Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Civil War Re-enactment
On a pleasant Saturday morning on August 11, 2007, the Union & West End Cemetery Association presented the "Four Days in April, Allentown's First Defenders." The annual re-eanactment event took place in the cemetery. A walking tour was conducted by the widow Yeager (portrayed by Barbara Miller) and she was accompanied by a color guard and a fife and drum corps. Those that had come to the cemetery that day were interested in history and wanted to experience it first hand in a historical cemetery. Visitors were led through the cemetery by the widow Yeager (widow of Captain Thomas Yeager, founder of the Allen Infantry in 1858) as they visited each of the graves of the twenty-three Civil War Veterans of Captain Yeager's Allen Infantry that are buried in the Union & West End Cemetery.
Imagine, there were only forty-eight men in the Allen Infantry militia unit when they went to war. They were one of the first companies to answer the Presidents call for 75,000 troops to defend the Capital. This unit and four others from rural counties in Pennsylvania boarded trains within days of the firing on Fort Sumter. When Rebel forces fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, the import was clear; they had fired on the flag of the United States of America and thus, the "War Betrween the States" was begun.
The five militia units totaled but 530 poorly equipped men. But these five Pennsylvania units were the first to reach the Capital and a greatful President. From that time forward they would be known and celebrated as the "First Defenders."
As the assembled visitors followed the chosen path through the cemetery, the widow Yeager gave brief insight into each of the First Defenders as the spectators moved from grave to grave. Only forty-eight men and twenty three are buried in the historic Union and West End Cemetery. In total, the cemetery is the final resting place of 714 Union Veterans. The second largest congregation of Civil War veterans outside of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg.
When the group of visitors arrived at the Grand Army of the Republic burial plot under the flag in the cemetery, the visitors were greeted by the association President, Charles Canning. President Canning welcomed the assembled group, acknowledged dignitaries in the crowd of onlookers and introduced William Grim, Burgess of the Borough of Allentown in 1861 (potrayed by Everette Carr). Burgess Grim spoke of the history of Militia units in America and the 'Allen Infantry' militia unit in particular. He spoke of the vital role the five Pennsylvania militia units played in defending the imperiled capital at Washington at the outbreak of the Civil War.
Burgess Grim also spoke of the grand celebration when the men of the Allen Infantry returned home to Allentown on July 24th, 1861. Hundreds of well-wishers turned out to greet them. Band played, crowds of people cheered, there was a parade and a banquet at the Eagle Hotel that lasted well into the evening.
Many of the men of the Allen Infantry that served their ninty day enlistment in Company G' of the Twenty-fifth Volunteer Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment went on the serve longer terms of service with other units. Captain Thomas Yeager, enrolled, as a Major, in the fifty-third Pennslvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment and was killed at the Battle of Fair Oaks in Virginia on 1 June 1862. On May 31st, the day before his death, President Lincoln had commissioned him a Brigadier General. Yeager never knew of this honor. Yeagers remains were returned to Allentown and he is among those buried in the Union and West End Cemetery.
The Flag Bearer for this occasion was Gary Weaver, representing the 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The Purcell's, a fife and drum corps, led by Kenneth Purcell and accompanied on the fife and drum by his sons, followed Burgess Grim with a program of music and song. The Purcell's closed the ceremony with a rousing and spirited song accompanied by fife and drum.
Medal awarded to First Defenders by the State of Pennsylvania
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