Paint a picture of Pittsburgh in the summer of 1863 and it becomes evident why many once thought the city could be a target for an attack from the Confederate Army.
The Steel City housed scores of factories and foundries as well as the Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville. All of these industries were ideal for producing war materials. A take over of the city could provide the South with equipment and resources that other Pennsylvania cities, such as Harrisburg, could not supply. This industry coupled with its placement as a transportation hub at the three rivers allowed the city to stand out to many prominent figures of the period, including President Abraham Lincoln.
But how did the notion begin that the Confederate Army wanted to take the city? In the book Civil War Pittsburgh: Forge of the Union by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer, Len Barcousky, he describes the possible motivations behind the city’s precautionary war measures. He has also been digging into the archives of the Post-Gazette, first published in 1786. Unlike current wars in foreign countries, Barcousky says Pittsburghers were reading stories about troops going through cities right nearby. Shelling in Carlisle, and destruction and damage in Chambersburg were headlines all too familiar for residents.
“General Lee wanted to bring the war to the North, and to a great extent he succeeded,” admits Barcousky. Citizens of Western PA were used to the Allegheny Mountains isolating but also protecting them from harm. But with news about fast-moving cavalry such as that of “Jeb” Stuart and slow-moving communication, it seemed time to respond to a possible attack.
Put in charge of immediate response was Major General William Brooks, who assembled a brigade of both white and African American Pittsburghers to build fortifications to protect the city. The city became so serious about its defense that for July 3 and 4, the sale of liquor was banned so the workers would not become distracted from their goal.
By July 6, news had come of a great victory by the Union Army at Gettysburg, where many of the trenches were still visible into the 20th century.