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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