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King Tanner: Hannibal man of color fought for the Union during Civil War

Cutline: King Tanner’s tombstone in Leavenworth National Cemetery, Kansas. Photo on Find A Grave posted by Steve McCray.


For the Hannibal Courier-Post

King D. Tanner was barely a wisp of a man, standing at only five-foot-six, but he can justifiably be remembered as a true American hero.

Born in 1841 Missouri to Simon and Maria Tanner, King Tanner wore many hats during his years in Hannibal, but the most significant was the hat that accompanied his Army uniform during the Civil War.

King Tanner enlisted for Union service on Sept. 25, 1863, at Hannibal, serving with the 56th United States Colored Infantry for two years, as a First Sergeant. He mustered out at the war’s end, on Sept. 4, 1865.

Wikipedia explains that the 56th regiment was composed of African American enlisted men commanded by white officers. The Bureau of Colored Troops, created by the United States War Department on May 22, 1863, authorized the regiment.

“The regiment was organized at St. Louis in August 1863 as the 3rd Regiment Arkansas Volunteer Infantry (African Descent) and assigned to the VII Corps (Union Army). The regiment was dispatched to Helena, Arkansas where it was initially utilized for garrison and guard duty. The regiment was re-organized at Helena, Arkansas on March 11, 1864, and re-designated the 56th United States Colored Infantry. The 56th was commanded by Col. Carl Bentzoni, a Prussian born officer who trained the troops for combat.” – Wikipedia

Tanners in Hannibal

The Tanner family was included in the 1860 census of free inhabitants of Hannibal’s second ward. Both Simon and his son King Tanner were listed as common laborers. Simon Tanner was born in Tennessee in 1812, and his wife, Maria, near the same age, was born in Kentucky. In 1866, Simon Tanner was employed as a plasterer and lived on the north side of Center between Seventh and Eighth.

Following King Tanner’s two-year stint with the Army, he returned to Hannibal, and the 1870 census lists King and his wife Lusie Tanner, ages 29 and 27, respectively, inhabitants of Hannibal’s first ward. King Tanner, who could neither read nor write, was once again categorized as a laborer.

Boarding house

The 1870 census reveals that Simon and Maria Tanner operated a boarding house on the north side of Center Street, between Seventh and Eighth. The census has two different listings for the boarding house in 1870, and lists the following as boarders: Jackson McElroy, 25; Harry McElroy, 23; Frank Smith, 25; Samuel Banks, 21; J. Sutton, 23; Benjamin Sutton, 26; Nathan Sutton, 16; Henry Nappier, 26; Bell E. Sisser, 16; and Douglass Sisser, 23.

The second listing includes: Frank South, 25; Richard South, 30; Samuel Banks, 21; Suttan Banks, 23; Benjamin Banks, 26; Nathan Banks, 16; and Henry Mappin, 16.

The 1880 census also lists occupants of the Tanner board house. Simon Tanner, at age 67, was a whitewasher. His wife, Maria Tanner, 67, operated the boarding house. Occupants included: Dick Doolin, 55, teamster; Henry Wheeler, 30, working in a lumber yard; Eliza Sutton, 45, sister in law; Fred Randolph, 21, railroad laborer; John Jackson, 33, teamster; George Moore, 30, teamster; and Dora Green, 13, adopted daughter.

Maria Tanner died Oct. 12, 1893; and Simon Tanner died Aug. 28, 1881. Both are listed among those buried in Riverside Cemetery in Hannibal.

Working at

historic venue

The double building still standing at 407-409 Broadway was constructed as early as 1871, according to the National Register of Historic Places. Dubbed the Mozart building based upon the expansive third-floor meeting hall known as Mozart Hall, this building would become a central venue for entertainment for the next three decades.

In 1879, King D. Tanner held the position as janitor for this popular Hannibal gathering spot, which was under the ownership and management of W.D. Waller, who operated a grocery store and commission merchant business on the first floor.

In his capacity as janitor at this public venue, Tanner may have been witness to the Hannibal Dramatic Association’s presentation of “Ireland as It Is.” This play was described in the Palmyra Spectator of April 9, 1880: “It is a feeling portrayal of suffering, with sprinkles of Irish melody and Irish wit.”

A widower

By the time the census taker came to call in 1880, King’s wife, Lusie, had died. King Tanner was a barber by trade.

In 1885, King Tanner was working as a cook for Chauncy H. Harris, a baker and confectioner doing business at 224 and 519 Broadway. Tanner’s father was by now deceased, and Tanner and his mother lived together at 716 Center. Marie Tanner died prior to 1892.

King Tanner’s last recorded Hannibal address was 306 ½ Broadway. The Hannibal City Directory of 1901 listed his employment as a porter.

On Feb. 25, 1908, at the age of 67, Sgt. Tanner entered the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers at Leavenworth, Kan. His $12-per-month Civil War pension, which he had made application for on July 28, 1890, was credited to his care at the home. He died a year and a half later – on Oct. 1, 1909 – and was interred in Section 26, row 6, grave 3765, at the national cemetery in Leavenworth.

There could be found no indication that King Tanner ever married again, or had children. Upon entering the home at Leavenworth in 1908, his next of kin was listed as his sister, Mary White of Chicago, Ill.

Simon and Maria Tanner operated a boarding house on the north side of Center Street, between Seventh and Eighth, between 1870 and 1880. Their property was to the east of the Eighth and Center Street Baptist Church. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

King Tanner, a veteran of the Civil War, once worked as janitor at Mozart Hall, 407-409 Broadway in Hannibal. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

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