Baptists and the American Civil War: April 13, 1862

Jacob J. Tanner

Jacob J. Tanner

While an increasing number of soldiers are dying on battlefields, wounds and sickness in general are more common threats in the daily lives of the warriors of the North and South. Today, Jacob John Tanner, born October 27, 1841 in Siblingen, Canton Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and now fighting on behalf of the United States, is stricken with catarrh, an infection of the mucous membranes in the head. Coincidentally, the sickness overcomes Tanner exactly four years after he set foot in the United States as an immigrant.

Having settled in Missouri after landing in New Orleans, Tanner enlisted as a private in the 1st Nebraska Infantry on April 11, 1861 in Omaha, Nebraska. He has fought, in recent weeks, in the battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh. A year of service and exposure to the elements has weakened his immune system, leading to his illness. The Swiss native will be plagued with the effects of Catarrh for the remainder of his life.

Discharged at the rank of Corporal on August 24, 1864 in Omaha, Tanner returns to Missouri and opens a wagon-making business with a partner. Two years later, he joins the local Baptist church, remaining an active Baptist for the rest of his life.

In April 1882 Tanner’s life intersects the life of one of the most well-known Baptists of the Mid-West: outlaw Jesse James. Murdered April 3 of that year, James’ funeral is held in Kearney, Missouri. At that time Tanner is working as a railroad tie contractor nearby, and decides to attend the funeral ceremony as a spectator.

The Kansas City Daily Times of April 7 relates the following odd account regarding James’ funeral:

Long before noon the town was full of people. The funeral procession started for the Baptist church, in which Jesse was convert[ed] in 1866. The edifice was filled, and for many there was standing room only. The pall bearers were J. D. Ford, Deputy Marshal J. T. Reed, Charles Scott, James Henderson, and William Bond. There was another, a sixth pall bearer, a rather mysterious character, whom none of the other five seemed to know. He seemed to have charge of the cortege and directed the movements but neither his fellow pall bearers or the by standers knew who he was. He was a stout and well preserved man, of perhaps 40 years, and seemed to understand what he was about, but no one could say who he was or where he came from.

(Other accounts indicate Jesse James had been baptized a Baptist at a younger age.)

Who is the mysterious stranger? Late in his life, Tanner relates his story to a newspaper writer, who pens the following account:

At the time Jesse James was murdered Mr. Tanner was a railroad tie contractor and had his men at work at Cameron, Mo. It became necessary to transfer men to Osborne, Mo., which was done and Mr. Tanner was awaiting the arrival of a passenger train to take him to that place when informed that the train would be several hours late, and at the ins[is]tance of a friend he went to Kearney to witness the funeral ceremony over the body of Jesse James. At Kearney a wagon bearing the body of Jesse James, a hack in which were the wife and son of the dead outlaw, and his mother and sister, a buggy containing the sheriff of the county, and a hack containing a number of traveling men and Mr. Tanner formed a procession which wended its way to the James homestead, a distance of five miles.

When the procession arrived at the house it was to find that hundreds of people had gathered there. Mr. Tanner succeeded in attaining a position at the gate for the purpose of getting a good look at Mrs. Samuels and other relatives of the notorious Jesse. After the relatives passed over the “gate” which was an old fashioned affair with steps upon either side, the coffin encased in a pine box, was placed on the top of the gate and someone nodded to Mr. Tanner to assist. This he did and acted as one of the pallbearers until the casket was deposited in the grave beside the house. During the duty in such capacity, Mr. Tanner conversed with Mr. and Mrs. Samuels and the following day the Kansas City papers gave a column article to the “mysterious stranger” who had appeared at the funeral of Jesse James and acted in the capacity of pallbearer. The article stated that no one knew the stranger, none knew where he came from nor where he had gone, and in fact, many other mysterious things were noted about him. The story finally reached Mr. Tanner’s home paper, where it was straightened out.

Jacob J. Tanner dies in Falls City, Nebraska, in 1906.

Source: Nebraska Civil War Veterans: Jacob John Tanner (link)