William Henry Bender – who lived from March 15, 1845 until December 11, 1940 – will be remembered as the last Civil War veteran living in Somerset County during a special memorial service held on Sunday June 20 in Berlin .
Dressed in period clothing from the 1860s, the auxiliaries and sons of Civil War veterans Mount Union Camp No. 502 erected a gravestone at Bender’s grave in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery and organized a ceremony in his honor.
“We have our freedoms so far thanks to men like William Bender,” said Jerry Clark, camp commander. “It was not just William Bender, but all the military in our history who protected this country and gave us our freedoms.”
Descendants – who never knew this man but heard tales of his kindness and legendary war status passed down from generation to generation – were in attendance for the event.
While Bender and his wife, Sarah Rheumiser, had 10 children, only six of them reached adulthood. A line of descendants, through their only daughter, Euclid Groff, who lived and died in Berlin, was present. Euclid’s daughter, Audrey Harkcom, also deceased, lived in Berlin and her two daughters, Connie Updyke and Debbie Cotter, live in Somerset County.
Debbie Cotter was in attendance along with Connie’s children, Carrie Croner and her Carrie’s daughter, Carissa Croner, 14, both from Berlin, and Milt Snyder and her three young sons, twins Caleb and Caden, 13, and Colt Snyder, 11 years old. from the Meyersdale area. Carissa, Caleb, Caden and Colt are said to be William Bender’s great-great-grandchildren.
“We think this event is great – to be here today and represent the Bender family,” said Milt Snyder, who completed a tour of duty in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps in 2003. “We had a lot of good equipment in the military, but these men didn’t have that and yet our ancestor and many soldiers like him somehow managed to survive and come back from the war. We are eternally grateful for his service and proud to have him in our family. “
Caden, Milt Snyder’s son, was excited about the ceremony and the Civil War story that is part of his family.
“It’s important that we have a family member who fought in one of the greatest wars in American history and he survived and returned home to Berlin,” Caden said.
Bender was no ordinary infantryman. He rode in the Pennsylvania Cavalry, fought at Gettysburg, and captured Molly Maguires (rebellious), according to newspaper reports at the time. He served in the Peninsular campaign and participated in the seven days of combat. He took part in the battles of Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Fredericksburg, Popular Grove Church, Mrs. Peeble’s Farm, Bessette’s Church, Stony-Station and the Siege of Petersburg.
When the rebels were driven back to Petersburg during the siege, he took part in the battles of Yellow Tavern and Poplar Grove Church. He then returned to the cavalry and witnessed the great explosion in front of Petersburg on June 18, 1864, when the rebels were driven out of Petersburg. In the pursuit, he took part in the fighting at Five Forks, Berksville Junction, connecting the Richmond and Danville and Farmersville railroads, where he was taken prisoner with most of his regiment. They were in enemy hands day and night when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865.
William Bender’s greatest memories of the war were meeting and shaking hands with President Abraham Lincoln when Bender served as Lincoln’s emergency dispatch carrier. The newspaper article says: “This for Will Bender was the highlight of his life.”
Clark Brocht, a longtime member of Mount Union Camp No. 502, reminded the crowd at the ceremony that “every war has two sides to history.” He read a poem about opposing forces in civil war.
Betsy Nightingale, president of the Mount Union Auxiliary, read a 1940 newspaper article about William Bender regarding his fight list, family, and meeting with President Lincoln.
According to Tom Fisher, a local Berlin historian, there are 89 Civil War veterans buried in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows cemetery in Berlin – and each has significance in American history.