By Michael Dreese
For The Daily Item
The scene described by the Union County Star and Lewisburg Chronicle on Aug. 29, 1862, was repeated often in many northern communities throughout the war:
The greatest crowd ever assembled at the Lewisburg Depot, was on Tuesday morning last, when the companies raised principally by Messrs. Crotzer and Merrill took the cars for Harrisburg... We observed very many spectators in tears -- mothers and children, in some cases, of those who were going to danger, and possibly to death -- and also strong men, "all unused to the melting mood."
In the midst of this crowd of anxious onlookers stood a middle-aged widow by the name of Margery Gregg Tucker. Mrs. Tucker was undoubtedly one of the many spectators affected by the "melting mood" of the moment as she watched her only son, Andrew Gregg Tucker, go off to war.
Less than a month earlier, the slender, handsome 17-year-old had marched with nine classmates to Commencement Hall of the University at Lewisburg (modern-day Bucknell University), where he received his bachelor of arts diploma and graduated with the class of 1862. It was noted that this class comprised "several most promising characters, and the best wishes of very many go with them all as they now enter upon the more public and responsible duties of life."
For young Tucker, the most paramount of duties entailed service to his imperiled country, and immediately following his graduation, he helped to recruit a company of volunteers from Union County in response to president Lincoln's call for additional troops. It is doubtful, however, that the young man needed any stimulus to offer his services for the Union cause. His family tree was filled with notable examples of civic and military service. Andrew was named in honor of his distinguished grandfather, U.S. Senator Andrew Gregg of Bellefonte. His first cousin was Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin, and two other cousins, David McMurtrie Gregg and John Irvin Gregg, served as generals in the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps.
Andrew's father, the Rev. Charles Tucker, pastor of the First Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia, had died in 1850. After his death, the Tucker family relocated to Lewisburg, a small central Pennsylvania community of about 3,000 residents, where Andrew and his two older sisters were educated at the university.
Tucker and his comrades were mustered into Federal service as Company E. of the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteers at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg. During this organizational phase, the popular and intelligent teenager was elected second lieutenant.
The green recruits fought their maiden battle at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, where the 142nd lost 250 men in the morning's battle south of the town.
Following the Union defeat at Chancellorsville the following spring, Tucker authored a resolution that appeared in the May 22 edition of the Chronicle. The statement affirmed that Tucker and his comrades in Company E would not "shirk from dangers and death in defense of our principles." This devotion would be tested two months later on the bloody fields of Gettysburg.
By the time the Union army pushed north to head off Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania, Tucker had been promoted to first lieutenant and acting regimental adjutant. Captain Charles Evans, his immediate superior and former classmate, remarked that he "was the most brilliant one I ever saw and was fast developing into a man."
Arriving at Gettysburg during the late morning of July 1, the 142nd lined up with other units to form a defensive position along McPherson's Ridge west of the town. Later in the day, the onrushing North Carolinians of General James J. Pettigrew's Brigade overwhelmed the Union defenders. As the line began to crumble from the increasing pressure, the 142nd launched a desperate counterattack, but enemy fire "mowed down" the Pennsylvanians and "shot the whole to pieces."
Mounted on horseback, Tucker presented a conspicuous mark. During the initial volley, he was shot in the right forearm and his horse severely disabled. Captain Evans begged, then ordered him to go to the rear. Instead, the young adjutant remained with the regiment "cheering and urging the men by going into the thickest of the fight himself."
Nearby, Lieutenant Jeremiah Hoffman was incapacitated when a shell fragment cut through his pelvis and lodged near his spine. Tucker pushed Hoffman onto his wounded mount and sent him off to the nearby Lutheran Theological Seminary, where Union surgeons operated a primary aid station. He and the rest of the 142nd Pennsylvania began to fall back toward the Seminary as well, making a final stand there before retreating through the town to Cemetery Hill.
During the brief battle on Seminary Ridge, a ball struck Tucker in the middle of the upper back. While being assisted toward the Seminary for treatment, another round penetrated his lower back and entered his bowels. The severely wounded officer finally reached the four-story brick sanctuary, which was rapidly filling with the bodies of torn and bleeding soldiers. A surgeon examined his wounds and pronounced them to be mortal. "I am a very young man, but I am willing to die for my country," replied Tucker.
He clung to life long enough to learn of the Union triumph. On Sunday morning, July 5, at 3 a.m., Andrew Tucker's struggle for life ended. His last thoughts were with his family: "I would like to see my mother and sisters, but I never will."
Tucker was deeply mourned by his comrades. "Andrew was brave, very brave, and acted well the part of a soldier," lamented Evans. Another member of the regiment remembered him as "a friend I prized so highly ... a hero and a Christian, who suffered and died for his country without a murmur."
Captain Evans remained by Andrew's side until his death and then attended to his burial in the garden outside the Seminary. Lieutenant Hoffman, who may have owed his life to Tucker's selflessness, vividly 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."
After learning of her son's wounding, Margery Tucker, in company with the Rev. Stephen Mirick, Professor George Bliss, and University President Justin Loomis, started for the battlefield to care for the Union County soldiers. After an arduous journey, the party finally reached Gettysburg. They beheld a shocking scene. 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 flesh blanketed the area.
One can only imagine Mrs. Tucker's shock and grief upon discovering her son's freshly made grave and its wooden headboard upon which his name and regiment were carefully etched. Andrew'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 adjacent to the university in the presence of a large and mourning congregation. The university alumni immediately passed a series of resolutions that displayed their esteem for the young hero while expressing their sorrow that one so young had been cut down in the very opening of his manhood.