Old Economy hosts 'Panic of Pittsburgh' Civil War tribute

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News that Gen. Robert E. Lee had invaded Pennsylvania worried the leader of the Harmony Society in Beaver County.

"Should the Rebels get to Pittsburgh, we may be called in, too, to find out the bitterness of the War Cup," head trustee R.L. Baker wrote June 17, 1863.

The story of what happened in southwestern Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863 will be the subject of a two-day commemoration at Old Economy Village in Ambridge on Saturday and Sunday. Billed as "The Panic of Pittsburgh," the event will feature a living-history encampment, period music and first-person talks by Union and Confederate re-enactors.

Visitors also will have a chance to tour historic buildings in Old Economy Village, which was home to the communal Harmony Society from 1824 until 1905.

"Harmonists were strong supporters of the United States, because this country had given them the freedom to worship," re-enactor Scot Buffington said. Members of the sect had fled religious persecution in Germany decades earlier and settled in Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Mr. Buffington, a history teacher at Lincoln High School in Ellwood City, is a member of the 63rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a re-enactor unit based in Beaver County. His group will be one of several taking part in the event.

Although the Harmonists were pacifists, they backed U.S. efforts to put down the Southern rebellion. They paid substitutes to serve in place of their draft-age men during the Civil War, Old Economy curator Sarah Buffington said. She is the wife of Mr. Buffington. Longtime opponents of slavery, the Harmonists also donated supplies and money to the Union cause, she said.

While the Allegheny Mountains appeared to provide protection from a Rebel invasion of the Pittsburgh area, no one in the North knew where Lee's Confederate army was headed. Many people, including President Abraham Lincoln, believed that Pittsburgh -- with its many factories, mills and a nearby U.S. arsenal -- would be a tempting target.

The Harmony Society also had its own sizable cash assets to protect. "They were afraid that the Confederates would raid and steal their money," Mrs. Buffington said. "So they hid the money down in a well."

Gov. Andrew Curtin sought federal help in preparing local defenses, and the government sent Major Gen. William Brooks to command the "Department of the Monongahela" in early June 1863. As local businesses volunteered their workers to dig entrenchments all around the city, local militias mustered and drilled throughout the region.

Children, and any interested adults, will be able to get a taste of militia training during "The Panic of Pittsburgh."

"Recruits will sign up at the village store, then go for a medical exam at our doctor's office," said Mary DeMars, Old Economy's marketing and development associate. "They will get their training at different stations and then earn their discharge papers."

Other activities include a Civil War fashion show, "Dressed to Kill," that will feature military clothing and equipment. The 6th Regiment United States Colored Troops Drum Corps, sponsored by Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh, will perform at 2 p.m. Sunday. A schedule of events are available by calling 724-266-4500 or by visiting the Old Economy website, www.oldeconomyvillage.org.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

One-day passes are $10 for adults (12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and older), and $6 for children (ages 3-11). A two-day adult pass will cost $15. Admission is free for active military, children under 3 and Friends of Old Economy Village members.

Old Economy Village, located at the north end of Ambridge, is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in partnership with the Friends of Old Economy Village.

neigh_west - civilwar

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.


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