Arthur G. Burgoyne_
Eighteen and Ninety Three_
Homestead_ A Complete History_
The feeling of ownership had a place in the reasoning of these simple people. Many of them had bought and paid for their homes and were pillars of the borough government. Some were still paying for their dwellings—paying off the mortgages held by the Carnegie Company, which had been in the habit of helping those who cared to build, and which even did a regular banking business for the advantage of its employees.
The Fifth of Chapters_
On Board the Barges—Floating Barracks Equipped for Bloody Warfare—Up the Monongahela at Midnight—Homestead Gets Warning—Defenders at the Mill Landing—Frick's Army Repulsed with Heavy Loss—Hugh O'Donnel Takes Command of the Workmen—Sheriff McCleary's Appeal To the Governor—Frick Refuses to Interfere.
The barges on which Captain Heinde and his 300 men embarked were primitive specimens of the boat builders' art, previously used for the transportation of freight. Unlike the ordinary coal barge, these were roofed in, and, were it not for the flat roof, would have exactly resembled Noah's ark. They measured 125 feet long and 20 feet wide. One was known as the Iron Mountain; the other as the Monongahela. These floating barracks had been purchased a week before the time of the Pinkerton expedition by an agent of Mr. Frick's, and quietly fitted up at the landing-place of the Tide Coal Company, in Allegheny City. The Iron Mountain was equipped as a dormitory, several tiers of berths being constructed on both sides and furnished with bed clothes. Two rows of cots occupied the middle of the floor. The Monongahela was converted into a vast dining-room. Two rows of tables were placed in the middle and board seats were provided. In the stern was a commodious kitchen, with a full outfit of stoves and cooking utensils. An experienced steward and a corps of twenty waiters were employed. At the last moment a number of mysterious looking cases were put on board. These contained Winchester rifles and had been forwarded to the Carnegie Company by Adams Express. Watchmen at the landing met all inquiries with the explanation that the barges were intended for the transportation of laborers to the Beaver dam on the Ohio River.
It has been said that most of the Pinkerton men had no idea of the nature of their mission. The fact is that only the officers of the expedition comprehended the gravity of the work in hand. However, when the men found themselves being conveyed up the river in the close quarters which the barges afforded to so large a number, many of them became uneasy, and, weary as they were after their long trip by rail, but few were able to close an eye.
As the barges approached the mouth of the Monongahela River, the lights of the two great cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny illuminated the surface of the waters; but no midnight wayfarer who saw the Little Bill and the Tide, with their odd-looking tows, dreamt for an instant that within those coffin-like craft was the Frick army of invasion and that, within a few hours, those same craft would harbor terror, bloodshed and death. The two cities slept on, unconscious of the thunderbolt that was to fall at the dawning of the day.
When the boats drew near the Smithfield Street bridge, which connects South Pittsburgh with the city proper, there were, however, keen eyes to note their coming. A scout from Homestead, who was one of a detail appointed to look out for suspicious movements along the Pittsburgh wharves under the cover of night, detected the ominous procession and, hurrying to a telegraph office, wired the warning to Homestead: "Watch the river. Steamer with barges left here." On receipt of this news, the advisory committee prepared to issue a general alarm at five minutes' notice. The belief at headquarters was that 100 special deputies were on the way to take charge of the mill under orders from the sheriff.
With the exception of the disabling of the Tide, nothing occurred to mar the serenity of the invading force until near daylight. Up the Monongahela steamed the little tugs, the barges gliding stealthily in their wake. Captain Rodgers, somewhat inflated with the idea of his dignity as commodore of a war fleet, stood on the deck of the Little Bill and chatted with Pinkerton Detective J. H. Robinson, of Chicago. The Tide being disabled, the Little Bill had to "lock" both barges through at Lock No. 1, where a dam crosses the river.
At 3 A. M. the barges reached the B. & O. railroad bridge at Glenwood. Day was breaking, but a heavy fog overhung the water, so that the barges were not visible from the shore; nor could the watchers on deck perceive what was going on a few hundred yards away on the Homestead side of the river.
Yet, while the signs of danger were hidden from the eye, there were manifestations, the significance of which could not be misunderstood.
The voices of men, women and children were heard breaking in harshly upon the stillness of the early morning. Scout called to scout almost loudly enough for their words to be caught by the listeners on the water.
Captain Heinde, although a brave man, and used to dangerous situations, felt a sinking of the heart at this unmistakable proof that the secret of the expedition was no longer a secret and that if a landing was to be made at Homestead, it would have to be gained by fighting for it.
A feeling of alarm seized upon the green hands among the guards. There was danger in the air, and numerous as they were, what chance was there for self-defense as long as they were cooped up within four walls? It took the utmost tact and firmness on the part of the experienced guards, who served as officers, to calm the anxious ones and lead them to believe that they would soon reach safe quarters on terra firma.
About this time, a horseman riding at breakneck speed, dashed into the streets of Homestead giving the alarm as he sped along. In a few minutes the news that barges, supposed to be filled with deputies, were nearing the town had spread far and near and, with one accord, the people rushed to the river bank. Here, for two hours that seemed like weeks, thousands of men and women waited for the arrival of the enemy—a dangerous enemy, they felt sure, judging by the manner of his coming.
As the barges drew nearer to Homestead, the noise on the shore grew louder and louder and soon the sharp crack of rifles rang out, giving a foretaste of what was in store for the unwelcome visitors. Whether these shots, which were fired before the Pinkertons attempted to land, were intended as signals or were aimed, in a random way, at the barges has never been determined. There is no doubt, however, that the firing from the bank stopped as soon as the Little Bill and its tow drew up opposite the mill landing.
This landing was on the beach within the mill enclosure, Mr. Frick having had the wire-topped fence carried down to low-water mark, so as to shut off all access by land. Above the landing-place frowned a steep eminence largely composed of slag and other refuse from the mill. At this point, also, rise the piers of an iron bridge, over which the P., McK. & Y. railroad runs into the mill yard. This bridge is familiarly known at Homestead as the "Pemickey."
No sooner did the waiting multitude on the river bank perceive that the occupants of the barges meant to put in at the Carnegie Company's landing-place than, with a roar of anger, strong men tore down the fence that barred their path, and ran to the spot where, had they delayed five minutes longer, the Pinkerton men would have disembarked in safety.
Prior to this time the workmen had religiously refrained from trespassing upon the company's property. It had been their set purpose to avoid the odium which would attach to any act suggesting vandalism or arbitrary assaults upon property rights.
But now was not the time to think of conservative methods. Who could tell what kind of invaders were in those ugly-looking barges?
Were they deputies whom the sheriff sought to bring in like a thief in the night? Were they—and at this thought every man's blood boiled—a regiment of Pinkertons brought there to repeat the Pinkerton exploits of a few years before in the coke regions?
What were the odds, one way or the other? Whoever the visitors were, they came with every manifestation of an evil purpose, and was not self-preservation the first law of nature, applying as such to a Homestead steelworker in danger of losing his job and, perhaps, his home?
So the fence went down, and the straight road from the river to the mill was blockaded by a band of resolute fellows that neither Pinkerton men nor sheriff's deputies could hope to overcome.
The scene at this time within the barge Iron Mountain, which had been towed close to the shore, was one of wild confusion. The plan of a secret landing had been frustrated, and there was nothing for it now but a hand-to-hand conflict against terrible odds.
The cases of rifles were broken open and these weapons and revolvers were hastily distributed among the men. About fifty men were armed with clubs. Captain John W. Cooper, of the New York and Philadelphia division, Captain Charles Norton, of the Chicago division, and Captain Heinde, who had general charge of the expedition, supervised these arrangements. When all were in readiness for battle, a gang-plank was shoved out and the three captains stepped forward, with Heinde in the van. Twenty of the rank and file appeared behind them on the bow of the boat.
At this offensive move, the Homestead men, most of whom were armed, shouted a fierce warning.
"Go back," they cried, "go back, or we'll not answer for your lives."
There were blue uniforms among the group on the bow of the Iron Mountain, and these told their own story to the excited people on the shore.
For a moment the Pinkerton men stood at bay. The scene before them was one to appal the bravest. On the beach several hundred men and women—for mothers, wives and sisters had joined in the mad rush to the landing-place—some of them half dressed, some carrying loaded guns, some with stones or clubs in their hands; in the distance hundreds more rushing to the defense; in the background a huge embankment intercepting the passage to the mills; behind them the river and the chance of saving themselves by flight. Retreat, however, would have been ruinous to the prestige of the Pinkerton agency besides resulting probably in throwing upon the agency the entire cost of the fruitless expedition, for Mr. Frick would hardly be willing to pay for services not even fairly begun.
So the warning of the workmen was disregarded, and, with a word of command to his men, Captain Heinde pressed forward.
Suddenly a shot was fired—whether from the barges or from the shore has always been a mystery.
Captain Cooper turned instantly towards the barges and in a loud voice gave the order: "Fire!"
A score of Winchester rifles were discharged into the crowd on the bank with deadly effect. Several of the workmen were seen to fall. The first blood had been shed and now the one thought of the men of Homestead was vengeance, merciless and complete, on the strangers who had come to shoot them down.
The volley fired from the barges was repaid with interest, and when the smoke from the answering discharge cleared away it was seen that havoc had been wrought on the barges. Captain Heinde had been shot through the leg; J. W. Kline and another detective were mortally wounded and perhaps a dozen others on the Pinkerton side were wounded more or less severely. The Little Bill was fairly riddled with bullets, and Captain Rodgers, having taken the injured men off the barges, lost no time in steaming away from his uncomfortable quarters, leaving the Pinkertons to land, if they could, and if not, to remain where they were and make the best of a desperate situation.
Both sides now withdrew, the workmen abandoning their exposed position, where they offered an easy target to the marksmen on the barges, and establishing themselves on the heights, while the Pinkertons retired into the barges and proceeded to prepare for renewed action by cutting loopholes in the sides of the craft. It would have been suicidal to attempt another sally.
One of the last of the workingmen to leave was an intrepid fellow who had thrown himself, face down, upon the gang-plank just as Captain Heinde came out, and waited, with revolver cocked for the advance of the enemy. If the guards had landed, they would have done so over his body.
The leadership of the Homestead defenders in this crisis devolved, by common consent, upon Hugh O'Donnell, a man who, in outward appearance, showed none of the customary attributes of a labor leader. A young, handsome individual he was, pale-faced and black-moustached, and rather slight of build. His attire suggested rather the man of fashion than the horny-handed individual generally accepted as the correct type of mill-worker. O'Donnell, however, was one of the superior class of workmen; enjoyed a comfortable income, and owned his own well-appointed residence, over which one of the plumpest and prettiest little wives in Homestead presided. Of the great influence exercised by this man over his fellow-workmen there could be no question. "Hughey," as they called him, was admired and looked up to. Fluent of speech and quick of action, he was the right man to take control on an occasion such as this. Associated with him in the government of the crowd that had come together haphazard to repel the Pinkertons were Hugh Ross and Jack Clifford, both pugnacious and the latter with a strong trace of the daredevil in his disposition.
O'Donnell's first design was to drive the Pinkertons away without firing a shot, and if the latter had heeded his advice and desisted from the attempt to land, there would have been no sacrifice of life and limb. But once the attack was made, the young leader saw that it was useless to plead for peace, and devoted himself accordingly to the task of getting the women and children out of the way and removing the wounded, among whom were William Foy, Michael Murray, Andrew Soulier, John Kane and Harry Hughes.
The workmen now occupied themselves with the construction of ramparts out of pig and scrap iron. Enough of these were piled up to accommodate scores of sharpshooters. Men armed with rifles also took positions at various points of vantage in the mill buildings and a desultory fire was kept up. At the same time armed men appeared on the other side of the river and began a fusillade on the barges. The non-combatants—men, women and children to the number of about 5,000—thronged the steep hills which rise above Homestead, whence they had an unobstructed view of what was taking place in the mill yard and on the river.
A few venturesome spirits pulled out in skiffs and fired into the barges at close quarters.
The Little Bill crossed to Port Perry, opposite Homestead, without further mishap. There is a B. & O. railroad station at that place, and there Captain Rodgers and Deputy Sheriff Gray put Captain Heinde and five other wounded Pinkertons on a city-bound train with instructions to have them taken to the West Penn and Homeopathic hospitals.
The burgess of Homestead, honest John McLuckie, issued a proclamation ordering the liquor saloons to be closed and calling upon all good citizens to help him in preserving the peace. As the burgess was a staunch Amalgamated man and himself a sharer in the common tribulation, everybody understood, as a matter of course, that the preservation of the peace, from his point of view, consisted in a united effort to make short work of the Pinkertons.
While these events were transpiring at the scene of action, the telegraph wires were carrying the news of the battle to all parts of the country. In Pittsburgh excitement rose to fever heat. Sheriff McCleary reached his office early and, having come to the conclusion that, where 300 Pinkerton men were worse than powerless, it was useless for him to think of interposing, sent a message to Governor Pattison, briefly detailing the situation at Homestead and the inability of the civil authorities to cope with it, and soliciting "instructions at once." The governor promptly answered as follows: "Local authorities must exhaust every means at their command for preservation of peace."
The sheriff, who had been hoping that the militia would be ordered to his relief, was much discomfited by this plain intimation that, as chief peace officer of the county, he was expected to be up and doing instead of collapsing under fire. Being a prudent man, however, he took no risks, but remained in the safe seclusion of his office.
At the Carnegie offices there were no signs of perturbation, although Mr. Frick and his associates were early informed of the bloody outcome of their scheme of invasion. President Weihe, of the Amalgamated Association, urged a conference with the men as the only expedient which might be successfully employed to stop the shedding of blood.
The answer to this humane suggestion was characteristic. It was a flat refusal. "Our works are now in the hands of the sheriff," said Secretary Lovejoy, "and it is his official duty to protect the property from destruction or damage. If it is necessary in his judgment to call out troops, he is the proper authority to do so. Everything is in his hands."
This, at a time when the sheriff was publicly announcing that he was powerless, and when the chances were a hundred to one that the entire force of Pinkertons would be destroyed like rats in a trap, betokened very clearly that the sacrifice of life was a trifle in the eyes of the Carnegie officials compared with the sacrifice of the non-unionist policy to which the firm had tied itself down. The Pinkertons might be killed to the last man, but the Frick ultimatum must stand. No doubt, the firm also considered that the worse the turn taken by affairs at Homestead, the stronger the probability that the militia would be ordered out, and that, with soldiers on the ground, there would be no trouble about bringing in non-unionists.
There was, then, nothing to be looked for in the way of humane mediation at the hands of the firm, and nothing in the way of masterful intervention at the hands of the sheriff.
Four thousand infuriated steelworkers and three hundred caged Pinkertons were to be left to fight out their deadly quarrel without let or hindrance.
The dictates of law and humanity were alike suspended upon that July day—the most unfortunate day in the history of organized labor in the United States.