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Twp. Civil War soldier's diary reflects compassion, integrity



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June 11, 2014 - June 16, 1864—Pvt. Thomas Tucker is on guard duty at a Union headquarters near Chattaooga, Tenn.

"My the cannons have been roaring out in front a little ways," wrote Tucker. "They are having a big fight out there. Quite a lot of rebel prisnors was brought in this eavning and our regiment is guarding them. This eavning, a little while ago, I walked out to where the prisonrs are and a large percent of them are young boys 15 and 16 years old. Some of them are fine looking young fellows, black eyes and long curly hair. I talked with some of them and they did wish the war would end. Realy, I felt sorry for the poor fellows, for they were ragged and some of them had no shoes. Yet they were a jolly lot and some of them are fine singers, and they try awfull hard to keep their courage up."

Tucker's Civil War reflections, written 150 years ago this week, are part of the day-to-day three year account recorded by the 17-year old Brandon Township youth. The original docu-ment was written in a record book with 400 numbered pages written on 8 by 13 sheets. In 1993 the diary was interpreted, edited (keeping original spelling and grammar) and published by the Tucker family. Currently, the document is in the possession of Thomas's grandson, John W. Tucker of Stockton Calif., along with additional memorabilia such as Tucker's rifle, bayonet and accoutrement belt and the "Bullet Hole Letter." Tucker's account of life after the war is continued in a diary of his occupation as a Brandon Township farmer, also in the book.

Brandon Township resident Tom Tucker, 64, is the great-great-grandson of Thomas Tucker. He recalls the diary of Thomas growing up.

"The diary was at my grandparents' home. I remember looking at it and thinking, 'it is just writing from the old days,'" said Tucker. "But, as near as we can figure, Thomas's farm where he lived with his mother, Elizabeth, and father, John, was somewhere near Bloomer State Park around Sands and Oakwood roads. Of course, all the farm buildings are long gone, considering they were built in the 1840s when the land was settled. We figure the land was not all that good, it's pretty sandy, but it was the best they could afford at the time."

Tucker joined the 22nd Michigan Infantry in August 1862 and describes walking from his Brandon Township home to Pontiac where he enlisted.

"Mother and father felt awful when they saw me with the Army cap on my head," wrote Thomas. "Father said he would go right down to Pontiac and get me out. I said if you do I will run away and enlist again. I felt awful bad on Mother's account, but I made up my mind that now I am into it, I wont quit."

Tucker described the Cabbage Hill fight near Covington, Ky., about 300 miles south of Ortonville, in Sept. 1862. It was his first recorded encounter with rebels just weeks after he enlisted in Pontiac.

"Well, we marched three miles south of Covington on a side hill and formed a line of battle in a large cabbage patch. We could hear guns going off about one mile south of us. We only had one cartridge each and the ball was too large for our guns, so we had to shave the bullets before we could get them down the barrel of our guns. One of our company was out on the skirmish line and several of them was taken prisoners. But finally our men drove the reb's back and we went up on to the hill."

The diary reflects a personal side of Thomas.

"I've read the diary several times," said Tucker. "And I'm not positive of the circumstances, but I think Thomas signed up for the Army due to the death of his older brother John, who was killed in action in a Civil War battle in Williamsburg, Va. as part of 22nd infantry, Co. D earlier in the war. They don't talk a lot about it and there are letters from John while he was in service, but I think that's why he went—to avenge the death of his brother."

On Sept. 22, 1862, Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation that he would order the emancipation of all slaves in any state—a month after Thomas enlisted.

"Certainly Thomas was aware of the slave controversy in the south," he said. "But none of his writings over the three years of war ever make mention of the issue of freeing the slaves.. Furthermore, he came to know many of the Southerners or "Rebs" personally. Thomas seemed to have compassion for them rather than hate. They were killing each other—yet he seemed to put that aside. It was like he had no idea why they were fighting. He was on guard duty a lot. He had a real sense of responsibility or duty at a time when the country was in turmoil. Yet he never mentioned fighting to keep the country together or to serve his country. He did not drink or swear. Thomas even notes the foul mouths of some soldiers."

"He was a Christian youth who went to church on Sunday," added Tucker. "And for the most part, stayed pretty positive during his years in the Union Army. Consider Thomas had a lot of really tough experiences in the Civil War. He was in several battles in Kentucky, Tennessee and the Battle of Atlanta. He also served in the Battle of Chicamauga/Chattanooga."

Thomas describes day-to-day drills and just trying to survive.

"I'm sure just finding enough to eat was a struggle," said Tucker. "The soldiers would go out and find what they could to eat, but I'm sure they were always hungry. When Thomas finally made it home he weighed 119 pounds. He must also have been educated to have written the diary and many letters home."

The bullet hole letter written on March 28, 1865 was addressed to his father and mother. The letter addressed some intestinal difficulties he was having. The letter was thought to have been carried in this uniform breast pocket and was struck by a bullet penetrating the folded pages. One story recalled by the author is that the bullet struck the letter and was deflected by a pocket watch. There was some injury and loss of blood.

Ultimately, Thomas came home to Brandon Township and went back to farming. He married Thirza Markham and had three children, William, Archibald and John.

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