He fired the hearts of many truly patriotic and benevolent men; and at last poured an avalanche of petitions upon the Legislature of the State. As the result of his never yielding efforts there was erected at Bath, Steuben county, N.Y. at a cost of $80,000 a magnificent building known as "The Soldiers' Home" where the crippled defenders of the country most truly find the comforts and luxuries of a home.

The building is capable of accommodating six hundred men, and throughout the State the soldiers speak of it not only as a soldiers' home, but as Tanner's monument. It was truly a grand and noble work, and it was grandly done. And while through the struggle to accomplish it, many noble-hearted men gathered about the enterprise, still the buildings in their strength and patriotic philanthropy stand as a testimony to the burning zeal and untiring effort of the crippled soldier, Tanner.

At the present time Mr. Tanner is Collector of taxes of the city of Brooklyn, to which office he has been appointed for the third term, thus voicing the confidence in him of the great city where he lives.

He is a man of marked ability, being a public speaker of unusual eloquence and power; his voice not only being heard upon the political stump, but often upon the lecture platform.

He enjoys the confidence of a large circle of friends, and without doubt has a bright and promising future before him.

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