2011-04-21 / Local & State

Pa. Provided Iron, Coal, Soldiers During Civil War

By Craig Smith

PITTSBURGH (AP) – In the pre-dawn dark of April 12, 1861, two men delivered a message to Union Maj. Robert Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

“Sir: By authority of Brig. Gen. (Pierre G.T.) Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.’’

At 4:30 a.m., Beauregard unleashed a barrage of cannon and mortar fire that lasted 34 hours, leaving the fort that guarded Charleston Harbor in ruins.

So began the Civil War, 150 years ago on Tuesday. Expected to last three months, it continued for four years and claimed more American lives than any other war in the nation’s history: more than 600,000 men and an estimated 50,000 civilians. Historians estimate its cost in excess of $10 billion in 1860 dollars, or more than $364 billion today.

“Some of the same issues that were involved in the Civil War are still pretty live issues in the United States today. Race, obviously, and the relative power of the national government and state government,’’ said American history professor James McPherson at Princeton University.

In Pennsylvania, which gave thousands of men and industrial resources to the war, change happened quickly as the Confederate army’s invasion drove farmers from their land and stimulated the armament industry. An esti- mated 2,000 “Keystone Confederates’’ went South, but far more – about 425,000 Pennsylvanians – donned Union blue.

The war affected this region for years, McPherson said.

Pennsylvania produced 80 percent of the iron the Union used and 100 percent of the anthracite coal, about 5.5 million tons. Foundries in Pittsburgh, such as Fort Pitt Works and Phoenixville Iron Co., produced 3,000 cannons.

The Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville turned out 40,000 bullets a day – at an expensive cost when an 1862 explosion killed 80 workers making cartridges for the Union army. The push to mine coal created labor strife that planted roots for union organizing.

Though horrific, the war brought some men their destiny .

Young Andrew Carnegie took charge of telegraphs and railways for the War Department, later writing that he “gloried in being useful.’’ Soldiers such as Levi Bird Duff of Allegheny County and John White Geary of Westmoreland County distinguished themselves in battle and in political wars that followed _ Duff as a district attorney elected in 1865, and Geary as Pennsylvania’s governor inaugurated in 1867.

In the days after the attack on Fort Sumter, Gov. Andrew Curtin rushed five companies of under-armed Pennsylvania militia to the unprotected Capitol in Washington, earning them the title “First Defenders.’’

Militia units in Western Pennsylvania quickly mobilized.

“Recruitment started early in the county. They thought the rebellion would be over real soon,’’ historian Arthur Fox of Dormont said.

Some units prepared for battle before the first shots. In Armstrong County, Capt. William Sirwell volunteered the services of the Brady Alpines and the Kittanning Yeagers to Curtin about April 1, in case war was declared.

When units filled, men crossed state lines to join the fight. Albert Kincaid of Pittsburgh and his friend John Boles joined a unit that became the 5th West Virginia Cavalry, which was formed before West Virginia became a state. In an August 1861 letter to his father, among those kept by Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland, Kincaid assured him that they were well.

“But all of us from Pittsburgh would like to be in some Pennsylvania regiment,’’ he wrote.

Although the three-day Battle of Gettysburg – the war’s bloodiest, with 50,000 casualties – is the state’s best known, other skirmishes took place in Pennsylvania. The Battle of Monterey Pass was fought in Maryland and Pennsylvania on July 4, 1863, as Union soldiers pursued Confederates retreating from Gettysburg. Confederate Gen. Jubal Early captured York on June 28, 1863, and demanded ransom. On his orders in 1864, Confederate troops burned Chambersburg.

People marked the war’s 100th and 125th anniversaries by recalling military activities and troops, said Soldiers & Sailors curator Michael Kraus.

“Now we’re looking more at social issues,’’ he said. “What did women do? What did blacks do? I think (this anniversary) will bring a renewed interest in the period.’’

Pennsylvania recorded more than 33,000 Union dead, including 15,265 battlefield casualties. The names of more than 34,000 Pennsylvanians are inscribed on thousands of monuments. Yet, said Kraus, “a lot of these guys were forgotten. They just kind of got swallowed up in the casualty vortex.’’

In units where family members stayed together, deaths exacted a heavier toll. Half of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment came from Westmoreland County towns such as Ligonier, Latrobe, Greensburg, Youngstown and Salem. The county sent about 6,000 men to fight.

George A. Cribbs of Greensburg, a captain in the 11th, died of wounds from the Battle of Second Manassas. A nephew, Pvt. George R. Cribbs, died in the Battle of the Wilderness, and a brother, Sgt. William Cribbs, died in the Battle of Antietam.

The early expectation of defeating the South dimmed quickly. In a November 1861 letter to his wife, Pvt. Peter S. Zellers of Allegheny County, with Company A of the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteers, wrote about the Union’s disastrous Oct. 21 attempt to cross the Potomac River at Harrison’s Island and capture Leesburg, Va.

“There is a squad of men gone to bring up an officer that floated down and was caught just below here. They will burry (sic) him here,’’ he wrote. “And there is still some that will never be found.’’

As fighting intensified, soldiers’ letters grew more grim.

“Kate, I am getting almost discouraged with the war. It seems no nearer to a close than it did when we first came out,’’ Pvt. James H. Craig with Company C of the 105th Pennsylvania Volunteers wrote to his wife in July 1862. “A soldier’s life is a mighty hard one, and the war cannot close any too soon to please me.’’

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