Book Review: America's Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace


by James Marten

Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014. Pp. xii, 200. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 0820343218

The Life and Work of the Civil War’s Most Prominent Disabled Veteran

James Tanner (1844-1927) was one of the most well known men of his times, and probably the most prominent disabled Union veteran, but this work by Prof. Marten (Marquette) is the first ever biography of the man.  Tanner lost the lower portion of both legs at Second Bull Run.  Recovering, he went on to serve as a government stenographer, and recorded testimony at Lincoln’s death bed.  Postwar he became a prominent leader in veterans’ affairs, rising to command of the Grand Army of the Republic, was a notable Republican politician, prospered in business, and helped found the American Red Cross.  

Marten gives us a well-written, quite detailed account of Tanner’s life and work.  He offers many insights into contemporary society, particularly from the perspective of a man with disabilities, at a time when there was almost no awareness of the problems of the handicapped.  Marten also discusses an incident that will likely sound quite rather familiar to readers; Tanner was even the subject of an early version of a “Swift Boat” attack, when his poetical enemies denigrated his military experiences and the circumstances surrounding the loss of his legs, though his comrades and many eyewitnesses rallied to his support.

A volume in UGP's series "Uncivil Wars,"America’s Corporal is an excellent book not only because it’s about a man who is today largely forgotten, but because of its look at the problems of disabled veterans in the post-Civil War era, which may also be of interest to those studying the veterans of other conflicts.

Note: America’s Corporal is also available in paperback, at $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-4321-1, hardback for $69.95, ISBN 978-1-8203-4320-4, and as an e-book for $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-4322-8.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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