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Numerous U.S. military leaders had roots in region

| Sunday, March 18, 2001

Military history has figured notably in southwestern Pennsylvania's heritage, despite the absence of major installations hereabouts, no major armed force incidents in the area since the 1700s, and the absence of any noted military educational facilities.

Many of the earliest settlers were militia and military veterans, and the region's largest landowner became the head of the Revolutionary War forces.

George Washington's drive to his extensive land ownership came from seeing the area's potential during early Ohio Company and Virginia militia expeditions here.

The soldiers and militiamen who served during the Fort Necessity events, Braddock expedition, and the Forbes campaign were impressed with the natural resources, waterways and other possibilities of the then frontier lands.

After their expeditionary service, many returned to their homes in central and eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland, then brought their families west.

The French & Indian War events brought many of those with venturesome spirit, as well. That was in contrast to the Quakers and others who were content with the eastern cities.


The parents and grandparents of some of the nation's most prominent military men were among these, although some later moved farther west. They included those of Gens. U.S. Grant and John J. Pershing, for example.

Grant's grandfather, Noah Grant, came to the Greensburg area from Connecticut after the death of his first wife, remarried here, and later moved his new family to Ohio. The Pershings, who sired World War I's top general, pioneered in the area along Loyalhanna Creek.

Others included the Barnetts and Menohers. The father of World War I Marine Commandant Gen. George Barnett moved with his family from Jefferson County (Port Barnett-Brookville locale) to Wisconsin in the 1840s. Gen. Charles T. Menoher, for whom the highway from Ligonier to Johnstown was named, came from a Ligonier Valley family.

He headed the Army Air Corps at the end of World War I.

Gen. George C. Marshall, who headed the Army in World War II and later became U.S. secretary of state, was a native of Uniontown. Numerous generals in the Army and Marine Corps came during the 1900s from southwestern Pennsylvania. Not as numerous were Navy and Coast Guard leaders.


As another example of the prominence of local military figures are the namings of two California installations, Camp Pendleton Marine base north of San Diego and Letterman General Hospital at San Francisco.

Jonathan Letterman was born at Canonsburg, Dec. 11, 1824, and educated at Jefferson College there before attending medical school. A military surgeon and top administrator, he is considered to be the founder of modern military field treatment and evacuation of wounded.

He joined the Army in 1849 and became medical director of the Army of the Potomac in 1862. He died in 1872, and the hospital was named for him in 1911.

Joseph J. Pendleton was born at Rochester, June 2, 1860. He joined the Marine Corps on graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1882, and transferred from the Navy to the Marine Corps in 1884.

Best known for his leadership in Haiti and Santo Domingo during the Banana wars, he retired as a major general in 1924 and was quite active in San Diego civic affairs before his death there in 1942.

Highly respected for these and other leadership roles including pre-World War II expeditionary force development at San Diego, the huge base at Oceanside, Calif., was started during World War II and named for Pendleton.

The total military leadership scene is replete with those from southwestern Pennsylvania, which can only be touched on in this column.


The national importance of many historic events in this region has inspired a new effort by historical associations and even economic development groups for getting southwestern Pennsylvania its proper recognition in history.

Much of this early activity was hidden in Ohio Territory and other history, as early writers didn't think of the region beyond the mountains in the central part of the state as part of the eastern establishment, even though in Pennsylvania.

The first and oldest militia unit in the United States came in major part from this area - the 28th Division of the National Guard, which dates back before the Revolution.

The most notable action of Americans facing Americans from the Revolution until the Civil War came in this region, the Whiskey Rebellion and its military role in 1794.

Through all of the fights and wars involving this nation, much of its armaments and ammunition came from southwestern Pennsylvania. Starting with early manufacturing, the process brought Allegheny Arsenal at Pittsburgh into the forefront and continued as the factories of the 'arsenal of democracy' (the Pittsburgh area) maintained that effort in later wars.

This column touches only superficially on the distinctive and prominent role this region has had on military history. It could be expanded into a book quite easily.


March 18 is a quite memorable date in history locally, particularly in 1816 and 1936. In 1816, it was in authorizing many turnpike roads and Pittsburgh's incorporation as a city.

Then, 120 years later, that city was under water in its greatest flood in history, known as the St. Patrick's Day high water, which actually reached its crest the day after the Irish celebrated.

On the date in 1816, the state government authorized the building of turnpikes from Washington to Monongahela, West Newton, Mt. Pleasant, Somerset and Bedford.

Much of that popular road remains today as Route 31. In those days, as the act stated, Williamsport and Robbstown were involved, before their names were changed to Monongahela and West Newton.

That same day, Pittsburgh's incorporation as a city changed its status from borough that had existed since 1794.

Many senior citizens will recall March 18 in 1936 for the flood, which reached a level of 46.4 feet on that day in Pittsburgh, with as much as 20 feet of water on some downtown streets.

It was worse to the north and east of the city, affecting the area to the south somewhat less. Those areas set records in 1954 and since.

Otherwise, the events of March 18 have been somewhat less memorable.

The Allegheny Portage Railroad across the mountains in the area of Cresson opened in 1834.

In 1885, when coal strike violence was common in this region, striking miners at West Newton beat mine Supt. R.H. Latimore to death.

In 1915, on this date, a large commercial building at Connellsville was left in ruins by flames.


Nemacolin Castle, the Brownsville historic attraction, was apparently named for the original structure at the site, a cabin of Indian chief Nemacolin. Brownsville founder Thomas Brown, original owner of the land, sold it to Jacob Bowman in 1788.

Bowman, who came to Fayette County in 1787, built the imposing structure there. He was one of the first two permanent merchants at Brownsville, supplying Gen. Anthony Wayne's troops after the Revolution and, in 1794, government troops that were in the area to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion.

He was named Brownsville postmaster in 1795, and held that post for 34 years. He was president of the Monongahela Bank, which he helped organize in 1814 at the time of Brownsville's prominence as a river port.

Born in 1763 at Hagerstown, Md., he died in 1847.


A Perryopolis woman who left a rich heritage for her Fayette home town more than a half-century ago was Mary Fuller Frazier.

A descendant of Daniel Fuller, who came from Ireland and settled on a farm near there in 1775, she died in 1948 and left a bequest of $2 million to the town.

Daniel was a quite successful farmer, and even more comfortable when coal was found on his farm. Although Mary's parents were David and Diane Fuller of Perryopolis, she spent most of her childhood with uncle Alfred Fuller, a multimillionaire cattle tycoon.

Mary inherited $5 million from him when he died, married, and lived at Philadelphia. After the death of her first husband in 1917, she married J. Miller Frazier, who preceded her in death.

Mary Fuller Frazier is buried in the family mausoleum at Mt. Washington cemetery, overlooking the town for which she did so much.


The recent racing accident at Daytona Beach is a reminder of others that have occurred through the years. One of the worst in this area was that at Uniontown Speedway in 1916 when one racer's car went awry and crashed into the press box.

Three racers were killed and a score of spectators were injured.

Auto accidents caused the deaths of two top baseball stars locally, one at the height of his career and another after.

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Bob Moose of Export was killed in an auto accident, Oct. 9, 1976.

Another was Ralph (Sox) Seybold of Jeannette, when in the early morning hours of Dec. 21, 1921, he and five other men from Jeannette went off the Lincoln Highway east of Greensburg.

Seybold died from a broken neck. Seybold held the American League record for home runs in a season until Babe Ruth came along. He had been forced to retire from the Philadelphia Athletics after a serious injury.

Robert B. Van Atta is history editor of the Tribune-Review.

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