Pittsburgh offered a tempting target for Confederate forces, Abraham Lincoln told a visitor to his office on June 18, 1863.
“The President talked a good deal about Pittsburgh,” a “gentleman of this city” wrote in a letter from Washington published June 22 in the Daily Pittsburgh Gazette. Such private correspondence was often the source of out-of-town stories for the region’s newspapers.
According to Lincoln, Pittsburgh “was more an object [of military importance] both to the rebels and the country than Harrisburg, as there was an arsenal, some gun foundries, and a good deal of boat building.”
Lincoln’s comments added to the multiple reports that identified the Forks of the Ohio as a possible target when Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia invaded Pennsylvania in June 1863. Of even greater concern was the whereabouts of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s fast-moving cavalry. No one knew where Stuart’s horsemen would turn up next.
A New York businessman named Hewitt had arrived in the city after a journey to Vicksburg, Miss. “He informed one of our leading merchants that it had long been the intention of the rebels to destroy Pittsburgh,” according to a story that appeared June 5. “He wished our citizens to be on their guard …”
Another Pittsburgher told of a conversation with a Rebel officer, “in which he stated that it was their intention to destroy the cannon foundry as soon as it was possible for them to do so.” That reference was to the Fort Pitt Foundry in what is now Pittsburgh’s Strip District, where heavy artillery was produced.
Pittsburgh and its sister city of Allegheny, now the North Side, were rail hubs and home to hundreds of factories and warehouses. The federal government’s Allegheny Arsenal was only a few miles away in what was then the separate borough of Lawrenceville.
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