University of Lewisburg Connections to the Battle of Gettysburg

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Tom Elmore

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Many American colleges in the antebellum period were strongly influenced by the prevalent Christian denominations, and the University of Lewisburg in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, was no exception. Yet whether an institution pursued a religious or secular agenda, nearly all of them emphasized classical Greek and Latin studies. Nevertheless, such colleges provided the bulk of the educated cadre that were needed in large numbers to run the armies of the American Civil War competently and efficiently.

Chartered in 1846, the University of Lewisburg (which became Bucknell University in 1886) had several alumni (graduates and non-graduates) who would serve with distinction at Gettysburg, including:

-David McMurtrie Gregg, Brigadier General; entered in 1850, but a year later he transferred to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1855. On July 3, Gregg’s Federal cavalry division faced off against a Confederate cavalry attack led by Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, who had graduated from West Point a year ahead of Gregg.

-Thomas Chamberlain, Major, 150th Pennsylvania; graduated in 1858. Chamberlain was in charge of the left wing of the 150th Pennsylvania as it filed into position near the McPherson buildings, during a lull in the action in the forenoon of July 1. Within a few hours Chamberlain would be desperately wounded, but he would beat the odds to pen a gripping postwar account of his regiment’s actions, including an encounter with a brave citizen who came out to defend his home town – John Burns.

-William Shadrach Shallenberger, 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant, 140th Pennsylvania; graduated in 1860.

-Charles R. Evans, Captain, Company E, 142nd Pennsylvania; entered in 1857, matriculating with the Class of 1861.

-Ambrose S. Everett, Captain, Company G, 108th New York; spent a year at Dickinson College before transferring to the University of Lewisburg, which he attended from 1858-1861.

-Andrew Gregg Tucker, 1st Lieutenant, Acting Adjutant, 142nd Pennsylvania; graduated in 1862. On July 1, Tucker was dangerously wounded, being shot in the leg, arm and chest, and was carried back to the field hospital established in the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Born on October 4, 1844, he was the son of Reverend Charles Tucker, pastor of the First Tabernacle Baptist Church of Philadelphia, who was also a charter curator of Lewisburg University. Andrew was the grandson of U.S. Senator Andrew Gregg, and a cousin to Andrew Gregg Curtin, the wartime Governor of Pennsylvania. He had two other illustrious cousins besides – cavalry generals David McMurtrie Gregg (above) and John Irvin Gregg.

Back in Lewisburg, upon learning that her son was grievously wounded, Margery Gregg Tucker soon set off for Gettysburg, 105 miles away. She was accompanied by three prominent men of her community – her pastor, Reverend Steven H. Mirick, University of Lewisburg President Justin R. Loomis and George R. Bliss, a respected professor at the university. They were compelled to engage a rowboat for a perilous crossing of the flooded Susquehanna near Wrightsville, since the bridge there had recently been burned.

However, Margery’s son was sinking fast. Andrew’s last recorded words were, “I would like to see my mother and sisters, but I never will.” He died on July 5, not long before his mother and the other members in her party arrived. They found him already buried in a shallow grave near a pile of amputated limbs, opposite the Seminary. She arranged to ship his body home, to be laid to rest in Lewisburg Cemetery.

However, Justin R. Loomis and George R. Bliss did not immediately return to Lewisburg. They apparently decided to make themselves useful by attending to the wounded in the “vast sea of misery” that surrounded them. On July 12, they came to the attention of Assistant Surgeon Cyrus Bacon, who was attached to the 2nd U.S. Infantry of the Fifth Corps and performed operations at the division hospital of the U.S. Regulars, south of White Run near the Clapsaddle house. Bacon wrote, “Two gentlemen of the Christian Commission come and put their hands in and help when we need help so much. [We have] but six surgeons to operate and dress the wounds of the men. These gentlemen, one is president of a Pennsylvania college, the other a college professor. It is the first time I have ever seen these agents dirty their fingers.” They would work alongside three women from the Michigan Relief Association, including a Mrs. Norton and a Mrs. Barnard.

One patient attended by Bliss was 2nd Lieutenant Amaziah J. Barber of Company H, 11th U.S. Infantry. His family lived in far off Burlington, Iowa. Barber had lost his left leg above the knee. On July 14, Bliss penned the following letter to Mr. A. Barber from Gettysburg: “Dear Sir, I was this day requested by Lieut. Barber to forward the above [note from Barber] by telegraph, but finding that impossible I take the next best course and sent it by mail. Lieut. B. is lying at the Hospital above named, about 5 miles south of this place, where I have been engaged in tending to the wounded for several days. He seemed to me to be doing very well, and yet his case is doubtless attended with some hazard. He was amputated above the knee and has no other wounds. Is faithfully taken care of. Truly yours, George R. Bliss, Prof’s in the University at Lewisburg, Pa.” Unfortunately, Barber succumbed from his wounds on July 26.

There is more to the George Ripley Bliss story. Born June 20, 1816 in Sherburne, New York, he graduated from Hamilton College, then Hamilton Theological Seminary, when he became a Baptist clergyman. With D.D. and L.L.D. degrees, he joined the faculty at the University of Lewisburg in 1849, teaching Greek, Latin and Biblical exegenis. On two occasions he served as the Acting President of the University, from 1857-1858 and from 1871-1872. He retired from teaching in 1874 and died on March 21, 1893.

Bliss and his wife Mary Ann Raymond Bliss moved into a house in Lewisburg in 1854, which still stands. Thirteen children were born to them. An adjacent carriage house, which also remains, was a stop on the Underground Railroad from 1854 until the end of the Civil War. Their oldest child, Lucy, who was born in 1843, recalled making nighttime trips to deliver blankets and food to the runaway slaves.

(Bliss also left a lasting legacy through his son, Tasker Howard Bliss, the seventh child, born in 1853. Tasker graduated from West Point in 1875. He was also an instructor there, taught military science at the Naval War College in Newport, RI, and was sent to examine military schools in England, France and Germany. He became President of the Army War College. In 1915, he was appointed as Assistant Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. He became Chief of Staff on September 22, 1917, before retiring in November. But in 1918 he was recalled to duty by President Woodrow Wilson to help negotiate the end of the First World War in Versailles.)

Those aged academics, Justin R. Loomis and George R. Bliss, put their faith into action without fanfare and with demonstrated humility. Fortunately we are able to catch at least a glimpse of their unheralded service from the pen of others, so their deeds are not forgotten.

Sources:
-Alumni Catalogue of Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Penna., 1851-1915 (Lewisburg, PA: Published by the University, 1915).
-http://www.unioncountyhistoricalsociety.org/OnceUpon/Article7.pdf
-https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/105337578/george-ripley-bliss
-https://mncancels.org/category/articles/
-Imperfect Union, by Charles Raasch, Stackpole Books, 2016, p. 270.
-Torn Families: Death and Kinship at the Battle of Gettysburg, by Michael A. Dreese.
-Civil War Diary of Cyrus Bacon.
-A Vast Sea of Misery, by Gregory A. Coco.
-Killed in Action, by Gregory A. Coco.
 
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