Monday, November 27, 2006
First Defenders, a Clarification
There has also been considerable confusion with respect to the names of the various militia units. It is here and now that I will attempt to set forth the factual account and hopefully, dispelled the notion that any Pennsylvania militia unit or its members are entitled to be know as a "First Defenders." This is not the case. The facts are as follows:
In the Lehigh Valley, a joint meeting of Northampton and Lehigh Counties was held on the square in Easton, Pennsylvania on the day after the firing on Fort Sumter. At the meeting, it was resolved that an infantry regiment would be formed and would be designated the 1st Regiment. It was believed that if volunteers would enlist immediately, then the South would not have any hope of success.
On the 15th of April, Thomas Yeager, captain of an Allentown militia company, the Allen Infantry, traveled to Harrisburg to tender the services of his unit to Governor Curtin. The men of the Allen Infantry were in Harrisburg on the evening of April 17th.
The five companies that were the first Pennsylvania militia men to report for duty were:
Ringgold Light Artillery - Capt. M'Knight, Reading
Logan Guards - Capt. Selheimer, Lewiston
Washington Artillery - Capt. Wren, Pottsville
National Light Infantry - Capt. M'Donald, Pottsville
Allentown Infantry - Capt. Yeager, Allentown
The Ringgold Light Artillery arrived in Harrisburg on the evening of April 16. The Logan Guards arrived in Harrisburg on the morning of the 17th. The National Light Infantry and the Washington Artillery, both of Pottsville, arrived on the evening of the 17th and the Allen Infantry, as noted, also arrived on the evening of the 17th.
The five volunteer companies were mustered in and boarded a train en route to Washington at 9 o'clock on the morning of April 19, 1861. After an incident in Baltimore, where the companies had to change trains, the men arrived in Washington at 7 P.M. There they were issued arms and ammunition and were placed along the Potomac in the defense of the Capital.
These five companies, and only these five companies are deserving of being referred to or designated as the "First Defenders."
Some confusion can be attributed to Samuel P. Bates, an authority on the Pennsylvania Volunteers Regiments; he unfortunately referred to the Allen Infantry as the Allen Rifles or the Allen Guards. There was a second Allentown militia unit known as the Allen Rifles under the command of Colonel Tilghman Good. There never was a unit that used the designation Allen Guards. The Allen Rifles ceased to exist when it merged with the Jordan Artillerists and became the Union Rifles. This company and two other Lehigh Valley militia units arrived in Harrisburg on May 1, 1861, ready for service, but way too late to be known as 'First Defenders'.
In the progress of the gigantic struggle which ensued, of which the most farsighted had then no conception, so many and such brilliant services have been rendered by the soldiers of the National armies, that the timely march of these [five] companies has been little noted. But the value of their presence in the Capital at this critical juncture, cannot be overlooked, in any fair estimate of the causes which led to our triumph; and it must ever be regarded as one of the links in that chain of great events, seemingly planned by Providence, for our deliverance. The President and other officers of the Government felt, and repeatedly expressed gratitude for their timely presence, and the thanks of the House of Representatives, which are rarely tendered, and only for great and most signal services to the State, were expressed in the following terms:
37TH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES, July 22, 1861
That the thanks of this House are due, and are hereby tendered to the five hundred and thirty soldiers from Pennsylvania, who passed through the mob of Baltimore, and reached Washington on the eighteenth of April last, for the defence of the National Capital.
GALUSHA A. GROW, Speaker of the House of Representatives
The Allen Infantry; its official designation was Company G, 25th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, returned home to Allentown on July 24, 1861, having completed its 90-day term of service.
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