Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Until the Morning Cometh

I recently bought James Wudarczyk's "Until the Morning Cometh: Civil War Era Pittsburgh."  The city of Pittsburgh had many various contributions to the Union war effort, but most of these stories are still little-known.  Wudarczyk has put together a book outlining these contributions, painting a picture of Pittsburgh's importance during the Civil War.  In the introduction, Wudarczyk relates how even lifelong Pittsburghers are often surprised at how vital a role the city played in the conflict.

The first story outlines Pittsburgh's contributions to the founding of the Republican party in the 1850's, including the ambitions of newspaper editor Horace Greeley, the diverse opinions of those within the party, and the question of nativism (anti-immigrant sentiment) which would be resolved at the 1856 convention in the city.
The second story discusses Secretary of War John Floyd and how he became the most despised man in the city in the winter of 1860, as the country was on the brink of war.  Floyd issued an order for Lawrenceville's Allegheny Arsenal to continue shipping military supplies to the newly forming Confederate States.  The outcry was such that the order was rescinded, but the damage was done.
Next, Wudarczyk outlines President-elect Abraham Lincoln's stop in Pittsburgh en route to the White House, which of course was a huge deal.
After that is an account of Camp Wilkins, housed at a former fairground, where so many of Pittsburgh's troops were trained and drilled for the front.  Then there is a story of the camp's namesake, Judge William Wilkins, who helped supply the vast numbers of Union troops in the area.  Scandal soon erupted because many contractors for the government issued "shoddy" uniforms and supplies while pocketing the profits.

Toward the middle is mostly the reason I purchased this book: an analysis of the cause of the explosion at Allegheny Arsenal in September 1862.  Wudarczyk examines both the coroner's inquest and the military court of inquiry and finds inconsistencies between the two on the part of the witnesses.  One new thing I learned is another theory about the cause of the explosion that has been posited in the last couple of years: that at least one of the three explosions may have been caused by a boiler explosion beneath the laboratory.  The boiler had used steam heat to warm the lab.

In the summer of 1863, Confederate Cavalry General John Hunt Morgan and his raiders succeeded in reaching New Lisbon, Ohio after a campaign in Kentucky.  Morgan and most of his men were captured, and 118 of the raiders were sent to Western Penitentiary before being transferred to Fort Delaware in March 1864.
The following story discusses the fact that there are a number - as many as seventeen - Confederate soldiers buried in Allegheny Cemetery (though none of Morgan's raiders had died in captivity here).  Arthur Fox, author of "Pittsburgh During the American Civil War" was one of the historians who investigated these graves.  In 1962, controversy erupted over whether or not Confederate flags should be placed over their graves by the Grand Army of the Republic.
Another story discusses the contribution of guns, ammunition, and the like from Pittsburgh, most notably from Allegheny Arsenal.  In the wake of the war, Pittsburgh was now truly one of the most industrialized cities in the nation, especially due to its rising number of steel mills.
The next story outlines several prominent Pittsburgh officers and how they have been honored in just the past few years with new headstones.  This chapter includes accounts about the local 9th Reserves/38th Pennsylvania Regiment in battle, possibly the best known regiment from the area.  
Another story talks about the fortifications surrounding Pittsburgh during the conflict.  Pittsburgh was always seen as a potential target for Confederate invasion due to its mighty industrial output.  This was particularly true after the burning of Chambersburg in the summer of 1864.  Indeed, another theory behind the Allegheny Arsenal explosion is Confederate sabotage, though this seems unlikely.
Then there is an account of Thomas Rodman, who made many innovations and experiments with artillery at the Fort Pitt Foundry and Allegheny Arsenal.  Probably his most important contribution was his 15-inch Rodman gun.  Also, his experiments with metallurgy changed how artillery pieces were made.
Finally, Wudarczyk writes about the life of General Alfred Pearson, who organized the "Arsenal Guards" out of Lawrenceville
Then there is an account about several dozen Sisters of Mercy who left Pittsburgh and served as nurses from 1862-65 in Washington.  It is important to note that this was still a time full of anti-Catholic prejudice in the country, but nuns such as these were vital for caring for the sick and wounded.  This story also discusses the 1864 Sanitary Fair held in the city by the U.S. Sanitary Commission to raise money to care for men.
After that, Wudarczyk talks about several Pittsburgh men who were present during the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.

In closing, Wudarczyk ends with the events that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the explosion of Allegheny Arsenal in September 2012 (I was present for some of them).

So if even one or two of these stories intrigues you, it is well worth ordering this book, which you can do here:

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