A Civil War Biography

Benjamin Franklin Tracy

Tracy was born 26 April 1830 in Owego, New York. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1851 and served from 1853 until 1859 as the district attorney of Tioga County, New York. He helped establish the Republican party in 1854 in Tioga County and was elected as a Republican to the New York State Assembly in 1861.

Tracy helped organize what became the 109th New York regiment in Binghampton, New York. The 109th was mustered into service on 27 August 1862 with Tracy as its colonel. Early duty for the regiment was in guarding the railroad leading to Washington DC from Maryland in and around Annapolis Junction and Laurel, Maryland. In March 1864 the 109th NY was assigned to the 1st brigade of the 3rd division of the IX Corps in the Army of the Potomac and saw action at the Wilderness on 6 May 1864 where Tracy was wounded. For his actions at the Wilderness Tracy was awarded the Medal of Honor on 21 June 1895. The citation reads, "Seized the colors and led the regiment when other regiments had retired and then reformed his line and held it". Tracy was brevetted brigadier general. He commanded the 109th NY at Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and during the siege at Petersburg.

Following the war Tracy served as the district attorney for the Eastern District of New York from 1866 to 1873. He was the defense counsel to Henry Ward Beecher during the sensational 1875 adultery trial where Theodore Tilton filed suit accusing Beecher of an affair with Elizabeth Tilden, Theodore's wife. Tracy was appointed a judge of the New York Court of Appeals in 1881 and served until 1883. In 1889 President Benjamin Harrison nominated Tracy to be Secretary of the Navy and he served through Harrison's presidency, 1889-1893.

Tracy is known as the father of the modern Navy for the many innovations adopted during his tenor. In 1896 he was chairman of the commission that drafted the charter for Greater New York. In 1896 he served as counsel for Venezuela in the arbitration of a boundary dispute with Great Britain. Tracy died 6 August 1915.

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