James L. Scribner was born on May 18, 1827, in New York City, New York, the son of James (1801-1861) and Eliza (Slocum, 1803-1898).
His family moved to Michigan sometime before 1837, perhaps as early as 1835 and reportedly built the first bridge across the Grand River connecting the east and west sides of Grand Rapids; Scribner Street on the west side was named after him. By 1850 James L. (listed as John L.) was working as a sailor and living with his family in Grand Rapids, Kent County, where his father worked as a land dealer. In 1859-60 he was working for his father who was president of the Grand Rapids Salt Manufacturing co., with his office located at the southwest corner of Bridge and Water Streets, and James (younger) was living with his family at 31 Turner between First and Second Streets on the west side of the Grand River. In 1860 James L. was a salt manufacturer living in Grand Rapids, Fourth Ward
James L. was 34 years old and probably still living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted in Company B on May 13, 1861. (Company B was made up largely of men from Grand Rapids, many form the west side of the river, and many of whom had served in various local militia units before the war, in particular the Grand Rapids Artillery, under Captain Baker Borden, who would also command Company B.)
He was taken prisoner on July 1, 1862, at White Oak Swamp, Virginia, confined briefly at Libby and Belle Isle prisons. It is possible that James was parole don August 5. On August 6 the Richmond Dispatch reported that at
About 1 o’clock yesterday three thousand of the Federal prisoners on Belle Island left the city for “Varina,” (the farm of Albert Aiken, Esq., twelve miles from Richmond,) a guide having been procured from Capt. Alexander’s detective force to pilot them thither. They went under flag of truce to be exchanged, and were to be met by officers of the United States Army, empowered to effect that object. The party consisted wholly of soldiers, no commissioned officers being in the party. The guard attending the party was composed of a portion of the 42d Mississippi regiment, under Col. Miller. The prisoners were permitted to go by the C. S. Military Prison, and while in front of the building they cheered their imprisoned compatriots, (Generals and other officers,) and otherwise testified their respect for them. They appeared elated at the prospect of going home. The day was intensely hot, and it was intimated, after they had been gone for some hours, that many of them broke down, and had to be left on the way-side, while two or three died. There are 1,700 Yankees yet to go.
James may have been with that very detachment. In any case he was reportedly returned to the Regiment on August 6 at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia.
James was detached as an ambulance driver from August of 1862 through April of 1863, and was wounded in both shoulders on May 3, 1863, at Chancellorsville, Virginia. According to David Northrup of Company B, during the action of May 3 although “there were none killed in our Co some [were] wounded slightly. James Scribner was wounded the worst.” He was subsequently absent wounded through May of 1864, and was reportedly transferred to the Veterans’ Reserve Corps.
James eventually returned to Grand Rapids where he was living in 1867-69 working as a clerk for Congdon & Hill and living on the corner of Monroe and Division, and in fact he worked for many years as a clerk.
He was married to Mary Louise Snively (nee Waters, b. 1832) on January 29, 1868, in Grand Rapids. By 1870 he was working as a clerk in an office and living with his wife and her three children by a previous marriage. (By 1880 his mother and several siblings were living in Grand Rapids’ Seventh Ward.)
By 1883 James was living in Clarion, Charlevoix County, but by 1888 he had moved back to Grand Rapids, boarding at 18 W. Bridge in 1889, in Grand Rapids in 1890 and in the Eighth Ward in 1894. (His mother was a widow living at 257 E. Fulton in Grand Rapids in 1889 and 1890.)
James died a widower of Bright’s disease on October 17, 1901, at his sister’s home at 99 Broadway in Grand Rapids, and was buried in Oak Hill cemetery: section O lot 70.