Retired minister's poem keeps memory of Civil War fort alive
July 3, 2013 1:45 PM
Retired minister and poet the Rev. John Mark Scott recalls playing as a child amid the ruins of a Civil War fort erected on Pittsburgh's North Side. Some of his writings refer to his memories of childhood "battles" at what remained of Fort Fulton.
By Len Barcousky Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
While little physical evidence remains of Fort Fulton, images of the circular Civil War earthworks are clear in the memory of the Rev. John Mark Scott.
The 93-year-old retired Presbyterian minister grew up in Reserve. It was sometime in 1931 or 1932, when his father told the family about seeing the well-preserved fortification near the crest of Pittsburgh's Summer Hill neighborhood.
The redoubt was one of more than 30 forts, batteries and rifle pits dug around Pittsburgh and Allegheny City, now the North Side, in the frantic weeks before the Battle of Gettysburg. Many officials, including President Abraham Lincoln, worried that the forks of the Ohio, with its many factories and foundries, was a potential target for Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army in the summer of 1863.
"I was 12 or 13 years old when a couple of us boys, including my brother and me, went up there and played pretend war," Rev. Scott said.
Someone had been caring for the spot.
"The grass was trimmed and there was a tall flag pole and a bronze plaque," he recalled. "The embankment was about 3 or 4 feet high, then a trench and then another wall -- that is where my brother 'died' so many times."
When Bill McCarthy, then a doctoral student at West Virginia University, wrote about the city's Civil War fortifications in the Winter 1998-99 edition of Pittsburgh History, woods covered most of the site. The outer ditch, or "defensive moat," was still visible, as was a portion of the wall. He placed the location not far from Northview Heights public housing development.
Rev. Scott's recollection of those boyhood battles at Fort Fulton was still strong when he wrote a poem about that experience eight decades later. In the poem he combined a description of the fort, memories of the city's World War II blackout efforts and his concerns about the risk of nuclear conflict.
The 1986 nuclear plant explosion in what was then the Soviet Ukraine provided a taste of what the effects of a hydrogen bomb exchange would be like. "That blow-up at Chernobyl killed deer as far away as Lapland," he said, "The Civil War would seem like child's play compared to what an all-out atomic war would do for thousands of years."
Born on Sept. 13, 1919, Rev. Scott lived with his parents, two sisters and a brother in Reserve. He attended Allegheny High School on the North Side, which was a 3-mile trek, one way, from his family home. "It was downhill in the morning, but uphill coming home," he said. "The walk got pretty warm in September and June."
He helped to pay for his education at the University of Pittsburgh by working as an elevator operator and window washer. He recalled working outside the Cathedral of Learning in a bosun's chair, suspended more than 30 stories above the ground. He trained for the ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
He spent 35 years of his pastoral career at North Buffalo United Presbyterian Church in Washington County. Following his official retirement in 1981, he took interim jobs at several churches, including Hiland Presbyterian in Ross and Riverview Presbyterian on the city's North Side. He also worked as a chaplain at Mayview State and Allegheny General hospitals. He and his late wife, Elizabeth Anne, raised four children. He has seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Rev. Scott is the author of two books of poetry, "Parcels of Forever" and "North Buffalo Poems," and a memoir called "The Gates of Hell."
Interested in historic preservation, he said he remains upset that the city did not do a better job of saving evidence of its Civil War past.
"Why couldn't they have saved that fortification?" he said. "Erosion took down some of the [walls'] height, but the fort was otherwise perfect."