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Allegheny Arsenal

Allegheny Arsenal

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Encyclopedia
The Allegheny Arsenal, established in 1814, was an important supply and manufacturing center for the Union Army
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, and the site of the single largest civilian
Civilian
A civilian under international humanitarian law is a person who is not a member of his or her country's armed forces or other militia. Civilians are distinct from combatants. They are afforded a degree of legal protection from the effects of war and military occupation...

 disaster during the war.

Today, the site is now the location of Arsenal Park in the Central Lawrenceville
Central Lawrenceville
Central Lawrenceville is a neighborhood in the northeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. It has a zip code of 15201, and has representation on Pittsburgh City Council by the council member for District 7 . It is home to Allegheny Cemetery...

 neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the US Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Allegheny County. Regionally, it anchors the largest urban area of Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley, and nationally, it is the 22nd-largest urban area in the United States...

.

History and use


The Arsenal was established by the U.S. Army Ordnance Department near Pittsburgh in 1814. It was situated on 30 acres (12 ha) of land bordering the Allegheny River
Allegheny River
The Allegheny River is a principal tributary of the Ohio River; it is located in the Eastern United States. The Allegheny River joins with the Monongahela River to form the Ohio River at the "Point" of Point State Park in Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania...

 in the community of Lawrenceville
Lawrenceville (Pittsburgh)
Lawrenceville is one of the largest neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is located northeast of downtown, and like many of Pittsburgh's riverfront neighborhoods, it has an industrial past. Lawrenceville is bordered by the Allegheny River, Polish Hill, Bloomfield, the Strip District and...

.

The arsenal served as a supply and manufacturing center for the troops in the west
Western United States
.The Western United States, commonly referred to as the American West or simply "the West," traditionally refers to the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. Because the U.S. expanded westward after its founding, the meaning of the West has evolved over time...

. Its peak years came during the Civil War, especially when the manufacture of cartridges
Cartridge (firearms)
A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head or at its rim . Electrically...

, became a high priority. Civilian employment at the arsenal increased from a pre-war total of 308 to over 1100 workers. One of the busiest facilities was the main lab, which employed 158 workers, the majority of whom were women engaged in the making of cartridges.

Explosion


On Wednesday, September 17, 1862, around 2 pm, the arsenal exploded. The explosion shattered windows in the surrounding community and was heard in Pittsburgh, over two miles (3 km) away. At the sound of the first explosion, Col. John Symington, Commander of the Arsenal, rushed from his quarters and made his way up the hillside to the lab. As he approached, he heard the sound of a second explosion, followed by a third. Fire fighting equipment as well as a bucket brigade
Bucket brigade
A bucket brigade or human chain is a method for transporting items where items are passed from one stationary person to the next.The method was important in firefighting before the advent of hand pumped fire engines, whereby firefighters would pass buckets to each other to extinguish a blaze. A...

 tried to douse the flames with water. The volunteer fire company from Pittsburgh arrived and assisted in bringing the fire under control.

By the time the fire was put out, the lab had been reduced to a pile of smoldering rubble
Rubble
Rubble is broken stone, of irregular size, shape and texture. This word is closely connected in derivation with "rubbish", which was formerly also applied to what we now call "rubble". Rubble naturally found in the soil is known also as brash...

. 78 workers, mostly young women, were killed. 54 bodies were unidentified, and were buried in a mass grave in the nearby Allegheny Cemetery
Allegheny Cemetery
Allegheny Cemetery is one of the largest and oldest burial grounds in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.It is a nonsectarian, wooded hillside park located at 4734 Butler Street in the Lawrenceville neighborhood and bounded by Bloomfield, Garfield, and Stanton Heights...

.

Investigation


The most commonly held view of the cause of the explosion was that the metal shoe
Horseshoe
A horseshoe, is a fabricated product, normally made of metal, although sometimes made partially or wholly of modern synthetic materials, designed to protect a horse's hoof from wear and tear. Shoes are attached on the palmar surface of the hooves, usually nailed through the insensitive hoof wall...

 of a horse had struck a spark which touched off loose powder in the roadway near the lab, which then traveled up onto the porch where it set off several barrels of gunpowder
Gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

. A coroner's jury held that the accident had been the result of the negligent conduct of Col. John Symington and his subordinates in allowing loose powder to accumulate on the roadway and elsewhere. However, during a subsequent military inquiry into the conduct of Col. Symington, many of the same witnesses who had appeared before the coroner changed their testimony. There were so many discrepancies between the two hearings that most of the commonly held views of the explosion have been shown to be thoroughly discredited. In the end Col. Symington was found innocent of any wrong doing by the army, and the court concluded that "the cause of the explosion could not be satisfactorily ascertained...."

Col. Symington, in a letter to the Ordnance Department two days after the explosion, speculated that it had been caused "by the leaking out of powder when one of the barrels was being placed on the platform." In fact the problem of leaking barrels seemed to be the one point of agreement among all the witnesses. Alexander McBride, the Superintendent of the Lab, had repeatedly complained that the powder shipped by Dupont and Company was delivered in defective barrels with loose covers. Symington was suspicious that the "parties shipping powder may have used barrels more than once for the shipment of powder, as the barrels have been returned to them at their request." But in the end, the final word still belongs to the Army inquiry and the exact cause remains unknown.

Aftermath


The explosion at the Arsenal was overshadowed by the Battle of Antietam, which occurred on the same day near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland
Sharpsburg, Maryland
Sharpsburg is a town in Washington County, Maryland, United States, approximately south of Hagerstown. The population was 691 at the 2000 census....

. Work at the Arsenal continued, and a new lab was constructed by the following year. After the war, the Allegheny Arsenal served primarily as a storage facility for the Ordnance Department and Quartermaster Corps. In the 1900s most of the land was sold off. Today the site of the explosion is in a ballfield
Baseball field
A baseball field, also called a ball field or a baseball diamond, is the field upon which the game of baseball is played. The terms "baseball field" and "ball field" are also often used as synonyms for ballpark.-Specifications:...

 in Arsenal Park. Nearby is the powder magazine
Gunpowder magazine
A gunpowder magazine is a magazine designed to store the explosive gunpowder in wooden barrels for safety. Gunpowder, until superseded, was a universal explosive used in the military and for civil engineering: both applications required storage magazines...

, now a maintenance shed for the park.

external Links

  • Allegheny Arsenal explosion
  • Richmond Va Brown's Island Explosion in 1863
    Brown's Island
    Brown's Island is an artificial continental island on the James River in Richmond, Virginia, formed by the Haxall Canal. Part of the city's James River Park, it is the popular venue of a large number of free outdoor concerts and festivals in the spring and summer, such as the weekly Friday Cheers...