By Michael A. Dreese
On July 5, 1863, the college community of Lewisburg, Pa., hummed with nervous activity as news trickled in that a great battle had been fought in southern Pennsylvania near Gettysburg. In the days before 24-hour news coverage and social media, the details of the fighting and lists of casualties could be long and protracted. Most of the town's 3,000 residents attended Sunday church services, where earnest prayers called out for a Union victory, the speedy conclusion of the war and the safety of the young men at the front. That afternoon, the women mobilized to produce lint for bandages while others collected medicinal supplies, clothing and non-perishable food items.
Among the parishioners at the First Baptist Church on South Third Street that morning, Margery Tucker prayed for the welfare of her young son, Andrew Tucker, a lieutenant serving in the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteers. A year earlier, the slender, handsome 17-year-old had marched from that very same church with nine classmates to Commencement Hall at the University at Lewisburg (the forerunner of Bucknell University), where he received his bachelor of arts diploma with the Class of 1862.
Less than a month later, Mrs. Tucker gathered with a crowd of anxious onlookers at the Lewisburg Depot for a more solemn occasion. Her son stood with the nearly 200 recruits shipping out to join the Union army.
Andrew's absence weighed heavily upon the Tucker family. Margery's late husband, the Reverend Charles Tucker, a charter member of Bucknell, had died in 1850 at the age of 41, leaving her alone to raise the couple's son and two daughters, who all attended the University. Andrew flourished in the military. His captain and fellow Bucknell alumnus, Charles R. Evans, remarked that Tucker "was the most brilliant one I ever saw and was fast developing into a man."
On July 1, 1863, that great promise reached fruition. Tucker and his comrades of the Union First Army Corps clung tenaciously to the low ridges west of Gettysburg as waves of Confederate attacks swept upon them. Mounted on horseback, the young lieutenant presented a conspicuous mark for the enemy riflemen. Seeing that Tucker sustained a wound to his right forearm, Captain Evans ordered him to the rear for medical assistance. Tucker refused and remained with his regiment "cheering and urging the men by going into the thickest of the fight himself," Evans recalled.
As the depleted Union regiments regrouped for a final, desperate stand, a musket ball struck Andrew in the upper back. Then, while he was being assisted off the field, another round penetrated his lower back and entered his bowel region. By the time the severely wounded officer reached the sanctuary of the aide station established at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, the building was already overflowing with the bodies of torn and bleeding soldiers. A surgeon performing triage duties informed Tucker that his recovery appeared unlikely. "I am a very young man, but I am willing to die for my country," came the stoic response.
Early the next week, news spread throughout the North of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's retreat back to Virginia. At a staggering cost, the obstinate Union defenders had stemmed the high tide of the Confederacy. But as lists of the local men killed and wounded during the bloody conflict appeared in the newspapers, the elation proved short-lived in Lewisburg.
Almost immediately upon learning of her son's wounding, Margery Tucker was determined to reach her son. Accompanied by her pastor, Stephen H. Mirick, along with Professor George Bliss and President Justin Loomis of the University, she set out on an arduous journey through heavy rains to reach the battlefield. A shocking scene awaited the party. The debris of battle was strewn everywhere, marking the lines of the vicious struggle. Piles of amputated limbs were massed around the buildings used as field hospitals and the stench of decaying horse flesh blanketed the area. Although relief agencies, civilian volunteers and the army's medical corps had started to arrive, the needs of the thousands of Union and Confederate wounded left in the wake of the two armies presented a logistical nightmare. The ordeal was even worse for soldiers such as Tucker who were trapped behind enemy lines for three days without food, water and only cursory medical attention.
Although they could provide little in the way of direct assistance, two fellow Bucknellians remained by Andrew's side at the hospital. Captain Evans sustained a wound in his right leg during the first day's fighting but he remained ambulatory during much of his convalescence at the Seminary. Their companion, Major Thomas Chamberlain, Class of 1858, of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry, displayed conspicuous bravery during his unit's determined stand near the Edward McPherson farm.
Chamberlain recalled, "While changing our regimental front from north to west to meet a new attack, I received a dangerous wound through the right shoulder and back, the ball grazing the spine, passing under the shoulder blade and chipping the collarbone, beneath which it was lodged." A rescue party of five volunteers braved a hail of enemy fire to rescue the wounded major and placed him in the relative safety of the McPherson farmhouse. One of these men would later write, "I can never forget the gallantry displayed by him on that occasion; he was badly wounded (we thought at the time mortally), and when we laid him down on the floor, he addressed us in these words, 'Now boys, raise my head up, give me a drink of water and go out to your work.'" A brigade surgeon cut out the bullet the next morning. After the Confederate retreat, Chamberlain was moved to the Seminary where he completed his unlikely recovery.
Over the next couple of days, Chamberlain and Evans updated Tucker on the progress of the battle. Tucker clung to life long enough to learn of the Union triumph, which he had fought so hard to secure, but on Sunday morning, July 5, at 3 a.m., his own struggle ended. The prayers that wafted up from the pews of the First Baptist Church later that morning were in vain. Tucker's last thoughts were with his family: "I would like to see my mother and sisters, but I never will."
Evans attended to his friend's burial in the garden on the east side of the Seminary. A fellow soldier recalled this melancholy event: "They roughly lined his grave with fence palings and buried him beside the colonel. I was then lying on the bunk, and by lifting my head could see into the garden … They were holding the body over the grave when the head slipped over the edge of the blanket and the lieutenant's beautiful jet black hair dragged over the ground. The thought of his mother and sisters was called up, and surely it cannot be called unmanly that a few tears stole down my cheeks."
It is difficult to imagine Margery Tucker's shock and grief upon discovering her son's shallow grave and its improvised headboard upon which his name and regiment were carefully etched. Tucker's remains arrived back in Lewisburg by the same route he had taken to the seat of war less than a year earlier. The body was laid to rest on the peaceful slope of the Lewisburg Cemetery on July 14 in the presence of a large and mourning congregation. The alumni of the University immediately passed a series of resolutions, which displayed their esteem and sorrow for the first graduate to be killed in action during the war.
His name lived on. When Lewisburg Civil War veterans formed a Grand Army of the Republic Post in 1867, they named it in memory of Andrew Gregg Tucker. On Aug. 20, 1873, Justin Loomis married Augusta Tucker 1857, Andrew's oldest sister. The couple named their first-born Andrew Gregg Loomis.
After a brief furlough, Charles Evans rejoined his regiment and served in every campaign and battle until Lee's surrender at Appomattox in April 1865. Upon receiving an honorary bachelor of science degree from Bucknell in 1866, Evans pursued a career in medicine. Tragically, he died in 1867 shortly after earning a doctor of medicine diploma from Jefferson Medical College. His brother testified that he suffered greatly from "physical prostration caused by the hardships of his army life."
Thomas Chamberlain recovered from his wounds but was never able to return to full active duty. After resigning his commission, he entered the insurance business and settled in Philadelphia. Near the turn of the century, he compiled a history of his unit, which has been recognized as one of the best regimental histories ever written by a veteran.
Lucy Bliss, the oldest daughter of Professor Bliss, never forgot the turmoil of the Civil War years. Sixty years later, she addressed the Alumnae Association at a luncheon, sharing her rich memories and insight: "Bucknell is thriving and prosperous now, but it has seen trying days. I wonder sometimes how many of the students, even of the faculty, realize that the institution, of which they are so proud of now, was saved to them during the war only by the self-sacrifice of a body of men … All honor to the memory of such men! Their example should be an inspiration to nobility of character and unselfish devotion to duty in those who are profiting by their sacrifice."
These words should remind us of Bucknell's enduring legacy at Gettysburg and our responsibility to heed Lincoln's call "that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom ..."
Michael A. Dreese has authored six books on the American Civil War, including Torn Families: Death and Kinship at the Battle of Gettysburg. For more information: www.mcfarlandpub.com.