[LINCOLN, Abraham, assassination] TANNER, James (1844-1927), shorthand stenographer present at Lincoln's assassination. Typed manuscript "The Passing of Abraham Lincoln," inscribed (to George Temple Grace) and signed at end. N.p., n.d [ca.1900-1920?]. 6 pages, large folio, neatly typed on rectos only, small remnants of corner mounts.
A VIVID EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNT OF THE EVENTS OF 15 APRIL 1865, BY THE ARMY STENOGRAPHER PRESENT AT LINCOLN'S DEATHBED. Tanner, a corporal in the 87th New York, served in the battles of the Peninsula campaign and at Second Manasses lost both lower legs. After recuperating, Tanner was posted in Washington as "an employee of the Ordnance Bureau of the War Department." Tanner lived "in the house adjoining the Petersen House," where Lincoln had been carried after the shooting. He remained at the balcony of his boarding house until about midnight, when "Major General Auger came out on the stoop and asked if there was anyone...who could write shorthand....So it was that I came in close touch with the scenes and events surrounding the final hours of Abraham Lincoln's death. Entering the house I accompanied General Auger down the hallway to the rear parlor [of the Peterson House]. As we passed the door of the front parlor the moans and sobs of Mrs. Lincoln struck painfully upon our ears." In the back parlor, he "took my seat on one side of a small library table...Various witnesses were brought in who had either been in Ford's Theatre or up in the vicinity of Mr. Seward's residence...As I took down the statements...we were distracted by the distress of Mrs. Lincoln...." Many witnesses, Tanner reports, held back "from positively identifying the assassin as Booth. Said Harry Hawk, 'to the best of my belief, it was Mr. John Wilkes Booth, but I will not be positive,' and so it went...but the sum total left no doubt as to the identity of the assassin." Tanner was frequently interrupted by Stanton, who ordered measures taken to prevent the escape of those implicated in the assassination. "Many dispatches were sent from that table before morning," Tanner recalls. The small bedroom in which the dying President lay was close by, and in moments of quiet "we could plainly hear the stertorous breathing of the dying man." In the course of the long evening many prominent figures came to pay their final respects: "Secretaries Welles, Usher, and McCullough, Attorney General Speed and Postmaster General Dennison...Senators Sumner and Stuart, and General Meigs and Auger." Vice President Johnson, often shown in pictorial renderings of the death scene, though, "was not in the house at all," Tanner asserts. In fact, Tanner is the unique source for the Mrs. Lincoln's anguished cry "'Oh! My God and have I given my husband to die.'"
Tanner finished transcribing his short-hand notes at 6:45 a.m. and "passed back into the room where the President lay....The bed had been pulled back from the corner and owing to the stature of Mr. Lincoln, he lay crosswise on his back. The surgeon General was near the head of the bed...Mr. Lincoln's pastor, the Reverend Dr. Gurley...stood a little to the left of the bed. Mr. Stanton sat in a chair near the foot on the left...I stood quite near the head of the bed and...had full view of Mr. Stanton across the President's body. At my right Robert Lincoln sobbed on the shoulder of Charles Sumner...Stanton's gaze was fixed intently on the countenance of his dying Chief. He had...been a man of steel throughout the night..." At 7:22, Tanner writes, "the Surgeon General gently crossed the pulseless hands of Abraham Lincoln across the motionless breast and rose to his feet. Reverend Dr. Gurley stepped forward and...began 'Our father and our God'." Tanner failed in his effort to record Gurley's prayer, as his pencil point broke at that moment. "As 'Thy will be done, Amen,'...floated through the little chamber, Mr. Stanton raised his head, the tears streaming down his cheeks. A more agonized expression I never saw...as he sobbed out the words 'He belongs to the ages, now'..."
Tanner's account is frequently cited; one recent authority, James L. Swanson writes, "Stanton had witnesses from Ford's Theatre dragooned and brought before him. They spoke so fast that he recruited a legless Union army veteran who lived next door, James Tanner, to take it all down in shorthand" (Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, p.113). See Howard H. Peckham, "James Tanner's Account of Lincoln's Death," in Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, March 1942, pp.176-183). Provenance: Roy P. Crocker (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 28 November 1979, lot 234.