Pittsburgh in 1863
| Gen. William T.
commanded the defenses of
Interest in the Civil War fortifications that surrounded Pittsburgh continues to amaze and intrigue historians. The question will long be debated whether the defenses were justifiable in the face of danger, or if they were, as some historians contend, an outgrowth of hysteria that borders the comic. While the issue certainly will never be resolved, it is such an important epic in Pittsburgh’s Civil War history that it deserves attention.
The first hint that
Pittsburgh might be threatened by Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania came from
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, when he sent a telegram to Thomas Howe:
Department, 11:45 p.m.
Washington, June 10, 1863
Hon. Thomas M. Howe:
Brooks left here this morning for Pittsburgh to take command of the Department
of the Monongahela. He is an able
and resolute officer, but will need all the assistance you and your people can
give. I wish you would go on his
staff. The latest intelligence
indicates that you have no time to lose organizing and preparing for defense.
All the field artillery on hand at Watertown has been sent by
express to Pittsburgh. Whatever aid
can be given here you shall have.
Edwin M. Stanton
The Dispatch, which boasted of the largest circulation in Western Pennsylvania, admitted on June 16, 1863, that exact details of rebel movements were not available “but enough is known to show that both Wheeling and Pittsburgh are seriously menaced.” It reported, “The excitement created by the reports on Sunday was most intense, and the people, now thoroughly aroused from their apathy, are hastily organizing those defenses which should have been provided months since.”
on the articles appearing in city newspapers, the mills and manufactories agreed
to curtail activities, and use their workforces to dig a series of trenches and
redoubts to protect the city. After
the crisis, historians and critics of the action argued that the Union would
never have been able to “man” the
Nonetheless, period publications and the citizenry felt it was prudent to
provide for their own defense. As
the Dispatch noted,
we have already stated, a strong force has been set to work upon the defenses of
the city, and this force should be immediately increased ten times its present
strength. The work before the men
is a vast one, and should be assumed by a force equally great.
Military organizations should also be perfected as rapidly as possible.
On Monday thousands of men sauntered idly through the streets, or helped
to swell the crowd around drinking houses, and of these a majority would
probably have cheerfully attached themselves to any organization for the
immediate defense of the city. We
trust that the authorities will provide for this contingency to-day, by
summoning the idlers to assemble at proper places of rendezvous in the several
districts, to organize themselves immediately into military companies, and begin
to drill. Such organizations will
be chiefly effective by preventing confusion, in case of sudden alarm, as each
individual will be familiar with his place of rendezvous and in the company.
One determined man, even without discipline, is fully a match, behind
breast-works, for the best drilled soldier
assaulting them, but to ensure prompt attendance and freedom from confusion, in
case of alarm, such organizations are absolutely necessary.
While there was quite a bit of patriotic zeal for the project of fortifying Pittsburgh, there were also problems with drunken frays on Fifth Street. This prompted the mayor to order the closing of all establishments that sold liquor.
Early Monday morning a large number of men appeared at the Monongahela House. Apparently there was some confusion but after some patriotic speeches and a plan of responsibilities, the men were issued tools and provisions. Period newspapers did not give an exact number of volunteers, but the publications believed that the number far exceeded General Brooks and General Bernard’s expectations of two thousand volunteers. Various bankers also pledged $500,000 to be placed at the disposal of General Brooks in order to conduct the affairs of the Army of Monongahela. Many of those who pledged notes were under the impression that they would be reimbursed by the War Department.
During this period there were no shortage of rumors: the Confederates captured Chambersburg; rebel forces were in Hagerstown, Maryland; Union forces were defeated at both Winchester and Martinsburg; and soon all of Pennsylvania would be laid to waste.
It was hoped that by the end of the first day, work would be completed on Davis’ Hill just beyond Allegheny Cemetery, and Herron Hill, in order to protect the Allegheny Arsenal, as well as to control all avenues leading to the city from the east.
Bill McCarthy’s study on the Civil War fortifications of Pittsburgh, written for the Winter 1998-99 issue of Pittsburgh History, is the best and most definitive source on the trenches and redoubts. McCarthy’s work identifies the location of these “dug” forts. At one point there was talk of placing historical markers to designated each site of the main redoubts, but to date nothing has come of the project.
In addition to the problem with public intoxication, some workmen also stole hams, dried beef, and other items from stores in Herron Hill. There were also reports of homes being broken into and women harassed. The problems were severe enough to warrant Captain Wright to send ten men from the Provost guard to the area. Afterwards, hostilities against the civilians ceased.
On Monday, June 15, 1863, a committee of public safety convened and met with Major General Brooks, General Bernard, and Captain Craighill in order to determine where groups of men should meet in order to work on the fortifications. It was decided that primary attention should be given to Herron’s Hill (Minersville), Mount Washington and Davis’ Hill. A number of business establishments that sent their work forces to this task were named in the newspaper accounts. Among those sent to Herron’s Hill were workers from the Soho Iron Works; Jones, Boyd & Company; Everson, Preston & Company; Smith, Park, and Company; Reese & Graff; Joseph Pennock; Girty Run Works; Novelty Works; Phillips & Best; Lloyd & Black; Reese, Graff & Dull; A. Bradley; the Pennsylvania Railroad; and Brown & Company.
At least fourteen companies donated their workforce to be used for the trenches at Mount Washington in order to fortify the south side of the Monongahela River. These included Zug & Painter; Joseph Dilworth; James M. Bailey; Graff, Bennett & Company; James Wood & Company; Bakewell, Pears & Company; Wm. McCully & Company; M’Knight & Company; Singer, Nimick & Co.; Jones & Laughlin; Lyon, Shorb & Company; Robinson, Minnie & Miller; Fahnestock, Albree & Company; and A. & D. H. Chambers. The men were under the assignment of General Bernard.
Work on Davis’ Hill actually began on Monday with work contingents from Knap, Rudd & Company; Hussey, Wells, & Co.; Spang, Chalfant & Co.; Hailman, Rahm & Co.; Shoenberger & Co.; Hussey, Wells & Co.; McFarland’s Coal works; Lyon’s Glass works, and other establishments. In order to transport men from Pittsburgh to Davis’ Hill, the workers were told to report to the train station’s outer depot at the city’s ninth ward at 6:30 a.m. where free transportation to the site had been arranged.
The committee also passed a resolution requesting parents and guardians to restrain their children and wards from visiting the locations where the fortifications were being erected. In addition, the committee pledged “to adhere to the work of erecting the fortifications for the defense of the cities of Pittsburg(h) and Allegheny until they are completed.”
At the meeting of Monday, June 15, 1863, no names for the forts were decided but it was suggested that Fort Elly be given to one on Herron Hill in honor of a prominent young woman in that area, who was connected with the treasury department.
On June 18th, the Pittsburgh Dispatch reported that the “enemy had reached Cumberland, the advance guard being some twelve miles west, at Rawlings Station, with General Kelly and his forces in their front.” The rumors that circulated the city prompted a considerable number of merchants and businessmen to meet at Lafayette Hall the previous day at 3 p.m., and called for a further suspension of business. C. M’Knight of the Chronicle argued that there was no reliable intelligence that the state had been invaded by any force other than cavalry which had advanced as far as Chambersburg.
This meeting ended with a passage of a series of resolutions:
“Whereas, Our city is menaced with invasion by the rebels, and in
view of the fact that a call upon the militia of the State has been made by the
Governor to meet the emergency existing. Therefore:
“Resolved, That it
is recommended that the business houses of the city remain closed, while the
present aspects of affairs continues.
”Resolved, That it
is further recommended that the citizens generally organize themselves into
military companies forthwith, to report to and hold themselves in readiness
subject to the order of Adjt. Gen. Howe.
“Resolved, That the necessary committees be appointed by this
meeting to see that the foregoing resolutions are promptly carried into
The newspaper account also reported,
Mr. Woodwell, the chairman, as requested by a number of
gentlemen who were not present at the organization, stated explicitly the object
of the meeting. The manufacturers
of the city had ceased to work, and sent their men to work in the trenches, and
complaint had been made that while the manufacturers had so cheerfully and
unanimously responded to the request of the Department commander, other business
men had their stores open and were going on as usual.
This should not be, and unless there was concert of action and sacrifice,
the men at work in the trenches would become disheartened and cease.
The chairman thought the time had arrived when all should rally for the
defense of their homes and firesides, and if necessary, business should be
suspended for months, rather than that we should continue to make dollars and in
the end have our property destroyed.
The June 19th issue of the Pittsburgh Dispatch listed the companies who donated men to labor on the fortifications as well as the number assigned to each location. For example, a total of 1,230 men worked on Herron’s Hill. Smith, Park, and Company contributed 198 men for the venture. Lippincott & Company sending 120 men, Pennsylvania Railroad lending 106 men, Bailey, Brown & Company sending 160 men, Lloyd & Black with 120 workers, and the Girty Runs works contributing 124 men for the project. Other area establishments sent the balance of workers, while the Pennsylvania Railroad loaned 28 carts to help the cause.
On Harrison Hill 181 men were engaged in the labor, while 145 went to work on the fortifications on Gazzam’s Hill. One thousand three hundred thirty men were engaged on the projects on Mount Washington, with A. & D. H. Chambers contributing 150 men, Jones & Laughlin sending 350 laborers, Graff, Bennett & Company lending 200 of their employees, and Porter and Dilworth sending 120 men. Meanwhile on Squirrel Hill, the firm of Chess, Smith & Company sent their workforce of 200 men to work on the fortifications. At least 1,555 men were engaged in the work at Davis’ Hill, with the leading contributors of men being Spang, Chalfant & Co. (150), Shoenberger (200), Lewis, Dalzell & Company (140), Hussey, Wells & Co. (150), Hailman, Rahm & Company (202), and Knapp, Rudd & Co. (125).
In addition to the flurry of activities surrounding the digging of trenches, batteries and redoubts, a number of troops also arrived. “A company of ninety men from Blair County and three hundred and twenty-five men from Meadville and vicinity, arrived in the city yesterday evening, were fed by the Subsistence Committee, and sent to Camp Howe. Two hundred and fifty arrived from New Brighton and vicinity, and six hundred from Erie County were expected. Company B, 23rd Pennsylvania Militia, from Indiana County arrived late last night. The company numbered over one hundred men.”
While all of this activity was transforming the city, the saloons, which had previously reneged on the promise to close their shops, had kept their back doors open. By the 19th the Dispatch complained that the front doors of drinking establishments were “now open as well, and the saloons were apparently enjoying a booming business.” The mayor contended that he did not have a sufficient police force to enforce the committee resolutions to close all businesses.
Across the river in
Allegheny, the merchants and businessmen met in the new Market House, to discuss
the propriety of suspending business to attend to military matters.
The adopted the following resolutions:
Our cities are reported to be in imminent danger of being invaded by a large
force of rebels, whose object is plunder, and the destruction of public and
private property, therefore,
That we as merchants and business men of Allegheny city pledge ourselves to
close our stores and places of business every morning at nine o’clock until
the emergency is past, and organize into companies for drill or into squads to
work on the fortifications of the city and vicinity under the direction of
General Howe, during the present emergency.
the citizens of each Ward meet at their respective places of holding elections,
to form themselves into military companies.”
It was also recommended that any employee who refused to perform military duty be discharged from service. A committee was also established to notify merchants of Pittsburgh of the closing times for the businesses of Allegheny City, and that delegates from the Common Council of each ward establish committees to enforce the action of the meeting.
In addition to the meeting conducted in both Pittsburgh and Allegheny, there were also meetings organized in the Third Ward and among the lawyers of the area. “In pursuance of one of the resolutions, a meeting of citizens of the Third Ward was held at the school house in the evening. About fifty names were enrolled, and another meeting will be held at the school house at 10 o’clock, for the purpose of completing the enrollment and organizing the company.” It appears that shortly thereafter, the lawyers conducted a meeting in the District Court Room for the purpose of forming a volunteer company to be comprised of lawyers and attaches of the Court House. James Kuhn, Esquire, was chosen chairman and William O’Leary was elected secretary for the proceedings. Typical of the procedures relating to the war effort, a committee was quickly established to implement the proposals. It was decided that an infantry company would be formed, composed of the members of the bar and officers of the courts. Furthermore, it was agreed that the officers should be chosen from the members of the company, and that the unit would meet at two o’clock each afternoon in front of the Court House for the purpose of drilling for one hour.
Communications coming from Harrisburg proved “everything is gloomy here.” Word was received in Pittsburgh that Hooker engaged the rebels at Winchester and Berryville, where the Union sustained numerous casualties and the army was routed. Pittsburgh residents read about the defeat of some 3,000 Union forces defending Berryville, about midway between Snicker’s Gap and Winchester, by a superior force of Confederates under the command of Longstreet. The battle lasted for nearly six hours before the Northern troops retreated to Winchester. Apparently the particulars of the battle came from eight artillerymen who were members of Captain Alexander’s 1st Maryland Battery, of the third brigade, second division, eighth army.
The defense of Winchester started very promising after the Union troops forced back several advances of rebel forces. However, the federal troops soon ran out of artillery ammunition and had to spike their guns as they made a hasty retreat.
To add to the despairing news, local publications reported, “The wagon train commenced a retreat from Martinsburg about eight or ten hours in advance of rebel troops. There were five hundred wagons in the train, but a considerable number were captured. The train, which stretched out over three miles in length, reached Harrisburg, on Tuesday, having made the extraordinary march of one hundred and twenty miles in forty-eight hours, stopping only to feed the horses. Both horses and drivers evidenced the hardships endured on the retreat. Very many of the wagons were driven by contrabands, who rode the wheel horse, while their families sat perched on top of the load.”
As a result of these dire reports, it seemed highly possible that Lee had his sights on attacking Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, or Pittsburgh. Lee had a reputation for doing what was least expected of him. In the minds of its citizens, Pittsburgh was a likely target because of its reputation as one of the great foundries of America, as well as the fact that it was home to the Allegheny Arsenal, whose warehouses held millions of cartridges and thousands of rounds of artillery shells.
Looking at some of the forts defending the east end of the city, one finds that part of the objective of these defenses was to protect the Allegheny Arsenal. One such battery was dug near the present day Penn Avenue near Allegheny Cemetery. Craighill conceived the position, not only to protect the Allegheny Arsenal, but also to protect the Pittsburgh-Greensburg Turnpike (presently Penn Avenue). While virtually all traces of these defenses have disappeared, there was a redoubt near what is now the 62nd Street Bridge protecting the Morningside side area of the city. Fort Croghan was dug on a rise overlooking the junction of Stanton Avenue and Morningside Street at the southeast corner of the Schenley estate. Fort Negley was a redoubt on Hillcrest Street off North Fairmont near the Thomas Mellon residence on North Negley Avenue. A young Andrew Mellon, who later became Secretary of the Treasury, stood guard over the family orchards to keep them from being raided or vandalized by the men working on the trenches. The Pittsburgh Evening Chronicle of June 16, 1863, noted, “The works thrown up on Davis’ hill beyond Allegheny Cemetery, though less extensive than those on Herron’s Hill, are very judiciously located . . for the protection of the arsenal. “ A gun battery was also dug on Winebiddle Street, south of Penn Avenue. Another battery was dug just between the intersection of Main Street and Penn Avenue.
The Oakland, Uptown, and Herron Hill sections of the city were defended by Fort Herron, Fort Anderson, Fort Zug, and two unnamed batteries. Apparently Fort Herron was a battery, dug in the vicinity of the present Herron Hill Reservoir. It was widely believed some of the rifle pits survived into the 1920’s and the trenches ran along the present Iowa Street. This battery was named to honor the late Colonel John Herron, while a second battery, named in honor of Colonel James Anderson, was situated along University Drive in the upper campus of the present day University of Pittsburgh. The exact location of Fort Zug has never been confirmed but it was believed to have been on a ridge top behind the Fifth Avenue entrance to Carlow College. A reference in the Pittsburgh Evening Gazette, June 27, 1863 noted fifty young men from Iron City were assigned to “Fort Zug.”
The Pittsburgh Dispatch of June 25th again gave a detailed listing of the number of men and the companies that provided them. The magnitude of the numbers was astonishing: Turtle Creek fortifications (488 workers), Davis’ Hill (2,107), South of the Monongahela (2,535), M’Keever’s Hill on the North Side of Allegheny City (800), Squirrel Hill (1,461), Herron’s Hill (3,013), and Cemetery Hill (1,083). In an interesting side note, the newspaper also reported, “James Dunn, tavern keeper at Turtle Creek, donated, at the price of one dollar and a quarter, an empty whiskey barrel, for the purpose of holding water for the use of the men upon the fortifications.”
In their report Joseph Woodwell, Jesse Carr, and James M’Candless noted that there were very few companies who failed to comply with the general order to suspend business. However, they noted there were some complaints from businesses that contended they were engaged in government work, and that stopping operations for three or four days would cause them to incur great losses. These companies, according to the Dispatch, were willing to continue a general suspension of their operations if directed by the Executive Committee.
Apparently the concern over alcohol continued to surface because a resolution was passed requesting all persons having charge of parties or squads working at any of the fortifications around the city refrain from supplying them with intoxicating liquors.
Another report indicated that at least five thousand more men would be required to complete the fortifications and expressed hoped that the business establishments would furnish the necessary laborers.
Word arrived by telegraph that rebel forces had captured M’Connellsburg in Fulton County. In an interesting commentary, one telegraph operator was reported to have stated, “If they (the rebels) came in this direction, they would be provided with a lasting resting place, and that, as a matter of convenience, they had better bring with them their coffins.”
According to Sarah Killikelly’s History of Pittsburgh, “Many people thought marital law ought to be declared, and nearly all business was suspended, but by the opening days of July the fortifications were practically finished, and it was thoroughly realized by that time that the southerners would never reach Pittsburgh.” This same source also noted, “When the new of that great victory (Gettysburg) reached Pittsburgh, signal rockets were fired for five minutes from the twenty-seven forts, and the hills echoed with the rejoicing.”
Killikelly also contended that when Pittsburgh presented a bill to the federal government for expenses incurred on the fortifications, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton flatly rejected the invoice on the grounds that the city was simply protecting its own interests, and Washington should not pay them for doing that.The fortifications of Pittsburgh will continue to intrigue both professional and amateur historians, but a word of warning is in order since fact and fiction become more obscured with the passage of time. For example, a 1929 newspaper account examined the old forts in the vicinity of present Arlington playground. The newspaper quoted attorney William C. McClure, “They were thrown up during Morgan’s Raid. He had a bad reputation and everyone was afraid of him. They thought he would come up the Monongahela River from West Virginia which would have been a logical procedure if he could have done it. So they put up forts in this locality.” While it is true that Morgan’s raiders were greatly feared, by the time he surrendered his forces near Columbiana, Ohio, Morgan’s army had been pretty much decimated.
Dispatch, June 16, 1863
Dispatch, June 18, 1863
Dispatch, June 19, 1863
Dispatch, June 25, 1863
Fleming, George T., “Fortifying Pittsburgh in 1863,” Gazette Times, July 1, 1923.
Killikelly, Sarah H., The History of Pittsburgh: Its Rise and Progress, Pittsburgh: B. C. & Gordon Montgomery Co., 1906.
M’Swigan, Marie, “Remnants of Old Civil War Forts Can Still Be Seen on South Side,” Pittsburgh Press, February 14, 1929.
McCarthy, Bill, “Pittsburgh Prepares for the Civil War,” Pittsburgh History, Winter 1998-1999.
|James Wudarczyk is author of the book Pittsburgh's Forgotten Allegheny Arsenal, and co-author of the books, Monster on the Allegheny and Other Lawrenceville Stories and A Doughboy's Tale and More Lawrenceville Stories. In addition, he has written many articles and reviews for various publications, most of which deal with Pittsburgh.|