Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Captain Thomas Yeager - 'First Defenders'
Crowds by the thousands gathered to witness the departure of these companies from their hometowns. While surviving letters and diaries from these men overwhelmingly cite patriotic love of country as the primary reason behind their enlistment, they also suggest that these men envisioned none of what war was really about. James Schaadt of the Allen Infantry, for example, wrote that when leaving Allentown, most men “regarded the journey as a pleasant change from daily occupations, a picnic and agreeable visit to the Capital.” They quickly discovered, however, that war was no picnic.
Upon arriving at Harrisburg, the company joined four other companies from Reading, Lewiston and Pottsville. These five companies were the first volunteer units to arrive in Maryland to set up a defensive perimeter to protect the Nations Capital.
The Allen Infantry under Captain Yeager was given the designation Company G and assigned to the 25th Pennsylvania Regiment.
With but a few exceptions, the volunteer militiamen made this journey unarmed as they were ordered to leave behind their weapons in their respective armories, and promised modern guns upon their arrival in Washington. Because no continuous rail line linked Harrisburg to Washington, it was necessary for the men to detrain in Baltimore, march two miles through the city to Camden Station, and board the railcars of another line. Unknown to most of the Pennsylvanians, however, the people of Baltimore were largely sympathetic to the Confederacy, and when word arrived that northern volunteer troops were on their way, a mob began forming around the depot, determined to prevent these men from marching through their city.
Around 1p.m. on the afternoon of April 18, the train cars carrying the volunteers came to a halt in Baltimore. The crowd, which numbered around 2,500—five times the size of the unarmed Pennsylvanians—greeted the arriving soldiers with insults and threats. When the five companies reached Camden Station, events took a turn for the worse. Here, many in the mob threw bricks, stones, and pieces of lumber, while others, yielding clubs, ran towards the Pennsylvanians. Many of the projectiles hit their mark. Some members of the Allen Infantry suffered broken bones, and a few others were knocked unconscious.
Ultimately, the members of the five companies boarded the train cars and nursed their wounded comrades. Around 7:00 p.m. on the evening of April 18, the volunteers finally arrived in Washington, where they were assigned quarters in the halls and chambers of the United States Capitol Building. Early the next day, a very much gratified and relieved President Lincoln met and shook hands with all 475 men and thanked them for their service and prompt arrival.
The First Defenders" as these companies would later be termed, spent the majority of their three-month term of service in guard and garrison duty in and around the nation’s capital.
The men of the Allen Infantry returned home in good health on July 24, 1861. Bands played, bells rung, the men paraded through town and a banquet was held at the Eagle Hotel in their honor. Captain Yeager was honored as one of the first men in the country to realize that the Nations Capital needed to be protected to avoid possible capture and occupation by Confederate forces. Many of the men that served in Militia units for a period of ninty-days reenlisted in various 3-year volunteer infantry companies. Others did not, seeking the relative comforts of home over the depravities of the battle field.
In November, Yeager reenlisted as a Major in the 53rd Regiment. The regiment was involved in various manuvers in and around Yorktown and Williamsburg, Virginia. The regiment took a prominent part in the engagement at Fair Oaks on the 1st of June 1862, where, though surprised and thrown into temporary confusion, it rallied and in a short time forced the enemy from its line. Its conduct on this occasion was such as to elicit the commendation of the Generals commanding. It suffered a severe loss in the death of Major Yeager, who was killed in the early part of the action while gallantly leading his men. The regiment lost ninety-six men in killed, wounded, and missing.
Major Yeager became the first Civil War Hero of Lehigh County. On the day prior to his death, President Lincoln had commissioned him a Brig. General. He was 38 years old and left behind a widow and four children. Through the efforts of William H. Blumer Yeager's battlefield grave was located and his body was returned to Allentown. Hundreds attended his funeral service on June 24, 1862. The body was buried the next day in Union Cemetery.
Mrs. Sobina Yeager and their four children; Susan I., Stephen H., Ellen, and Minerva, continued to live in the family house on North Sixth Street near Chew Street.
Early in December, 1866, a notice appeared in an Allentown newspaper of a meeting of the First Soldier's National Union to consider application for admission to the Grand Army of the Republic, the national organization of Union Veterans. The result of the meeting was the organization of Yeager Post, No. 13 of the Grand Army of the Republic, on December 10, 1866.
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