(1842 - December 13, 1911)
2nd Lieutenant, Co. H., 1st Delaware Infantry
Citation: Carried off the regimental colors, which had fallen within 20 yards of the enemy's lines, the color guard of 9 men having all been killed or wounded, was himself 3 times wounded.
Born in Philadelphia, Pa. 1842, "Charles B. Tanner" enlisted in "Captain Robert Milligan's" Company E, 1st Delaware Infantry Regiment in Wilmington, De. in 1861. He was noted as being 19 years old, 5’ 11" tall, dark complexioned, brown hair and hazel eyes.
When enlistments ran out that summer Charles joined Company H of the newly reorganized 1st Delaware Regiment as a sergeant. The 1st Delaware was then assigned to Fortress Monroe in Virginia. Promotions came quickly for Tanner as he was advanced to Sergeant Major in January, 1862 and 2nd Lieutenant on April 1 of the same year.
Moving out of Fortress Monroe, the 1st Delaware found itself assigned with "General George B. McClellan" who was moving to intercept Rebel "Robert E. Lee" as he advanced into Maryland. They met at a place by the Antietam creek called Sharpsburg, Maryland.
The 1st Delaware found itself on the right of "Brig. General Weber's" brigade where it advanced in line of battle, the first line of "General French's Division". Moving forward through a woods and into a cornfield, the advancing Delawarean's came out into about 100 yards of open pastureland at the end of which was a sunken road some four feet below ground level.
Below in the the sunken road were two enemy lines of battle with a third some 40 yards behind on an incline so that they could fire over their men in the sunken road at the Union troops. The Rebels were of "Gen. Robert Rodes's" Alabamians and "Gen. George Anderson's" North Carolina brigades. The Rebels were amazed at the massiveness of "General French's Division" coming at them. The 1st Delaware's "Col. John Andrews" tipped his hat to the Rebel officers on the other side to which they responded in kind.
Suddenly as the 1st Delaware got within 60 feet of the sunken road, the Rebel guns opened up. The right flank of the 1st Delaware was exposed to withering fire of Rebel muskets firing from crude breastworks in the sunken road. "Col. Andrews" dashed in front with the order: "Charge!" Lieutenant Tanner and eight others attempted to plant the regimental colors atop the Confederate precipice overlooking the sunken road but had to abandon the idea due to the intense fire. Almost the entire 1st Delaware colorguard was killed while "Col. Andrews" horse was shot from under him by four bullets. To make matters worse, the 14th Connecticut directly behind the Delawareans opened up a volley at the Rebels and shot at their own soldiers in front of them. The charge was repulsed as the men retreated back a hundred yards across the open land for the cover of the cornfield. "Col. Andrews" extricated himself from under his dead horse and tried to rally his men. In less than five minutes 286 men of the 1st Delaware Infantry's 635 and eight of ten company commanders lay wounded or dead.
Delaware's regimental flag lay on the ground 20 yards from the top overlooking the sunken road with the bodies of nine lifeless men who had tried to plant the colors there.
For over three hours the fighting continued at the sunken road. "Rodes's" Alabamians, hoping to take advantage of the retreat, rushed out after the Delaware colors but were beaten back. "Col. Andrews" ordered his men to zero in on the Rebels to keep them from getting it. The enemy charged five times to gain possession of the flag but were driven back each time with relentless slaughter.
Than a party of thirty men rushed forward to retrieve the colors, two of whow were "Captain James Rickards" and "Lieutenant Tanner". As they neared the fallen flag, "Sergeant John Dunn" of Company C, who was next to "Captain Rickards", noticed a wounded Rebel limping toward them using his rifle for support.
"I'll drop that fellow," Dunn said.
"Captain Rickards" slapped the sergeant's weapon down saying "You wouldn't shoot a wounded man!"
Seconds later the Rebel raised his rifle to his shoulder and shot "Rickards". Then a volley of rifle fire spewed forth killing the Rebel as "Captain Rickards" lay dying.
Another attempt to retrieve the flag failed after which "Major Thomas A. Smyth" proposed 25 marksmen lay down a covering fire for still another attempt. It was at this point that Lieutenant Tanner stepped forward and said "Do it, and I will get there!" In his own words Tanner described the ordeal:
"While covering that short distance, it seemed as if a million bees were singing in the air. The shouts and yells from either side sounded like menaces and threats. But I had reached the goal, had caught up the staff which was already splintered by shot, and the colors pierced with many a hole, and stained here and there with the lifeblood of our comrades when a bullet shattered by arm. Luckily my legs were still serviceable, and, seizing the precious bunting with my left hand, I made the best eighty yard time on record, receiving two more wounds."
The 1st Delaware Infantry once again had their colors. That single day in Sharpsburg, Maryland, cost the lives of more Americans than on any other day in history -- 22,719!
One week later, while recuperating in a Hospital in Sharpsburg he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Later, at the battle of Chancellorsville on May 1-5, 1863, he was recommended for promotion to brevet-captain by "Col. Thomas A. Smyth" for saving many wounded from the burning woods.
On May 29, 1863, he applied to lead colored troops but there is nothing in the records that showed he ever did. Two months later he was the acting Adjutant of his regiment at Gettysburg where once again he was wounded severly enough to spend time in the hospital there.
On September 13, 1863, he was medically discharged from the army. However on October 24, 1864, he enlisted again, this time in Co. H, 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers as a 1st Lieutenant where he was wounded in the knee at Petersburg, Virginia. Later, it was Lieutenant Tanner and "Lieutenant Albert Nones" who brought back the body of "General Thomas A. Smyth" to Wilmington, Delaware for burial. "General Smyth" had been the last Union General officer killed during the war. He was killed on the day that "Robert E. Lee" surrendered to "General Grant" at Appomattox.
After the war, Tanner married Lydia and had a daughter named Alice. He also served as the postmaster of Kennett Square, Pa. Eventually he moved to Washington, D.C. and became a clerk in the War Department. He died on December 13, 1911 and was interred in the Greenfield Cemetery, Hempstead, Long Island, New York.
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Last update: 7/15/2007