Archive for August, 2017

Another Georgetown Civil War Story

Friday, August 18th, 2017

  History books inform us that the Civil War started in April 1861 in Charleston, SC with the bombardment of Ft Sumter in Charleston Bay.  This event provoked the war between the states, but the shots fired there were not the first act of war. 


Earlier in Dec 1860, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union.  Others followed.  Rumors of war were rife in local newspapers.  Sec of War John B Floyd, a southern sympathizer, sent an order to the Allegheny Arsenal in Pittsburgh to ship 124 canons to New Orleans.  The steamers Silver Wave and Marengo were contracted to transport the artillery south.  When citizens of Pittsburgh learned of this action ─ from a whistleblower at the arsenal no doubt ─ the citizens of Pittsburgh protested, knowing that the guns would be used to fortify the south.  The commander of the Allegheny Arsenall, Col John Symington, attempted to obey the order from Washington.  On Christmas Eve, angry Pittsburgh crowds halted the movement of the canons and their military escorts to the Monongahela wharf.  Thirty-eight guns were loaded on the str Silver Wave before the crowds blocked the movement and the order was countermanded.  Pittsburgh citizens threatened to blow the Silver Wave out of the water if it attempted to go down the Ohio River with the thirty-eight guns aboard.  The str Silver Wave never left the wharf.


Southern politicians in Congress were outraged that Pittsburgh citizens threatened to interfere with military orders for the distribution of federal artillery and munitions. 


The Pittsburgh citizens protest was the first genuine act of war between the North and South.  Their action reminds us of the need to resist, do what is right, today.


Later the Silver Wave was the first noncombat steamer to successfully pass the Vicksburg batteries in 1863.  That feat was a big deal!  Vicksburg was deemed impassable – the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River.  The convoy of three gunboats and four packets was riddled with holes carrying supplies to Gen Grant’s army below the city.  Many historians consider the fall of Vicksburg the tipping point of the Civil War.  Georgetown men played a significant role.  


The Silver Wave was a packet owned and operated by Capt John Smith McMillin.  Born on 23 Jul 1817 in Georgetown, PA, Capt John S McMillin began his river career keel-boating in the 1830’s and was the master and owner of several steamers.  He moved to Grandview Ave on Mt Washington in Pittsburgh in 1853.  In my heart, Capt John Smith McMillin will always be a Georgetown man.