The Face Behind the Headstone: Corporal Job Tanner’s Tintype

By on 9/21/2023

By Kaitlin Becht, Arlington National Cemetery Cultural Resources Management Intern

Upon first glance, the regular rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) can seem like a faceless, sterile reminder of the person buried below. However, with research and interpretation, many graves can be visually connected to the person they commemorate. One item in Arlington National Cemetery’s collection does just this. It is a full-plate tintype image of Cpl. Job Tanner, who fought in Rhode Island’s 2nd. Infantry during the Civil War.


L: Photo of the tintype image of Cpl. Job Tanner held in the Arlington National Cemetery Historical Research Collection. (Photo by Michael Betsinger)

R: Cpl. Tanner’s grave in Section 13 of Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo by Kaitlin Becht)

Lithograph of the Battle of the Wilderness published by Currier & Ives, circa 1864. (Library of Congress)

Before enlisting, Tanner was a carpenter with a wife and four children. He enlisted as a private on Aug. 1, 1861, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was listed as wounded on May 6, 1864, with injuries that he received during the Battle of the Wilderness in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. On July 17, 1864, Tanner died of his wounds at Mount Pleasant Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was eventually buried in Section 13 of Arlington National Cemetery.                                  

This full-plate tintype image of Tanner was donated to ANC by Tanner’s descendants in the early 1990s, and accessioned into the collection in 2012. Tintype images were created by applying a photographic emulsion directly to a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel, which then produced a positive image. This tintype is unique because it is 6.5 x 8.5 inches, whereas most tintypes from the 19th century were much smaller, at around 2.75 x 3.25 inches. It is possible that this image of Tanner was enlarged because some details are hand painted. Enlarging the image would have decreased the resolution, which is why larger tintypes like this one have painted sections. 


TOP:  Lithograph of Mount Pleasant Hospital by Charles Magnus, circa 1862. (Library of Congress) 

BOTTOM: Mt. Pleasant Hospital in Washington D.C., circa 1861-1865. (Library of Congress)

This artifact and other items in ANC’s collection help us remember those, like Tanner, who served their country. It is important to preserve such collections so that people like Tanner are not forgotten. Items in museum collections like this one serve as tangible connections to the past that allow visitors to interact with history in a very direct way. At Arlington, these artifacts help bring to life the stories behind the headstones. 

Selected Sources

Library of Congress. “Ambrotypes and Tintypes.”

Approved Pension Application File for Lydia W Tanner, Widow of Job Tanner, Company K, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry Regiment (Application No. WC42964).” National Archives and Records Administration.