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 Sixth of Chapters_
Cannonading the Barges—Silas Wain's Sad Death—The Little Bill Returns and Runs the Gauntlet—A Car of Fire Terrifies the Pinkertons and Drives Captain Rodgers to Flight—Amalgamated Officials Arrive—Dining Under Fire—Horrors in the Guardsmen's Quarters—The Killing of Detective Connors—Dynamite—Suicide on the Barges—Messages From Abroad—Congress Acts.
While the heroes of the battle at the landing were building breastworks in the mill-yards and keeping up an intermittent fire on the enemy, a busy scene was in progress at the telegraph office in the advisory committee's headquarters. Here a temporary arsenal was established and rifles, shot guns and ammunition were distributed to volunteers eager to take a hand against Mr. Frick's emissaries.
Soon a new terror was added to those already menacing the Pinkertons. The dull roar of a cannon was heard proceeding from the heights across the river, and, at the first shot, a huge gap was torn in the roof of the outer barge. Another shot flew wide of the barges and struck Silas Wain, a young steelworker who was standing in an exposed part of the mill yard, killing him instantly. Wain's sweetheart, a young English girl named Mary Jones, to whom he was to have been married in a few weeks, almost lost her reason when the news of her lover's death reached her, and was delirious for hours. In consequence of this unfortunate occurrence, the cannon that did the mischief—a twenty-pounder—was subsequently shipped across to the Homestead side. Another piece of ordnance, of smaller calibre, was taken from the quarters of the Homestead Grand Army post and mounted at the pump-house of the county poor farm, adjoining the mill-yard. Owing to the elevation of the position, however, and the inexperience of the men who were handling the guns, it was found impossible to get the range of the barges and both pieces were ultimately abandoned.
As the morning advanced, the workmen began to realize that some more effective means than rifle bullets must be resorted to in order to dispose of the barges and their obnoxious freight. The Pinkertons took care not to expose themselves, unless when one more venturesome than the rest undertook to make a reconnoissance and emerged on the bow of either barge. As this exploit invariably attracted a hail of bullets it was not frequently attempted. About 50 of the guards, all of them old hands in the Pinkerton service, kept up a regular fire through the loopholes cut in the sides of the barges, rendering it unsafe for a workman to show himself outside the furnace-stacks and piles of metal used as ramparts. George Rutter, an old and respected Amalgamated man and a member of the Grand Army, forfeited his life by taking chances on the accuracy of the Pinkerton men's marksmanship. He was shot in the thigh and died from the wound a few days later. John Morris, another mill-worker, and Henry Striegel, a young man who was on the field merely as a sympathizer, met the same fate. Striegel accidentally shot himself with his own gun, and was struck by shots from the barges after he fell.
Shortly after 11 o'clock, the Little Bill steamed back towards the landing-place flying the Stars and Stripes, Captain Rodgers having conceived the idea that the mill men would not dare to fire on the national flag, despite its being hoisted above a hostile craft. The captain's mind was speedily disabused of this idea. Volley after volley was poured into the little steamer, smashing the glass in the pilot-house and making the splinters fly in all directions. The man at the wheel, Alexander McMichaels, had to abandon his post and rush below. John T. McCurry, who had been hired the day before as watchman on the boat, without being informed of the kind of service in prospect, was shot in the groin, and Captain Rodgers only saved his life by throwing himself on his face on the deck. According to the story told afterwards, the Captain had purposed connecting with the barges and releasing them from their perilous position, but was glad enough to run the gauntlet with his own boat without attempting to relieve others.
The Little Bill arrived at a moment when the escape of the Pinkertons seemed hopeless. A body of desperate men had formed the design of burning the barges, and commenced by setting fire to a raft composed of timbers soaked with oil and floating it down the river.
A groan of agony was sent forth from the unhappy wretches in the barges when this messenger of death was seen drifting towards them. Some of the men, driven to the verge of insanity by the suspense of the morning and the dread of death at any moment, proposed to desert the barges and try to swim to a place of safety. One of the captains put a quietus on the plan by threatening to blow out the brains of the first man who endeavored to desert his fellows in the face of danger which menaced all equally.
The burning raft failed to accomplish its mission. The flames which shot up from it when it was launched were gradually extinguished by the water and, by the time it reached the barges, it was only a charred and blackened mass.
Nowise discouraged by their failure, the men on shore turned their hand to a new plan of incendiarism. From the converting department of the mill down to the water's edge where the barges were moored runs a railroad switch, forming a steep incline. A car was run on to this switch and loaded with barrels of oil, lumber, waste and other combustibles. A torch was applied to the inflammable pile, and the car of fire, from which the flames mounted high in the air, was sent whirling down the incline. Thousands of eyes were fixed upon this spectacle. The Pinkertons gazed with blanched faces and trembling limbs, confident that their last hour had come. Far back on the hills, women and children watched what was being done and shouted their approval. The sharpshooters dropped their guns and looked on with bated breath.
Surely that fiery monster, looking like a thing of life as it sped downward, would crash into the barges and do its work with infernal effectiveness.
But no. Great as was the momentum of the car, it came to a sudden stop when the wheels embedded themselves in the soft soil at the water's edge, and the workmen were again baffled.
The Little Bill, which, in the absence of the wheelman, had been knocking about aimlessly between the barges and the shore, was the only sufferer. The little tug was badly scorched, and those on board had to labor like Trojans to preserve her from total destruction. After this crowning stroke of misfortune, Captain Rodgers decamped with all possible celerity, and went on down the river to Pittsburgh. His departure was a blow to the Pinkertons, who were hoping that the Little Bill might tow them out of danger. Now that the tug was gone, the last ray of hope vanished, and it seemed to be a question of only a short time until the expedition, already badly shattered, would be burnt up or blown up.
The Little Bill's departure was the signal for renewed firing, which was maintained so vigorously that probably not less than 1,000 shots were fired within ten minutes.
At this time the scenes in Homestead beggared description. The streets were filled with women, weeping, wailing and wringing their hands and begging for news of husbands, sons and brothers. Females were excluded from the mill yard, and very wisely, for if admitted they would only have hampered the fighting men and exposed their own lives without benefit to anyone. In some places, substantial citizens gathered and discussed plans for stopping the conflict, the only drawback to which was that not one of them was feasible. Elsewhere groups of belligerents canvassed projects for the killing of the Pinkertons in a body. And all this amid the crackling of rifle-shots and the din of a legion of angry voices.
President-elect Garland and Vice-President Carney, of the Amalgamated Association, arrived early on the ground and were met with due honors by the local committee. Mr. Garland's well-known figure was recognized at once by the men. He was deeply affected by the gravity of the occasion and expressed regret that things had reached such a lamentable extremity. One of the leaders escorted the visiting officials to the front and let them ascertain, by personal observation, how little use there was in striving to mediate between the workmen and the Pinkertons, since every shot fired by the former was meant to avenge the death of their comrades. Vice-President Carney said openly that if Mr. Frick had consented to waive the demand to have the scale expire on the last day of the year, instead of the last day of June, the wage question might have been amicably settled and the present carnage avoided.
At noon a telegram was received at the headquarters of the advisory board stating that the governor had refused to call out the militia and that the sheriff had started up the river with a squad of deputies. The gratification of the people over the governor's attitude was not a whit keener than their resolve to send the sheriff and his deputies to the right-about if it was proposed to clear the way for the introduction of the Pinkertons into the mill.
However, nothing was further from Sheriff McCleary's mind than a visit to Homestead while the bullets were flying. The sheriff held a consultation with Judge Ewing, of the quarter sessions court, and with other gentlemen learned in the law, but without results other than those exhibited in an order to close the saloons in Homestead and Mifflin township, which was sent out at noon, and in a second message to the governor. The latter communication embodied an urgent plea for aid, recited the episodes of the early morning at Homestead, declared that there were "no means at my command to meet the emergency," and that any delay in ordering out troops might lead to further bloodshed and destruction of property.
The governor made no response to this appeal.
By noon, the men who were posted behind the ramparts in the yard of the Homestead mill were almost worn out with fatigue and hunger. Most of them had been up all night without tasting food, and the strain upon them had been enough to tax sorely the most robust physique. At 1 o'clock a relief expedition was organized and a squad of men carrying baskets of provisions made their way into the yard and by dodging behind furnace stacks and piles of iron managed to reach their suffering comrades without exposing themselves to the fire of the enemy. Cheers from the throng on the hills behind greeted this successful maneuver. The men on guard, after eating a hasty meal, tired and begrimed as they were, announced their intention of staying at their posts to the end.
From time to time, the Pinkertons waved a flag of truce, but it was not respected any more than was the national flag hoisted on the Little Bill. Sentiment had no place in the calculations of the men who formed the garrison in the mill yard. The Pinkertons had made the attack; they had been warned off and refused to go when they had the chance, and they had fired upon the workmen and taken many lives. Therefore, they need expect no quarter. So the flags of truce were shot down one after another and as the display of these symbols made it necessary for one of the Pinkertons to expose himself in every instance, and exposure invariably meant being wounded, this recourse was soon dropped altogether. The horrors of the position of these men increased every hour. The atmosphere of the barges was stifling. The relentless rays of the July sun beat down upon the roofs of the craft and raised the temperature within beyond the limit of endurance. There was scarcely a breath of air to carry away the noxious exhalations from the lungs of the 300 men within and the fumes of smoke and powder. Bullets, bolts, scrap metal and other missiles struck the frail structures on every side and gave promise of demolishing them piecemeal before sunset. Occasionally a missile found its way through a loophole and brought down one of the guards. It was in this way that Thomas J. Connors, of New York, was killed. Connors was sitting under cover in the outer barge, with his head buried in his hands, when a rifle bullet whizzed through the open doorway of the barge and struck him in the right arm, severing the main artery. He died in a few hours. This man's death is a matter of special interest, since it was afterwards made the basis of indictments for murder lodged against several of the Homestead leaders.
The wounded Pinkertons were waited upon and helped as far as the limited resources of the barges permitted by A. L. Wells, a young student of Bennett Medical College, Chicago. Wells had joined the expedition for the purpose of earning enough money during the vacation months to help him comfortably through his next year's course. He was a stout-hearted fellow and did his best to alleviate the sufferings of the unfortunates around him, many of whom lay groaning in agony on the floor, amid pools of blood. The young man fortunately escaped injury and stuck to his suffering companions to the last, unmindful of his own comfort. Even in that Pinkerton barge there was room for genuine heroism.
Shortly after one o'clock, a council of war was held among the men behind the barricades, and a new plan was agreed upon for the quick destruction of the barges.
Here was a sure destroyer; one that could be trusted to do the work which the burning raft and the car of fire had failed to do. A supply of stick dynamite was obtained and a dozen of the most reckless men in the yard opened up a bombardment of the barges with the deadly explosive. But somehow the sticks of dynamite proved little more effective than the means previously utilized. Most of them fell wide of the mark and the few which struck the barges did slight damage. Guardsman Wells, in telling the story of the fight afterwards, held that the first stick thrown tore a hole in the side of the barge Iron Mountain as easily as if the barge were made of paper. If so, this was the only instance in which the dynamite was really effective. The workmen, who felt confident that it would be easy to blow the barges to pieces, were greatly disappointed. It looked as if they might keep on firing lead and iron into the vessels forever without wiping out the enemy, while the importance of ending the battle before nightfall was plain to all of them.
About this time, it is said, some of the Pinkertons, unable to endure the agony and suspense any longer, eluded the vigilance of their officers and committed suicide by drowning. Detective Atkinson, of New York City, made this statement in a Pittsburgh newspaper on the day after the battle: "When we saw that preparations were being made to burn the barges, I loaded my revolver and made up my mind to blow out my brains should the boat be set on fire. I am just as positive that not less than a dozen of our men committed suicide during the day as I am that I am standing here. I saw four jump into the water and sink and I have been told that several others made away with themselves in the same way." The proprietors of the Pinkerton agency professed subsequently to have examined their roster and accounted for all the missing men, and that, with one exception, there were no cases of suicide. Atkinson's story, however, was corroborated by others, and is given here as having, at least, a semblance of truth.
The news received over the telegraph wires at the advisory committee's headquarters was not of a character to dampen the ardor of the Homestead defenders or lead them to dread the accounting to which somebody must be held after the score which they had to settle with the Pinkertons would be wiped out in blood. First came the information that the sheriff had thrown up his hands and that the governor declined to call out the militia. Then messages of sympathy and encouragement began pouring in, and, as these multiplied, the conviction impressed itself upon the men that they were fighting not only their own battle, for the salvation of themselves and their families, but the battle of organized labor as a whole, and that the eyes of workingmen all over the continent were upon them. Perhaps this was an extravagant conception, but it was substantially justified by the tone of the telegrams sent in from far and near, proffering aid and bidding the men of Homestead stand to their guns. Even from far-away Texas came the news that artillery would be shipped to Homestead to help the cause of labor. To many rough fellows, heroic in their way and easily misled by circumstances, it appeared more likely than not, that the killing of those two barge-loads of Pinkerton guards was but the first step in a conflict of national extent, which would wind up in the coming of an industrial millennium. Hardly a man among them imagined that the law would seek atonement for the death of Mr. Frick's hired invaders.
One of the most significant bits of news that reached the men was that conveyed in a dispatch from Washington, D. C., to the effect that Representative Caminetti, of California, had introduced in Congress a resolution reciting the benefits conferred upon Andrew Carnegie by protective tariff legislation and calling for the appointment of a committee to investigate and report upon the cause of the Homestead lock-out and its sanguinary consequences.
There were some cool-headed and conservative people in Homestead who tried to assemble a mass meeting for the purpose of taking measures to stop the shedding of blood and to have the Pinkerton barges removed and sent down the river. The pleas of these would-be peacemakers fell upon deaf ears. In fact, it became dangerous to suggest a cessation of hostilities within the hearing of those who had experienced their baptism of fire and felt that lust of bloodshed which is said to be latent in the breasts of most men. He who talked of meeting the "Pinkerton butchers" half way challenged suspicion as a coward or a traitor.