Governor John F. Hartranft, on The Railroad Strike, 1877.
In the early part of July, I arranged for a trip across the continent. At the time the peace of the Commonwealth seemed assured and all classes of society appeared to have accepted with resignation the results of the continued depression in business. As a precautionary measure, however, in consultation with the Adjutant General, I gave him instructions, in case of any unexpected outbreak requiring prompt and vigorous action, to order troops to the assistance of the local authorities, in accordance with the policy heretofore adopted. On the sixteenth, I left for the West. Shortly after, trouble arose between the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and its employees, which culminated in the strikers seizing the road at Martinsburg, West Virginia. On the nineteenth of July, the train hands of the Pennsylvania railroad at Pittsburgh also struck, and stopped the passage of all freight trains east and west. All attempts of the municipal and county authorities to restore traffic failed, and by the evening of the twentieth, a large number of trains, containing thousands of head of live stock, and merchandise belonging to citizens of the State and other States were massed at Pittsburgh. Every effort to move freight by the company, with the workmen that remained in service, was resisted by intimidation, and where persisted in, by violence. In the meantime, early on the morning of the twentieth, upon the call of the sheriff, the Adjutant General ordered the Sixth division of the National Guard, General Pearson commanding, to assist in restoring order. Of this division, aggregating one thousand and eighty-two officers and men, but six hundred were gotten together by the evening of the twentieth.
Being informed by General Pearson of the gravity of the situation and that lie feared the majority of his troops were in sympathy with the strikers, the Adjutant General ordered the First division of the National Guard, General Brinton commanding, to report to General Pearson at Pittsburgh. The Adjutant General had previously set out for Pittsburgh, receiving, on the way, my telegram to proceed there and keep supervision of all troops ordered out. He arrived at one o'clock on the morning of the twenty-first. All traffic was then stopped on the Baltimore and Ohio, the Fort Wayne, the Allegheny Valley and the Pennsylvania Railroads. . . .
From the time the trouble commenced on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, I was constantly advised of the situation, and gave general orders to meet the emergency. In consequence of telegrams from General Latta, received at Ogden, at six o'clock, Saturday evening, I determined to return to the State on the next train, leaving at ten o'clock Sunday morning. At Salt Lake City, at nine o'clock P.M., I received a dispatch from Secretary Quay, and immediately made arrangements to return in a special car, and started at twelve o'clock midnight, Saturday. The next morning, at Creston, I ordered out the entire force of the State, and called upon the President for regular troops. Traveling continuously day and night, the latter portion of the journey by sufferance of the strikers, I arrived at Pittsburgh on the twenty-fourth. I found the city in a state of great anxiety, and all the railroads obstructed, and, in some instances, run by the strikers. I was immediately waited upon by a deputation of professional men, merchants, editors and prominent citizens of all classes, who asked my stay to organize the militia and take charge of the situation. They particularly urged the necessity of immediately opening railroad communications, representing most earnestly that, unless this were done very shortly, the supply of coal and provisions would be exhausted; the gas works, mills, and factories must be stopped; a large number of idle people thrown upon the streets; the water supply could not be pumped, and the want of provisions among the poor and unemployed, would inevitably precipitate bread riots. After a short consultation, I left on Wednesday morning, and arrived that evening at Philadelphia, accompanied by the Adjutant General, who joined me at Harrisburg.
At Philadelphia, I met Generals Hancock and Schofield, of the United Stales Army, who informed me that they had been directed by the President to support the State authorities. As the necessity of opening communication, for the reasons given, was very urgent, it was determined that I should proceed at once to Pittsburgh with the State troops, and that General Hancock would forward the regulars as fast as they could be made available.
In accordance with this programme, on the twenty-sixth, with the few troops of the First division remaining in the city, I set out again for Pittsburgh, and gathering the detachments and divisions scattered along the road, arrived there at daylight on the twenty-eighth. The force taken was apparently large, but as it was probable that, in opening the roads, it would be necessary to guard many depots and several miles of track, it was thought best to be prepared for any contingency. So fearful were the citizens, even at that time, of a renewal of the outrages, that in spite of the necessity for opening traffic which they had formerly pleaded, they now, through the committee of public safely, begged me to influence the Pennsylvania Railroad Company not to attempt to move freight trains. I replied while it was not my duty to run railroads, if the Pennsylvania Railroad Company desired to pursue their business, and were prepared to do it, I would support them with the whole power of the State. On Monday morning the railroad companies and their employees resumed business; the freight were started, and communications opened with all parts of the country.
In the meantime, the disturbances spread rapidly over the State. In Philadelphia, by the courage and activity of the mayor and police, supported by the great body of citizens and the press, and in Harrisburg, through the coolness and promptness of the sheriff of Dauphin county and the mayor of the city and the public spirit of the citizens, who responded to the call of the authorities, the disturbances were speedily quelled before my arrival. In Reading, the costly railroad bridge over the Schuylkill was burned on the evening of the twenty-second and freight trains stopped. The sheriff of Berks County, proving unequal to the situation, General Reeder, with two hundred and fifteen muskets, of the Fourth infantry, National Guard of Pennsylvania, was sent there by General Bolton, and in a severe street fight, after dark, on the twenty-third, in which many of his command were injured more or less severely with stones, and eleven of the crowd killed and above fifty wounded, the rioters were dispersed. These troops having been subsequently demoralized by the action of the Sixteenth regiment, were withdrawn; but the next day, the twenty-fourth, upon the arrival of a detachment of United States troops, under Colonel Hamilton, the road was re-opened.
Pennsylvania Archives, Fourth Series, IX, 585-586, 590-593.
Credit: Pennsylvania Archives, Fourth Series, IX, 585-586, 590-593.