a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pittsburgh - the arsenal of the Civil War

Workmen pose beside one of Thomas Jackson Rodman's innovative 20-inch cannons built at Fort Pitt Foundry in Pitttsburgh. (Sen. John Heinz History Center photo)
PITTSBURGH – While the 1863 fighting at Gettysburg, Pa., set a course for the Union Army to win the Civil War, those living in that state's battle-free western region became heavily engaged in the conflict from its start two years earlier.

“Although the battles that determined the fate of the Union were not fought in Western Pa., no life went untouched by the conflict as Pennsylvania played a critical role providing industrial might, agricultural bounty and natural resources for the war effort,” said Andy Masich, president of Pittsburgh's Sen. John Heinz History Center, which created the exhibit about to travel to 40 different destinations through 2014.

“More than 340,000 Pennsylvanians, including 8,600 African American troops, served in the Union army, a number second to only New York state,” Masich stated in a news release.

Pennsylvania as a whole not only gave the U.S. Army men and food, their foundries forged 80 percent of the iron used by the North to produce artillery, making the state the "Arsenal of the Union," a new traveling Civil War exhibit proclaims.

The artifacts in this new display, which fills a 500 square-foot mobile museum, are on display this week at the history center at 1212 Smallman Street before they make their first stop March 31 at Beaver Area Heritage Museum in Beaver, Pa. It's set to arrive at Chartiers-Houston Community Library in Houston, Washington County, Pa., June 17 and stay through July 15. 

The tiny museum is patterned after one known as Pennsylvania Civil War 150, which began last year to travel across the state to commemorate the conflict's 150 anniversary. At each location along their way, both museums leave open space for local historical groups to display their Civil War memorabilia.

The Heinz History Center's traveling exhibit features prominently artifacts of Canonsburg, Pa.'s Samuel B. McBride, a Union soldier who survived a gunshot wound to his head during the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va., and wore a dent in his forehead for the rest of his life to prove the battle scar.

Thomas Jackson Rodman
The exhibit also showcases an innovation of Salem, Ind., native Thomas Jackson Rodman, who perfected at Fort Pitt Foundry in Pittsburgh the world's first 20-inch monster cast-iron cannon of remarkable strength.

Forged at Fort Pitt Foundry and completed in the "Rodman Process" Feb. 11, 1864, the 117-000-pound cannon proved to have been too heavy for mobile battle use. It was given its extra might by having been cooled internally by running water through a hollow core rather than let it cool externally. The Fort Pitt Foundry between 1861 and 1864 created 2,000 pieces of artillery.

Rodman's 15' Lincoln Gun at Ft. Monroe, Hampton, Va. (not in exhibit)
The history center also features four life-like museum figures, plus a companion Dog Jack. The museum figures are:

·   Strong Vincent, a young attorney from Erie, Pa. who rallied Union troops in the fierce battle on Little Round Top with the phrase, “Don’t give an inch!”

·   Martin Delany, a Pittsburgh abolitionist who was one of the first African Americans admitted to Harvard Medical School and later, the highest ranking African American in the Civil War.

·   Kate McBride, a young worker from the Allegheny Arsenal, who represents the women and children who toiled on the home front to support the Union efforts.

·   Tillie Pierce, a 15-year old Gettysburg native who hauled buckets of water for thirsty soldiers, tore cloth into bandages to aid physicians, and comforted the wounded after Confederate troops overran her hometown.

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