Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review--Civil War Pittsburgh

Barcousky, Len. Civil War Pittsburgh: Forge of the Union (PA). Charleston, The History Press., 2013. Index, bibliography, b/w photos, 128 pages, 122 pages text, ISBN 9781626190818, $19.99.

Certainly Pittsburgh is not in the top dozen cities one would name when discussing the Civil War. Author Len Barcousky however shows us that while there were no battles fought here and that no Confederate army seriously threatened the area the Pennsylvania city played a role in the Union success.

While heavily for the Republican party and Abraham Lincoln, Pittsburgh did have a strong states rights wing. This difference is borne out buy the city having two newspapers, one supporting each party: the Gazette was Republican with the Post being Democratic. They each spun events their way. Author Len Barcousky, an editor and reporter with what is now the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had access to both papers and has used this archive in creating his interesting look at "The arsenal of the Union."

The book begins with a visit from President-elect Abraham Lincoln in February 1861. The author tells the contrasting stories of Lincoln's visit to the city. The Post of course plays up the visit and the Gazette instead chooses to talk about the physical appearance of Lincoln.

Other interesting stories include a telling of the tragedy at the Allegheny Arsenal, killing over 75 persons mostly women and girls. The explosion happened on the same day as the Battle of Antietam so Barcousky puts forth that the tragedy was under-reported due to the great los of life in Maryland. He does make what I though an unusual comment comparing the reporting of the destruction to that of reporting on 9/11/2001 in New York City. I'm not sure this was really the best choice here nor do I see the relation of a terrorist attack to management and employee negligence.

The late 1860 story of more than 100 pieces of artillery almost being sent south makes for good reading as does the story of POW Josiah Copley who compliments some southern officers for doing the best they could for the prisoners.

The book wraps up nicely discussing the 1939 GAR meeting held in Pittsburgh and also a story of the last Allegheny County Civil War soldier dying 1946, Joseph Caldwell.

Readers may see Mr. Caldwell's Findagrave memorial by clicking here.

With no notes and a small bibliography this is really more a book for a casual reader or somebody with a passing interest rather for somebody wanting in-depth information on the "Steel City" during the war. The book has many b/w illustrations though I think a map showing just how close Pittsburgh is located to what was the Confederacy would have been a nice addition. Overall though, still worth a look.

For a different look at Pittsburgh during the Civil War readers might want to find a copy of Pittsburgh during the American Civil War 1860-1865 written by Arthur Fox.

Thanks to The History Press for sending a complimentary review copy.

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