Testimony by Norman M. Smith, manager of the Pittsburgh transfer station for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company

Norman M. Smith describes the moment of firing into the crowd in Pittsburgh and his impressions of the military and the "mob."

Testimony by Norman M. Smith, manager of the Pittsburgh transfer station for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, speaking about the Pittsburgh riots on Saturday, July 21.

  • A: I pointed out a couple of avenues leading in from Liberty street, and said it might be well to guard them, and we made a detail to guard that place. The rest of the column then moved on. We saw, directly, that the hill side, instead of being kept clear, was covered with people, and also the crossings. The troops marched up with the First regiment—I think the regiment of Colonel Benson—in advance, and on Twenty-eighth street came into line. Colonel Benson then formed two sides of a square, making the north and south sides of the square, and two companies came up in company front and formed the first side of the square, facing east. The Gatling guns took position in the rear east side of the square. Before this square had been formed, Mr. Pitcairn and myself went with the sheriff among the crowd, but were unable to find the parties for whom the sheriff held warrants. We had some discussion there with the strikers, and General Pearson, I observed, passed us going up the hill where the Pittsburgh troops seem to have been formed. After the square had been formed, we gave up our discussion with those people, and Mr. Pitcairn and myself sat down on some plank about the center of the square. General Pearson passed us and made some remarks. I forgot his words. He referred to the thing looking serious, that more troops should be had, and said he was going to telegraph General Latta, and left us, starting in the direction of the telegraph office. Q: What time was that? A: That was about five o'clock. Mr. Pitcairn and myself were chatting together about the situation, when my attention was called to an attempt made by the company that formed the east side of the square to press the crowd back. They formed with arms across, and tried to push the crowd back, but the mob grasped the muskets of some of them. The troops found they could not make any impression, and then the order was given to charge bayonets. Q: Who gave that order? A: I do not know. I simply heard the order given. The troops came to a charge bayonets on the mob. Then I recollect seeing one man—one of the mob with a musket in one hand draw a pistol with the other, and fire, and I saw a man fall—whether he was dodging only or whether he was struck, I do not know. At the same moment one or two other pistol shots were fire, and then a volley of stones and pieces of clinker came from the hill on the sides of the square. A number of the troops were struck down. Several of them fell within two or three feet of me. Then one or two shots were fired from the muskets, and others followed, and a fusillade was kept up for a couple of minutes. Mr. Pitcairn and myself were still sitting there, and I said to him it would be prudent to lie down. We kept close for a moment or two, and as soon as the crowd broke we walked to the north side of the square, and I told a lieutenant there, who was in command of a company, perhaps, that he had better make a right wheel, and drive some people out who had got behind a gondola car loaded with coal there. I believe he acted on my suggestion. At the first firing the crowd had broken and run in every direction. Mr. Pitcairn and myself then returned to the office.

About this Document

  • Source: Report of the Committee to Investigate the Railroad Riots in July, 1877
  • Publisher: Lane S. Hart
  • Published: Harrisburg
  • Date: 1878