The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Civil War 150th Anniversary

April 23, 2011

Somerset County soldier fought on despite wounds

— Tobias Yoder, a Somerset County soldier in the Civil War, was as close to being a super man as anyone might imagine.

Yoder was hit by seven Minie balls and a load of buckshot within a few minutes on June 30, 1862. He was given up for dead three times, but survived to re-enlist for more service in the Union Army. Two rifle balls that penetrated his body remained in him for the remainder of his life.

The story of his misadventures was made part of his March 31, 1897, obituary in the Somerset Herald. It told how Yoder had been a Somerset County wrestling champion before enlisting in Company A, 10th Pennsylvania Reserves. His grievous wounds were received during several hours of fighting at New Market Crossroads, in front of Richmond during what came to be known as the Seven Days Battles.

The Pennsylvanians had been ordered back to a corner of woods to clean their rifles and load their cartridge boxes.

While they were there, the Confederates changed position unnoticed. The Herald account says:

“The brave Pennsylvanians marched into a veritable death trap. They were subjected to a cross fire from Confederate regiments belonging to Jackson’s and Hill’s corps. Yoder was the recipient of seven bullets which struck him ‘in less time than a man could count five,’ to use his own language.

“He did not fall, but two comrades started to the rear with him. The Confederates charged, and he told his comrades to lie down and save themselves, which they did. Two balls had passed through his lungs, one crushing his left shoulder blade and causing the blood to spurt from his mouth. Two struck him in the side, one lodging under the hip bone and the other close to his spine, near his kidney. The other three bullets made bad wounds.”

Yoder was left for dead, lying on the battlefield ... He was found by the enemy, but the wounded rebel soldiers were cared for first. He was still lying there when, on the third day, a wagon came by and he was asked if he could get in. He tried, but was too stiff to move quickly.

“They grasped me by the collar and legs and pitched me into the wagon like a hog,” Yoder said. “I landed pretty hard but it didn’t hurt me much, and aside from the cords in my left arm drawing up from the broken shoulder blade, I had suffered no inconvenience.”

He was taken to the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond. Worried about maggots getting into his untreated wounds, Yoder managed to pull a little tobacco through the jail window from a barrel outside, and stuffed it into the wounds.

Considered unsaveable by the Confederates, Yoder was exchanged after 40 days in prison, and sent to Chester Hospital near Philadelphia, where two surgeons told him he could not live for 48 hours. He did not die, but was allowed to go to his home in Somerset.

After a time, Yoder heard that his regiment was in Washington recruiting, and he went there and asked to be returned to active duty. He was refused, but went with his company anyway.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, his enlistment was up, and his attempts to re-enlist were rejected because of his wounds.

“After I had stripped for examination, I kicked up my heels and executed a little dance on my way out of the room to show how lively I was,” Yoder said.

That did it. They gave in to his pleas not to be left behind. He stayed in the Army until the end of the war, and was present at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Because of the extent of his wounds, Yoder had been reported killed in action and his wife had donned her “widow’s weeds.”

Tobias was one of four brothers who fought in the Civil War. He and Moses survived. John was mortally wounded and died in a field hospital.

Henry died of disease while in the service.

The brothers were descendants of Christian Yoder, who came from Switzerland to Berks County in about 1745, and to what became Somerset County in 1776. He bought a large tract of land near Somerset for $968 and cleared and farmed it. He also bought a large tract in and around present-day Johnstown, Westmont and Lower and Upper Yoder townships, which were named for his family.

As for Tobias Yoder, his war wounds were not the last of his hurts. He later was run over by a railroad handcar, breaking five or six ribs, and was buried under a coal mine cave-in and had to dig himself out from tons of rockfall.

‘Hardest fighting ever’

A soldier from the Dutch Corner section of Bedford County wrote home to relatives about hard fighting in eastern Tennessee, possibly at the Battle of Chickamauga, which ended in a Confederate victory. Excerpts from the letter were published in Vaughn E. Whisker’s “Tales from the Allegheny Foothills.”

The writer talked about thanking God for his deliverance in battle and said his unit had “done the hardest fighting ever made in America.”

He said they held their ground while troops on both sides of them fled, and that he saw Gens. James Negley and Alexander McCook running “when the enemy came upon them.” He wrote that captured Confederates said his unit was “the hardest Yankees to fight they had ever seen.”

The unidentified Bedford Countian said in one battle he had his rifle held at his side when a bullet hit the stock of the rifle and “recked it to pieces.” Otherwise, he said, the bullet would have hit him above his right hip and wrecked him. He also wrote that in one battle, he and two other soldiers shot at a Confederate brigadier general who fell from his horse with two bullets in him.

The fifth sheet of the letter, which would have contained the soldier’s name and unit, was not forwarded to Whisker.

Rebels driven back

Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had a high reputation in both the Union and rebel armies, and a name that struck fear in those who fought him. Among the units that opposed the Stonewall Brigade at the Battle of Kernstown, less than five miles south of Winchester, was the 110th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, part of Col. E.B. Tyler’s Brigade.

The 110th PVI had been recruited in the first summer of the war and included a substantial number of area men. Companies A and H were formed in Blair County and Company C in Blair and Bedford, but included recruits from adjacent counties.

On March 18, 1862, Tyler’s Brigade was ordered to stop Jackson’s rebels, who had cover behind a strong stone wall atop a hill.

The following account is quoted from Samuel P. Bates’ “History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865:”

“The struggle became desperate and for a short time doubtful, but Tyler’s Brigade being soon joined on the left by portions of Sullivan’s and Kimball’s brigades, this united force dashed upon the enemy with a cheer and yell that rose high above the roar of battle, and though the rebels fought desperately, as their piles of dead attest, they were forced back through the woods by a fire as destructive as ever fell upon a retreating foe.

“Jackson, with his supposedly invincible Stonewall Brigade, and with the accompanying brigades, much to their mortification and discomfiture, were compelled to fall back in disorder upon their reserve. Here they took up a position for a final stand, and made an attempt, for a few minutes, to retrieve the fortunes of the day; but again rained down on them the same close and destructive fire. Again cheer upon cheer rang in their ears.”

The regiment was complimented for gallantry.

Mountain warriors

Fellows in the 78th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment thought the mountains in western Pennsylvania were pretty high until they had to trek up and down the mountains of eastern Tennessee in the Civil War. They even participated in what was to be known as “The Battle Above the Clouds.”

The 78th PVI was recruited in late summer of 1861, Companies A and D mostly made up of men from Indiana and Cambria counties. Along with the 77th and 79th PVI, they were transported to Louisville that October and attached to the Army of the Cumberland.

For months, the 78th was engaged in minor skirmishes, guarding railroads and supply lines and defending Nashville, which was under siege by the Confederates. Then came the Battle of Stones River, where Union forces were surprised by superior enemy troops. The 78th Pennsylvania was one of eight regiments credited with holding the line and covering a movement to new positions. The 78th captured the flag of the 26th Tennessee.

As the regiment moved with the army in the autumn of 1863, they found it hard going. When the mountains proved too steep for the mules, the men had to join in hauling the heavy cannons and caissons. Then they came to a chasm 100 feet wide and 50 feet deep, and they bridged it.

In Lookout Valley, the regiment seized a grist mill. While half the men rode the countryside gathering grain, the other half worked at the mill grinding it into flour for the Army.

Extremely heavy fighting went on for days, with the Union falling back to Chattanooga.

Gen. Ulysses Grant took command of the troops and began to drive the Confederates before him, winning the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. The 78th Pennsylvania and a Wisconsin regiment were placed on Lookout Mountain, on the field of the famous “Battle Above the Clouds,” where men actually could look down on the top of clouds.

Late in 1864, the regiment’s enlistment was up and most of it returned to Kittanning to be mustered out. Volunteers and recruits who remained in Nashville were augmented with eight fresh companies sent by the governor of Pennsylvania.

The new regiment took part in the campaign at the end of 1864, which drove the rebel army out of Tennessee.

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