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Pittsburgh And The Civil War

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Of course it is widely known that the Civil War touched almost every part of the south and also we all know about the major battle of Gettysburg two hundred miles away from our fair city. But when people think of and study the Civil War Pittsburgh is not brought up all that often except for the mention of the men that Pittsburgh sent to the war. If one does a little bit of research they will find that Pittsburgh played a large and integral part of the Union war effort. This is no more evident then if you study the old Allegheny Arsenal that once sat in what is now the Lawrenceville part of the city. There were other ties to the Civil War in Pittsburgh as well such as the home guard unit, the earthwork forts built in fear of a Confederate invasion. Also people overlook the 118 confederate soldiers which were part of the famous Morgan’s raiders that were held at the Western Pennsylvania State Penitentiary and the eight Confederate Calvary men that will remain on “enemy” territory forever, buried in Uniondale cemetery.

. The impact that Pittsburgh had on the rebellion started even before the attack on Fort Summter. In 1860 when John Buchann Floyd who was the Secretary of War under President James Buchanan and also a southern sympathizer ordered the Commandant of the Allegheny Arsenal to ship a large number of ordnance immediately to southern parts of the country the people of Pittsburgh were enraged. The south had not yet taken up arms, yet the people of Pittsburgh found these orders from Floyd, who was from the south, less then honorable and staged a “revolt” of there own in order to ensure the cannon in question would not be taken away.

Is it not enough that we are to be sold out by secessionists, - the Administration would bind us hand and foot, deprive us of arms and deliver us neck and heels to the traitors who would destroy the union! It has already ordered one hundred and twenty four heavy guns from our Allegheny Arsenal to Far South, - not to defend the stars and stripes, for which our skillful mechanics made them but to batter it down under the pirate flag of some Lone Star or Rattlesnake government…. Will our people submit to this? Our citizens, of all parties, as a unit, denounce the movement as treason, and have telegraphed to Washington to have the order revoked. If it is not done, we owe a duty to the nation, to the State of Pennsylvania, and to ourselves to prevent- by force, if necessary- the transfer of these munitions of war under color of law, to the enemies of the nation.

This quote from the Pittsburgh Daily Dispatch of December 25th 1860 summed up the belief of the entire city quite literally. The citizen were willing to sink the ship named the Silver Wave that was to be loaded with the arms in questions if she tried to steam off with the cargo if the order was not rescinded. The citizens sent this message by telegraph to the War Department but while they waited for the answer the Commandant of the Arsenal, being a solider, started to follow the orders he was given. Those orders were to start the ten-day process of loading the guns on to the Sliver Wave.

This event was only prevented by an order from Edward M. Stanton, the Attorney General under President Buchanan and who later would become the Secretary of War. If the telegram from Stanton would have held a different answer there is no doubt that blood would have been shed and the curtain would have lifted on the Civil War not in Charleston but in the Union-loving city of Pittsburgh. The successful protest against the transfer of the cannon from the Allegheny Arsenal was Pittsburgh first notable contribution to the Civil War and the preservation of the Union.

Although many sons of Pittsburgh would fall on the fields of battle no greater tragedy would befall Pittsburgh during the Civil War then September 17th 1862. This day will better be known as the bloodiest day in American history because of the 20,000 men that would lay died or wounded on the fields of Antietam, Virginia. The city of Pittsburgh also suffered a tremendous amount of bloodshed and lost a great number of patriots to the Union cause in one felt swoop on this horrible day in history. The Allegheny Arsenal is a long forgotten memory today except for the massive outer gate that still stands as a memorial to the once glorious structure that helped preserve the Union. But more importantly those gates also stand as a memorial of the men and women that died in “Pittsburgh’s Bloodiest Day”

Construction on the Arsenal started in 1814 on land bought by the government from William B. Foster and was completed in 1829. Of the fourteen officers who served as Commandants at the arsenal only one rose to distinction, Thomas Jackson Rodman. Although Rodman was not Commandant of the arsenal during the Civil War his inventions will forever be remembered for aiding in the preservation of the Union. Rodman is credited for inventing a way to manufacture cannons that were cast upon a hollow core, cooling the inner surface by running water, so that each layer would be compressed by the shrinkage of the outer layers. This in turn would mean the gun would be much more powerful and would have a greater service life. Rodman is also credited for inventing prismatic gunpowder as well. It is believed that these inventions may have even been such a deterrent that they stopped European governments from coming to the aide of the Confederate States of America. .

The explosion that ripped through the arsenal was actually a series of explosions. The first of these is believed to have taken place in a new laboratory built for the production of gunpowder. It was noted that when the workers were laying the stones for the walkways between the buildings that their hammers drew sparks from the stones. A subsequent suggestion to Commandant Major Symington, who was also in charge of the arsenal during the Sliver Wave incident, to replace the stones with a softer stone was ignored. Symington also refused to cover the walk with tan bark or sand and even went so far as when Patrick McBride who was in charge of the laboratory, covered the walk with sand Symington ordered it removed. Some believe that this disregard for safety played a part in the explosion. As expected with an arsenal the accumulation of powder dust in the laboratories and also outside was tremendous. It must be noted that the weather in the weeks leading up to the explosion was very dry. Also to be noted was the fact that on September 17th four tons of powder had been put in the laboratory. It is still debated as to what exactly caused the first explosion. Some say either an iron wagon wheel that was to be loaded with the powder for the Union war effort or from the trampling of horses that were irritated by



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