George H. (George Henry) Thurston.

Allegheny county's hundred years online

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mainly from resistance to reductions made or proposed by the executive officers of
the various railroads in the rates of wages, and also from objections of the crews
of trains to regulations governing their running.

Strikes were in progress or threatened on the chief trunk lines of the country,
and the disturbances had affected the men on the Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh,
Fort Wayne and Chicago Kail roads.

On Thursday, July 19th, 1877, the conductors and some of the brakemen of
some of the freight trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad refused to take out their
trains and would not allow other trains to move. There had been a reduction of
ten per cent, on the wages of the men on the 1st of June, and an order had been
issued that thirty-six freight cars, instead of eighteen as heretofore, were to be
made up as a train without increase in the number of the crew, with a locomotive
at the end to act as a pusher in assistance to the one drawing the burden, making
■what is technically called " a double header."

The train employees looked upon this as doubling their work under the de-
creased pay of June 1st, and in its effects as virtually tending to the discharge of
every other man then employed in the running of freight trains. The strike does
not seem to have been a seriously organized affair, but rather a sudden conclusion
arrived at under the impulse of the moment, strengthened, no doubt, by the dis-
content that prevailed on the roads to the east and west, and the under current of
hostility toward railroads evident by such publications as those previously quoted.
There does not seem to have been at first any angry or mischievous feeling among
the train hands, but simply an attempt by a "strike" to oblige the superintendent
of the Western Division to secede from the order for the " double headers," or
effect some compromise. The strikers did not seem to have been in a bad humor,
but rather to the contrary, and were comparatively few in number.

It was not until 8:30 A. m. on the 19th that trouble began. Two freight trains
were to start at 8:40, but ten minutes before the crews sent word that they would
not take the trains out. Two yard crews were then asked to do so, but they refus-
ed. The trains were not taken out, and the crews of all the trains that came in,
as they arrived, promptly joined the strikers. As the day wore on the men
gradually congregated at the "round-house" of the road at Twenty-eighth street,
but did not attempt or threaten any violence. The news of the strike had spread
through the two cities, and large numbers of the more vicious class of the popula-
tion, together with many workmen from the factories who sympathised with the
strikers, hastened to Twenty-eighth street, and there was soon a formidable mob
gathered, in which the few striking railroad employees were quite lost. The rail-


road officials finding their tracks and round-house in the posession of a mob whicb
defied them, called upon the Mayor of the city for assistance, from the police, ta
which request the Mayor promptly responded going in person with the detail of
officers sent. When the police arrived on the ground they found an excited as-
semblage of people who defied the city authorities. There was no collision, how-
ever, until a man who had refused to join the strikers attempted to couple some
cars, when he was assulted. An officer of the road, who undertook to turn a switch,.
was also assaulted by one of the mob, who was arrested by the police. HiS'
comrades began throwing stones, but the police maintained their hold of their
prisoner, and conveyed him to the station-house. An immense mob gathered in
front of the police station with the intention and threats of rescuing their com-
rade, but nothing was done. The mob which had, by this time, become greatly
enraged, Avas really not one of the railroad employees, who had contemplated na
such result of their strike, and generally deplored the turn affairs had taken. It
was largely composed of the worst element of the population who, without any
grievance, real or imagined, of their own, had gathered from the very force ot
their vicious inclinations and hope of plunder.

A meeting was held by the strikers that evening, at which they demanded
that the ten per cent, be restored, and the running of " double headers " be abol-
ished. It is quite probable that at this period in the course of the riot a few
judicious persons might have changed the whole course of subsequent events, but
the general public seemed to have been either unreflecting as to the possible dan-
ger, or indifferent to results as long as it only threatened railroad interests. The
strikers did not intend mob violence, and many of them were chagrined at the com-
pany in which they found themselves. While they would, probably, not have ac-
ceded then to a withdrawal of their demands, they would have sided with the-
authorities to preserve order, and abate the mob by withdrawing themselves from,
any public expression, and used their influence to quiet the excited gatherings
The railroad authorities, however, alarmed at the still increasing mob, and its-
utterances, invoked the aid of the sheriff of the county, and at midnight Sheriff
Fife came to Twenty-eighth street, and ordered the rioters to disperse, which they,,
with hoots and jeers, defiantly refused, many of his hastily summoned posse desert-,
ing him even before he reached the scene of action. The sheriff then sought aid
from the military, and General Pearson, being found about 3:00 A. m., issued an.
order to the Nineteenth and Eighteenth regiments National Guards of Penn-
sylvania, to march armed and equipped for duty at 6:30 A. m. This seemed to have-
been a hasty and ill considered action. It is no where apparent that the civil au-
thorities of either city or county had in any degree exhausted their powers. But
two feeble efforts had been made in commanding the mob to disperse, but no de-
termined effort had been made with a strong posse to disperse the crowd, or even
force it back from off the railroad, nor had any such posse comatatus as the sheriff,
was empowered to call to his aid been organized.

Sheriff Fife also telegraphed to the State authorities that he was unable to-
quell the riot, and asked that General Pearson be asked to do so with his forces,


whicli request Adjutant General Latta complied with. General Pearson marched
his forces to the Union Depot and placed them in position in the yard and on the
hillside above. The mob were not, however, deterred by this, as the file of the
troops were more or less in sympathy with the strikers, and showed an evident
disinclination to shoot down their fellow citizens if they should be ordered to do
so. It was at this time that the great mistake was made in the management of
the riot.

The Governor had been telegraphed to, and had ordered General Brinton's
division of troops to leave Philadelphia for Pittsburgh. This became known to
the mob, which was still increasing in number and turbulence, and they became
infuriated at troops being called in from the east, as they expressed it, " to shoot
down Pittsburghers." Sheriff Fife had appealed to the State authorities, and
they, not fully understanding the matter, acted as the public peace seemed to de-
mand. In anticipation of the coming of these troops the mob became sullenly
vicious. The feeling had spread to the workingmen in the factories on the South
Side, where a public meeting was held, and some reputable citizens addressed the
people. At this meeting demagogical speeches, upholding the action of the
strikers were made, communistic arguments used, the Pennsylvania Railroad de-
nounced for its oppression of their employes, and for bringing hireling soldiers
from the east to slaughter them ; in consequence of which five hundred men in a
body came from the South Side and joined the mob. Nor was the mob without
continued encouragement from some citizens, who openly sympathized with the
strikers, led thereto by personal feelings of dislike to the railroad company's busi-
ness management, not reflecting that they were thus sustaining a mob whose
depredations they would have to pay for. At this critical moment the mob re-
ceived an endorsement that not only greatly encouraged it, but incited it to ex-
treme deeds of violence. A leading paper, on Friday, the 20th, in the course of
an editorial, headed, "The Talk of the Desperate," which formulated what is
assumed as the expression of a workingman, in which this language was used :
"This may be the great civil war in this country between labor and capital that is
bound to come." And further, "The workingmen everywhere are in fullest sym-
pathy with the strikers, and only waiting to see whether they are in earnest
enough to fight for their rights. They would all join and help them the moment
an actual conflict took place." And further, " The Governor, with his proclama-
tion, may call and call, but the laboring people, who mostly constitute the militia,
won't take up arms to put down their brethren. Will capital then rely on the
United States army ? Pshaw ! It's ten to fifteen thousand available men would
be swept from our path like leaves in a whirlwind. The workingmen of this
country can capture and hold it, if they will only stick together, and it looks as
though they were going to do so this time. Of course, you say that capital will
have some supporters. Many of the unemployed will be glad to get work as
soldiers, or extra policemen ; the farmers, too, might turn out to preserve your
law and order ; but the working army would have the most men and the best


men. The war might be bloody, but the right would prevail. Men like Tom
Scott, Frank Thompson — jes, and Wm. Thaw — who have got rich swindling the
stockholders of railroads, so that they cannot pay honest labor living rates, we
would hang to the nearest tree." Is it to be wondered that with such suggestive
language in a leading editorial in an influential paper that the mob were worked
up to the pitch of violence that prevailed on Saturday and Sunday following ?
Although the paper in a later edition suppressed that part of the editorial, and
the other papers of the city refrained from any editorials that might increase the
excitement, yet the mischief had been done, the unfortunate words had been said?
and the more intelligently vicious of the rioters made the most of them.

It is possible, as furious as the mob had become, that it would still have sub-
sided under judicious treatment had the troops been ordered back to Philadelphia
Those troops left Philadelphia on Friday night and arrived at the Union Depot
on Saturday afternoon, tired and hungry and in an irritable mood. After a scant
and hasty Innch they were pushed out along the tracks to the Pound House where
the great bulk of the mob was assembled. In order to secure and cover the build-
ing and tracks it was necessary that the mob should be forced back. This the
troops, under orders, roughly and irritably proceeded to do, when some stones were

Some one in command of the troops blundered and, it is said, gave an order to
fire. Who gave the order has never been settled. Both General Pearson and
General Brinton emphatically denied giving the order, and it is possible the firing
resulted from some imperfectly heard order to do something else, or some exclama-
tion of the angry mob, heard imperfectly amid the howls and jeers, was understood
by the troops as an order to fire, or initiated in an angry moment by some soldier,
who having been hit with a stone, fired from impulse, and his comrades sympath-
etically followed in the volley. At all events the troops fired and about twenty
persons were killed and thirty wounded, three of whom were children. It was a
most wretched blunder from the fact that the Philadelphia troops not only fired at
the mob in around the tracks, but poured several voUies in the direction of
the hill above the yards, where the Nineteenth Regiment was on duty, and a large
crowd of innocent spectators were gathered, killing and wounding a number. It is
evident that the tiring was not through any deliberate orders of the commanders?
but the result of an angry impulse or sudden irritation, and was but a further cul-
mination of the mistake, whose ever it was, that brought troops from a distant
part of the State to add fuel to the passions of the mob, by arousing sectional pre-

Had the troops refrained from firing it is altogether possible that the force of
military on the ground would, if cooly handled, have gradually forced the rioters
off the ground of the P. E. R.

The ground once occupied and strongly guarded, as it could have been, the
mob would ultimately have dispersed when the chance of plunder was shut ofi^, as
llie most of the real strikers had virtually withdrawn from the active participation
in the riot.


When, however, the mob saw their associates killed and wounded their rage
burst all control, and the troops were closed in on and driven into the Eound
House. Encouraged by this the mob took steps to burn them out. Cars loaded
with whisky and petroleum were set on fire and sent down the track against the
building, and fire opened on it with a piece of artillery which the mob had gotten
possession of. General Brinton came personally to one of the windows of the
house and appealed to the mob to desist, warning them if they did not he must and
would fire. The rioters paying no attention to his appeal and warning, and pre-
paring to continue their assaults, General Brinton gave orders to a detail of his
men to fire at the men handling the cannon, by which several of them were killed
and wounded. This checked the madness of the mob for the time, but they still
continued to press around and threaten the soldiers. Incendiarism, having been
inaugurated, went on through the night, trains were rifled and then burned. The
troops held their position until Sunday morning, and then retreated out Penn
avenue, as far as Sharpsburg, where they went into camp.

During this retreat they were followed by a mob of two or three thousand
persons, from which occasional shots were fired at the troops and some of them
wounded. Some individual who, at the time and afterwards, rejoiced in the name
of " Pat the Avenger," was in this conspicuous and persistent. Subsequent inves-
tigations failed to show that it was any one person, but it seems, like " Tom the
Tinker" during the Whisky Insurrection, to have been a mob designation. Gen-
eral Brinton and his ofiicers are deserving of much credit for forbearance under
these harrassing circumstances of their retreat. They had with them a Gatling
gun which would, had an order been given to fire, have made great havoc in the
dense crowd. Angered as the troops were at the lose of comrades slain, irritated
by the pursuing mob, and exposed to the occasional shots fired at them, their for-
bearance was wonderful. It would have been well had they exhibited that quality
on the preceding Saturday afternoon, and their officers enforced the same dis-
cipline. Had it been, there would have been no bloodshed nor the incendiarism
that followed inaugurated. The troops coolly handled would have gradually evicted
the rioters from the railroad property, and maintained possession by the mere
force of their numbers and presence, which was, no doubt, the object of those who
invoked their aid. The few railroad employees who were dissatisfied, but who, as
before stated, had no vicious intentions, could have been treated with, and the
vicious element of the mob finding no opportunity to plunder or other riotous pro-
ceedings, would have gradually shrunk back from whence they came before the
efforts of the police. Whoever gave the order to fire on Saturday afternoon is
responsible for all that followed, or if no one gave such an order those of the
Philadelphia troops who, wanting in soldierly coolness and discipline, fired from
their own volition are. During Saturday night the Pittsburgh troops disbanded
and left the grounds and General Pearson retired to a point down the river to
escape the fury of the mob, who attributed to him the first order to fire.

During Saturday night and Sunday morning the mob seemed to have posses-
sion of the city. They broke open several armories and gun stores, and supplied


themselves with arms and ammunition. The banks were threatened and the city
seemed about to be pillaged, the lower part of the city being filled with bands of rioter^
uttering threats of incendiarism and murder. Several of the banks had armed
bodies of men inside their doors, so eminent seemed the danger of their vaults
being broken into and pillaged. On Sunday morning the round house and the
locomotives therein were destroyed by fire. The Union depot, the grain elevator
the Adams Express building, and the Pan Handle depot were also set on fire and
consumed. The firemen who hastened to the scene and attempted to extinguish
the flames were met by armed men and driven back. At 12:30 Sunday morning
a committee appointed by a citizen's meeting tried to open a consultation with the
mob but were promptly driven away. The committee saw that those they had to
do with were not dissatisfied railroad employees, but not only a mob of the vilest
of the city's population, at whose mercy the entire property of the city was, but a
mass of men drunken with unrestrained passions and continuous indulgence in the
whisky and wines obtained from the plundered cars. It was a mob in its most
complete form, there being neither organization or leader, but each man or party
of men doing what the frenzy or chance for plunder for the moment suggested.
Some of the original strikers having been found, they promised to attend a meeting o^
the citizens at four o'clock and arrange to aid in suppressing the incendiarism, and
they were as good as their word, showing, as before stated, that the railroad strikers
were not of the mob and did not countenance the violence.

At this meeting the Mayor was authorized to enroll five hundred police, but
the accounts of the day say that the ranks filled up slowly. In the earlier hours
of the mob when the Mayor was first appealed to, although prompt in his endeavor
to check the turbulence than which it was nothing else at that period, his efibrts
were retarded by the want of support he should have had from the police, which,
not understanding the personal characteristics of the mob and permeated by a sym-
pathy with the strikers, were backward in supporting the city authorities. The
same sentiment among those from whom the extra police were expected made delay
in their enrollment. The state of terror continued through all of Sunday night,
and on Monday morning the mob still reigned supreme.

Throughout the thirty-six hours, from Saturday night until Monday morning^
a most singular state of public mind developed here and there which seems like a
moral epidemic. There was a most wholesale appropriation of goods from the
burning cars by men and even women who would have at other times shuddered
at so doing, and after the riot was suppressed goods were voluntarily, for some time
returned by parties who had taken them unreflectingly, having recovered their
moral perceptions, which had seemingly been clouded by the vicious atmosphere
of the mob. This is mentioned because from first to last the whole aflPair seems to
have been a carnival of mistakes and blunders, and there seemed to exist a sort of
hallucination with certain classes of the population, that as long as it was only the
railroad corporation that was being injured there was no great harm committed.


On Monday morning this, however, seemed to have been suddenly dissipated
by posters, that had been, through the night, placed conspicuously throughout the-
city, on which was printed the law by which the citizens of Allegheny county were-
liable for all the damage done or arising from the mob. Although throughout
this disgraceful occurrence the larger proportion of the citizens deplored its ex-
istence, a semi-apathy seemed to prevail, and through all the working classes a sym-
pathy under the mistaken idea that it was a labor strike, which sympathy quickly
disappeared when the true element of the mob was understood, and changed to-
hearty support of those engaged in suppressing it. On Monday morning, at eleveiT
o'clock, a meeting of citizens was called to meet at the Chamber of Commerce, to-
form a Committee of Public Safety to take charge of the situation, as the city au-
thorities, the Sheriff and the military seemed powerless. At this meeting the fol-
lowing Committee of Public Safety was appointed : William G. Johnston, chair-
man ; John Moorhead, Paul Hacke, Kalph Bagaley, George Wilson, J. J. Gillespie^
G. Schleiter, J. G. Weldon, George H. Thurston, James J. Donnell, James B.
Haines, George A. Kelly, F. H. Eaton, J. E. Schwartz, Joseph Home, William
T. Dunn, E. G. Jones, Dr. Mcintosh, Frank Bissell, John K. McCune, John M.
Davis, John B. Jackson, K. C. Grey, Alex. Bradley, Capt. Samuel Harper.

On motion, Geo. H. Thurston, Geo. A. Kelly, John M. Davis, were appointed
a committee to prepare an address to the public, and in a short time presented the-
following, which was adopted and ordered to be at once published :

"The Committee of Public Safety, appointed at the meeting of citizens, held*
at the Chamber of Commerce, July 23d, deeming that the allaying of excitement
is the first step towards restoring order, would urge upon all citizens disposed to>
aid therein the necessity of pursuing their usual avocation, and keeping all their
employees at work, and would, therefore, request that full compliance be accorded
to this demand of the committee. The committee are impressed with the belief
that the police force now being organized will be able to arrest and disperse alt
riotous assemblages, and that much of the danger of destruction to property^ ha&
passed, and that an entire restoration of order will be established. The committee-
believe that the mass of industrious workmen of the city are on the side of law
and order, and a number of the so-called strikers are already in the ranks of the-
defenders of the city, and it is quite probable that any further demonstration wilt
proceed from thieves and similar classes of population, with whom our working,
classes have no affiliation and will not be found among them.

" It is to this end that the committee request that all classes of business should
be prosecuted as usual, and our citizens refrain from congregating in the streets in-
crowds, so that the police of the city may not be confused in their efforts to arrest
rioters, and the military be not restrained from prompt action, if necessary, from,
fear of injuring the innocent."

At this meeting Major T. Brent Swearingen was directed to take charge of or-
ganizing the citizens who might desire to form organizations for the protection of
the city. A Vigilance Committee was also authorized to be formed under charge-
of General Negley and Major Swearingen, and establish headquarters at Lafayette-

During the meeting much excitement was created by the announcement that
650 miners from Elizabeth were coming down the Monongahela on a boat, to joira


the rioters and attempt the sack of the city. General Negley was dispatched with
-a body of old soldiers to meet them at lock No. 1. They did so, but found the
■miners were coming down to help suppress the mob instead of aiding the rioters.
On being assured that their aid was not needed, and being tendered the thanks
of the Committee'of Public Safety, they returned home. A committee, consisting
of John Harper, President of the Bank of Pittsburgh ; John R. McCune, Presi-
dent of the Union National Bank ; John D. Scully, Cashier of the First National
JBank ; John A. Ricketson, and A. Groetzinger, President of the German National
Bank, were appointed a Finance Committee to obtain funds for the payment of
the expense that might be necessary in suppressing the riot and restoring order.
The vigorous manner in which the committee took hold of their work caused, be-
fore the day was over, a feeling of confidence and awed the mob, and the succeed-
ing night witnessed no renewal of outrages. On the succeeding day the following
persons were added to the committee: Joseph Dilworth, William Frew, J. K.
Morehead, General Fitzhugh, Frank Sellers, John McD. Crossan, A. E W. Pain-

Online LibraryGeorge H. (George Henry) ThurstonAllegheny county's hundred years → online text (page 12 of 43)