George H. (George Henry) Thurston.

Allegheny county's hundred years online

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The rapidity with which the fire swept up the course of the Monongahela river
towards the south cannot be described. It seemed as though the entire section of
the city burned was on fire within an hour after the conflagration began. The en-
tire fire force of the two cities was of no use to stay its ravages in the direction in-
which'the wind drove the flames, and it was not until there was no fuel to feed'
upon that the fire ceased. The heat was intense, and all things, glass, brick, stone^
and even iron, absolutely melted beneath its power. In the large iron and glass-
warehouses on Water street no efibrt was made to save their contents, and after
the fire had ceased and the embers cooled down great masses of window glass and
table ware and iron were piled amid the ruins of the warehouses, melted into*
compact masses. In several cases these, especially where of iron, were, when the
warehouses were rebuilt, tumbled into pits excavated beneath them in the cellars^.
where many of them remain to the present day. The solidity into which the heat
of the flames had welded bar iron and nails defied any effort to segregate them by
chisel or blast, and their massiveness prevented their removal in a body. In the-
swiftness with which the fire spread, the confusion and panic that prevailed, it i&-
most wonderful that but two lives were lost. One of these was that of Samuel
Kingston, a prominent member of the bar, who, re-entering his house to save a
valuable paper left behind, fell a victim to the flames. The other was a Mrs..
Brooks. The fire swept over the most wealthy and business part of the city, and'
desolated a space of nearly sixty acres. The conflagration spread southwest and
eastward in the shape of an open fan, the handle being at its point of beginning^
Second and Ferry streets, and when it ceased its rim was at what was then called
Pipetown, beyond where the Pittsburgh, St. Louis tk Chicago Kailroad passe.


Second avenue. Its sides were the Monongahela river and Fourth avenue, until
it reached Wood street, then from Diamond street straight out to Koss. There
were over one thousand dwellings, warehouses, stores, churches, hotels and public
buildings burned, and the loss has been variously computed, but was generally
estimated between eight and ten million dollars. Warm hearts and liberal hands
hastened to relieve the suffering and distress, and from every quarter of the
United States, and from Europe, money, provisions, clothing and household arti-
cles came pouring in, and Pittsburgh has never forgotten that generous action, and
fails not, when other communities are in need from calamities, to do as they were
done by.

In 1846, at the outbreak of the Mexican war, Allegheny's patriotism responded
to the call for volunteers, and Pittsburgh became again a camp and supply point,
as well as a rendezvous for troops from other sections ordered to embark for
Mexico via New Orleans at this point. At no time has the great military value
of the Ohio been more clearly shown than during war periods in the facility it
gave for the transportation of troops and all necessary articles for either susten-
ance of an army or their aggressive munitions of war. To be a transportation
power always available in case of need, it should at all times have no less than six
feet of water within its banks. Viewed only as a military improvement, not to
consider its commercial importance, it seems singular that the government does
not enter upon the permanent improvement of the navigation of the river to ac-
complish that result. Peace may always dwell within our borders, and foreign
powers be friendly, but if it is well to build war ships, construct forts and
maintain a military organization, is it not well to make as available as possible,
for military reasons, a military facility such as the Ohio river has always been in
times of war ?

The Pittsburgh military organizations which responded to the call for troops
by the President for service in Mexico were the Duquesne Greys, Captain John
Herron; the Pittsburgh Blues, Captain Alexander Hays; and the Irish Greens,

Captain Robert Porter; also Company C, Captain Sample. A fourth

company was recruited by Captain George Hays, a former captain of the Duquesne
Greys, who during the civil war became colonel of the Eighth Pennsylvania

There was much rivalry between Captain Porter and Captain Hays as to
which should first fill the ranks of their several companies, for as but three com-
panies could be accepted from Allegheny County, and the two companies of the
Greys and Blues being full at the time of the call, it was a question of expeditious
recruiting as to which one of the other two should first fill their quota. The
Greens succeeded, and Captain George Hays and his comrades were disappointed
in taking part in the Mexican campaign. There also were in the same regiment
recruited into the several companies of which it was composed a number of Pitts-
burghers, there being nineteen in Company D, three in Company G, eleven in
Company B, thirteen in Company L, sixteen in Company M, and one in Com-
pany F. *


These Pittsburgh companies embarked with others wlio came from Philadel-
phia and other points from Pittsburgh on December 25th, 1846, the Greys on the
steamer New England. The Pittsburgh troops landed at New Orleans on January
1st, 1847, and on the 14th re-embarked on the ship Oxnard, and landed near Vera
Cruz on March 9th, The Greys took an active part in the seige of that place,
and in the battle of Cero Gerdo, April 19th, were engaged. On the 22d of the
same month the Greys occupied the castle of Perote Puebla, Avhich they garri-
soned with three other companies under the command of Colonel Samuel W.
Black. This gallant soldier, for many years a prominent member of the Pitts-
burgh Bar, and in 1861 the Governor of Nebraska, lost his life in the battle of
Gains Hill in the war of the rebellion.

Brave, talented and impetuous, the following extract of a speech made by him
in 1861, in welcoming his successor to the Governorship of Nebraska, is character-
istic of the man : " On to-morrow," he said, " I shall start for Pennsylvania, to
stand there as here, very close to the flag she follows. I think I shall recognize
it as the same that has always waved over her battalions. It is a goodly flag to
follow, and carries a daily beauty in its folds that makes all others ugly."

The siege of Puebla continued for some weeks, during which the following
members of the Greys were killed : John Gilchrist, John H. Herron, Francis B-
Johns, H. Kreutzleman, William A. Phillips, James Phillips, Samuel Sewell,
William Schmidt, Samuel Troger, David Vernav, Francis ^^anDvke, Joseph

In the decade from 1850 to 1860 the population of Allegheny County increased
from 138,200 in 1850 to 178,831 in 1860. Much of this increase was added to the
population of the cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, and the boroughs of Mc-
Keesport, Braddock and Tarentum began to assume great importance as manufac-
turing suburbs of the two cities.

Despite various causes tending to local depression in business, the county's
history is marked with the inception of various business enterprises and projects
of no interest beyond mere local benefits. The importance to Allegheny County
©f railroad connection with the west and the east had, previous to the beginning
of this decade, been much agitated, and the Ohio & Pennsylvania and. the Pennsyl-
vania Railroad in 1850-52 inaugurated what may be styled the railroad era of
Allegheny County. It is also marked by several serious riots arising from labor
troubles, noted in the chapters touching the progressive history of the various in-
dustries. A serious local monetary panic likewise left its impress on the progress
of the county and its financial wrecks.

In all important elements of the county's growth and development, it contin-
ued, however, to increase in importance as a commercial and manufacturing center.
The great natural resources upon which its business was based were too powerful
to be restrained in their force, and the business persistency and courage of its
population too elastic to be broken. The city had been so fully rebuilt in the
great district devastated by the fire of '45 that few vestages of it Vi.ere i^ 1850 to


he seen. The banking capital of the cities increased, and many important manu-
factures were added to its productive forces. The county, in this decade, made no
step backward, but moved forward in all its general essential interests.

Among the comparatively minor events not touched upon in special chapters
of this volume was the dedication of Masonic Hall in 1851 ; the burning of St.
Paul's Roman Catholic Cathedral on May 6tli of that year, and the laying of the
corner stone of Dixmont Hospital on July 19th, 1859; the robbery of the Custom-
house of ten thousand dollars, one of the officials on his way home being gagged
and the keys of the safe being taken from him, on the 18th of March, 1854 ; the
dedication of the House of Eefuge, and the reception of the first inmate, a boy of
ten years of age, on December 15th, 1854 ; the erection of the Allegheny County
Home in 1853, and the opening of the Central High School September 25th, 1855.
Several churches were built during this decade, among which was the St. Mary's
Catholic Church, the corner stone of which was laid April 12th, 1853; and on
July 12th of the same year that of the Christ M. E. Church. In Sep-
tember of 1854 the cholera broke out a second time in Pittsburgh, and from
September 25th to September 30th there died from the disease 249 citizens.
While much excitement existed, there was no panic. The authorities and the
medical profession battled with the disease bravely. A memorable feature of the
preventive methods against its spread was the burning of huge piles of bituminous
coal in nearly all the principal streets, under the impression that the sulphur and
carbonic gas thus set free to mix with the atmosphere would destroy the germs of
the plague in the air.

Two important political conventions where held in this county during this
decade. The first was the National Free Soil convention, held in Masonic Hall,
August 10th, 11th and 12th, of which Henry Wilson, of Massachuetts, was per-
manent president, and by which John P. Hale, of New Hampshire, was, on August
12ih, nominated for President of the United States, and George W. Julian, of
Indiana, for Vice President.

On February 22d, 1856, a national convention to form a party to resist further
extension of slavery, at which were many of the most prominent public men of
the nation, was held in Lafayette Hall and formally organized the Eepublican
party. The history of the political party then created is that of three of the
most momentous decades in the political existence of the nation, and Allegheny
County did not only much to prepare the way for its formation, but has ever been
loyal to principles thus announced. On January 26th, of 1857, a public meeting
was held to raise funds to purchase coal for the sufiering poor of Cincinnati. Owing
to prolonged droughts, the Ohio river through the fall of 1856, had been so low
that the usual shipments of coal to the lower river ports could not be made, and
consequently a coal famine at Cincinnati ensued. Several thousand dollars were
contributed by the people of Allegheny County, and a large amount of coal sent
by rail to the authorities of Cincinnati for free distribution among the poor of
that city.


This brief notation of a few of the minor local occurrences in Allegheny
County from 1850 to 1860, gives a glimpse of the social, commercial, and political
activity and atmosphere of the county during that decade. The city of Pitts-
burgh, but just recovered from the effects of " the great fire " and the loss thereby of
from $8,000,000 to 110,000,000 ; struggling with the depressing effects of labor
strikes and riots ; embarrassed with the financial and commercial difficulties of a
monetary panic ; battling with a fearful plague ; one of its great sources of busi-
ness income cut ofi" by the closing of its river facility by low water, presents a
combination of circumstances that might well have checked the progress of any
county, and required courage and persistency to meet, worthy of admiration.
Under it all the manufacturing establishments of the county increased as did the
number of its banks, the people pushed forward their railroad enterprises, founded
hospitals and reformatory institutions, built churches, helped found the most im-
portant political party ever existing in the nation, and, amid it all, found time, had
the heart to feel for, the money to care for the suffering poor of a rival city. It
is a grand picture of a self-reliant, industrious population, a striking section in
the panorama of the history of Allegheny County.

From i860 to 1865.

In the few days before the close of 1860, occurred one of the most memorable
events in the history of Allegheny County.

A few days previous to the 26th of December, 1860, an order came from Floyd
the Secretary of War, to ship on that day one hundred and fifty pieces of cannon,
lying at the Allegheny Arsenal, to New Orleans, under pretext that they were
wanted for mounting on Ship Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, on which some for-
tifications had been begun. The intelligence of this order having gotten abroad,
spread rapidly among the people. The Dispatch of December 25, commenting
upon this news says :

" Will our people submit to this ? Our citizens of all parties as a unit de-
nounce the movement, and prominent democrats, leading Breckenridge men, have
telegraphed to Washington to have the order revoked. * -x- -j^- -Jt *
The people of Allegheny county should see that the cannon purchased by the
national treasure are not conveyed to the far South, and they need not barricade
Penn and Liberty streets to prevent it. Let them decide that no cannon shall be
shipped till Charleston Arsenal is in possession of the Federal Government and Fort
Moultrie reinforced, and none will be."

The italics and capitals are as originally printed in the article, which con-
cludes with the following significant paragraph :


"Arrangements were making on Monday to have some of these guns taken to-
the wharf. We suppose some one will tap the fire bells on the route on their
making their appearance on Penn and Liberty streets, that our people may wit-
ness their removal."

Another article in the same paper concludes with, " Our people are a unit
that not a gun shall be shipped South." These extracts reflect the intense feel-
ing that prevailed in the community. The commander of the " Silver Wave," on»
which steamboat the guns were to be shipped, was notified that if he took the-
cannon on board his vessel she would never pass the limits of the harbor, but
would be sunk. The "Silver Wave" is further a historic boat, as it was the-
first steamer to run the blockade at Vicksburg, under command of Captain John
S. McMillan. Steps were taken to have some pieces of cannon mounted op-
posite Brunot's island on the Allegheny side to effect that purpose as the boat
should pass. The commander of the arsenal was called upon by a committee anJ
requested to desist from obeying the order, on the ground that it had its origin^
under circumstances which contemplated treasonable results. The officer in>
charge of the arsenal could only suggest that a rescinding of the order be obtained
from Washington. In the mean time an informal meeting had been held on the-
afternoon of the 25th at the Mayor's office, to take action in the matter. The-
tone of this meeting is presented in the following extract which we quote fromu
the Dispatch of the 26th.

" While there is a very decided opposition to any interference with the trans-
portation of the guns to the river, until after we have heard from Washington ,.
and all remonstrance fails, it was equally as decided against allowing their re-
moval from the city should the orders from Washington not be countermanded.'^
Another article says: "The proposed removal of cannon from the arsenal wa&.
the all absorbing topic of conversation [that day) ; and judging from the feeling,,
almost universally expressed, we do not doubt that the officers in command .will
meet with a determined resistance should they attempt to execute the order of
the Secretary of War."

Edwin M. Stanton had at this time become, as Attorney General, a member of
Buchanan's cabinet, and to him a committee of citizens applied to obtain a coun-
termanding of the order. A dispatch was also sent to the President from influen-
tial citizens, stating : " They would not be responsible for the consequences if the-
order was not countermanded."

A public meeting was called for Thursday, the 30th, to take action in the mat-
ter, and hear the report of the committees which had been appointed at the pre-
vious meetings. It was while this meeting was in session that a detachment oF
troops, in charge of a number of guns, moved from the Arsenal to transport them'
to the wharf for shipment on the " Silver Wave." Secretary Stanton had replied
that there was no knowledge of the order at the department ; but no reply had yet.
been received from the government to the telegraph of the committee. A tele-
gram had just been read to the meeting, announcing that Colonel Anderson had^
withdrawn from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, when the guns and their esc( rt.
reached Liberty street, near Wood. The excitement became intense, and most-


determined expressions of intention to stop the further progress of the guns were

The position was one of great moment. There was no doubt that the order of
Floyd to ship the guns was given with the intention of having this large amount
of ordnance pass into the hands of the rebels. To allow the guns to be shipped
w^as to furriish the avowed enemies of the Union with a valuable supply of artil-
lery. As yet, it was construed, no overt act had been committed by the South.
To have, by force of arms, resisted a government officer in the carrying out of the
•order of the Secretary of War was, under the circumstances, to organize armed
resistance to the Federal government. Although no proclamation on the part of
the government declared that the South was in rebellion, yet all acts of the
Southern States were so plainly evidences of preconcerted rebellion that the pub-
lic mind failed to draw the nice distinctions of law, and looked upon the well
avowed intention as the fact. Presuming rebellion already existed from the hos-
tile position and acts of the South, it seemed incredible that the government should
be shipping cannon where they would be used against it, unless the government
w^as already part of the threatened rebellion of the South against the North. If
it were, it was clear the guns must not leave the city. If it were not, it was, be-
yond doubt, that treasonable motives were concealed in the order, which it was
-equally the duty of loyal citizens to apprehend. Yet, to stop the shijiping of the
guns was to be guilty of actual resistance by loyal people to a government loyal
to them, which the people were even then preparing to sustain with life and
treasure. It was an hour of great and painful uncertainty, calling for coolness
:and moderation. It can well be imagined how anxiously those who saw a duty
on either hand, yet appreciated the difficulties of the position, counted the hours
iintil such advice could be received from Washington as would decide the course
to be taken.

Through the exertions of influential citizens the troops were halted on Wood
street, so that time might be gained in which to obtain the communication so
much hoped for from the government.

The line of guns and their escort extended from Virgin alley to Diamond
valley. Fifth avenue being in the center, at the upper end of which, less tlian nine
hundred feet distant, around the Court House, were gathered excited masses de-
termined the cannon should not leave the city, but restrained from actual move-
ment by the red tape of speeches, committees on resolutions, and like delays.
'The situation was not unlike that previous to the throwing overboard of the tea
in Boston harbor, at the outbreak of the revolution. There tlie citizens had, on
the evening of the day on which the event occurred, gathered at Faneuil hall to
^wait the answer of the English Governor to a committee, who had gone to re-
quest that the vessels holding the tea might have a re-clearance and be allowed
-to sail without landing their cargoes. Pending the return of the committee, the
meeting was addressed by the speakers present, — when a message from the com-
mittee was received, saying that the Governor had refused to allow the ships to


clear, Samuel Adams arose and said, " all has now been done that can be to pre-
serve the peace," upon which the Indian war whoop was raised, and the famous
body of Mohawks issuing from the hall, proceeding to the ships and began throw-
ing over the tea. Here, at Pittsburgh, the message had gone to Washington,
requesting the rescinding of the order shipping the cannon. Awaiting the reply
the citizens were gathered in public meeting, and their speakers — by addresses —
were holding the people. Two squares distant the cannon, under guard of U. S.
soldiers, were halted until that reply could be had. The situation was quite twin
with that of Faneuil hall. Happily, Edwin M. Stanton was the loyal, decided
prompt man he ever proved in all the country's emergencies, and such assurances
came from him as enabled the committee to so report as allayed the excitement of
the people, although the order countermanding the shipment pf the cannon did
not arrive for three or four days.

Those who had comprehended the danger and embarrassment of the position
drew a longer breath as the meeting quietly dispersed. The troops conveyed the
cannon then in charge to the wharf ; no more were hauled, and in a few days
Floyd's order was countermanded. What would have been the result had not the
order been revoked it is not necessary even to conjecture; but the day, and the-
hour, will not easily be forgotten by those who were active in procuring such
action as prevented a collision between the government troops and a loyal people,
determined to prevent, even at the risk apparent, a suicidal action on the part of"
the government.

It was the first decided action anywhere in the country against the rebellion.
It was the first decided expression of the loyal North. The movement was in the
hands of men fully as patriotic and determined as Adams and his co-adjutors, and
the public feeling, while awaiting the countermanding of the order, was quite as-
intense as that which pervaded Fanueil hall. It will also not fail to be seen
how the same desire to do all that " could be done to preserve the peace," pervaded
the action taken, and the same determination to do that which was a clear point of
principle and duty, in event of a refusal to accede to their requests. The similarity
of the situations is strongly apparent.

The course of the citizens of Allegheny County from that time forward until
the surrender of the Confederate government was in keeping with the foregoing
action. From the time of the stopping of the shipment of the cannon until the
firing on Sumter, the patriotic sentiment of the county was fully aroused and de-
cided in its loyalty to the Union. There were some, however, who inclined
strongly towards the Southern sentiment, influenced thereto by partizan regard
for the Southern State rights interpretation of the Constitution, regardless of the
superior rights and importance of the Union. This necessarily engendered much,
bitter personal feeling as to individuals for a time, and was carried to such ex-
tremes in the first few months of the Rebellion that one day, after the firing en
Sumter, the public were electrified to see, in the gray of the morning, ropes with
nooses attached fastened to lamp-posts on several of the pr-incipal streets of the.


City of Pittsburgh, evidently intended as a warning to those whose sympathies
"^■ere with the Rebellion. This action was, however, always understood to be the
liasty action of a few individuals, and neither originated or prompted by any
of the committees of the day.

It has grown of late years that men are chary of using the term Rebellion in

Online LibraryGeorge H. (George Henry) ThurstonAllegheny county's hundred years → online text (page 8 of 43)