Civil War Union Brevet Brigadier General, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient, Presidential Cabinet Secretary. A prominent member of the New York State Bar Association, he was commissioned as Colonel and commander of the 109th New York Volunteer Infantry on August 27, 1862. For a large part of the unit’s service, it was held out of the conflict, spending over a year and a half guarding first Annapolis, Maryland, then the vital railroad junction in Laurel, Maryland that led to Washington, DC. In March 1864 the 109th New York was transferred to the Union Army’s IX Corps, then operating in Virginia. Colonel Tracy led the regiment in the early part of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign, participating the bloody and brutal fighting in the Battles of the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. At the Wilderness, on May 6, 1864, he took charge of his battle line after it had broken under Confederate pressure, seized his regiment’s flag, and rallied his and other men, which eventually stabilizing the Union’s position. For this bravery he was awarded the CMOH on June 21, 1895, 31 years later. On May 20, 1864 he resigned his commission with the 109th New York to become Colonel and commander of the 127th United States Colored Infantry. Soon after, In September 1864, he was named commander of the Union Prison in Elmira, New York, replacing Colonel Seth Eastman. The prison then and now had a well-earned reputation for being a severely brutal place (its nickname as “Hellmira” still endures). During his tenure as commandant, Colonel Tracy was concerned for the welfare of the prisoners, but was unable to effectively fight the government bureaucracy to improve the conditions there. He was brevetted Brigadier General, US Volunteers on March 13, 1865 for “gallant and meritorious services during the war”. After the end of the conflict he became a highly successful attorney, holding several Federal posts, and was the defense lawyer for preacher Henry Ward Beecher when he was involved in the then-sensational adultery lawsuit filed against him by Theodore Tilton. He was appointed as the United States Secretary of the Navy during the administration of President Benjamin H. Harrison, serving from 1889 to 1893. During his tenure in office he instituted a number of major modernizing Naval reforms that resulted in changing the fundamental role of the Navy from one of defense and protection of merchant vessels to one of strong offensive involving modern fleets. He oversaw the construction of the United States’ first world–class capital ships (exemplified by the doomed “USS Maine”, which he personally launched in 1889), and the reorganizing and restructuring of the Navy into powerful, well equipped fighting force. His efforts while Naval Secretary born fruit in the late 1890s and early 1900s, when the United States Navy crushed the forces of Spain in the Spanish-American War, and when the presence of American sea power contributing greatly to American prestige in the early 1900s. His last years were spent in New York City, New York, where he died in 1915. His Medal of Honor citation reads “Seized the colors and led the regiment when other regiments had retired and then reformed his line and held it”. He was one of two 109th New York soldiers to be awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during the war, the other being Colonel and Brevet Brigadier General Isaac S. Catlin (Benjamin F. Tracy’s brother-in-law), who assumed command of the regiment when Colonel Tracy left to lead the Colored Troops. In 1973 historian Benjamin F. Cooling published a biography of General Tracy titled “Benjamin F. Tracy: Father of the Modern American Fighting Navy”.
Bio by: RPD2