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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  December, 2009

Did You Know?

Did you know that a Fayette County cleaning lady once made national news after she’d been caught running a business inside the county courthouse?

The March 18th, 1960 edition of the Sitka (AK) Daily Sentinel carried an Associated Press wire story of an unnamed Fayette County charwoman who’d been running her hairdressing business in a room in the courthouse.

According to County Commissioner James C. Stuckslager, some of the woman’s customers were courthouse employees. She was asked to resign.

Nearly a hundred years earlier, the Associated Press (then a fledgling organization) made daily updates about the Civil War.

One of those updates claimed that Maj. General Joseph Hooker had abandoned his post as the commander of the Army of the Potomac in late June of 1963, and he’d returned to Washington.

“You need not believe any more than you choose of what is published in the Associated Press dispatches concerning this Army tomorrow,” he told President Lincoln by telegram.

The report Hooker referred to was unreliable. He’d not left his post.

The reliability (or the unreliability) of such Civil War reports even involved Uniontown.

During 1863 there were grave concerns that rebel troops would head north through Uniontown - and then march toward Pittsburgh.

On May 1st of that year, the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison published a dispatch that a delegation of Uniontown men had gone to Pittsburgh to resist an expected rebel raid. The raid never took place.

It was also reported that rebels had entered Washington, Pa. from Wheeling, but that report was “discredited.”

According to telegrams I’ve found on the Library of Congress web site, on the same day, Pennsylvania’s governor, Andrew G. Curtin, was alarmed by the possible rebel troop buildup in Western Pennsylvania.

“News by Connellsville train this Evening. Major Showalter Commanding Union forces had has fallen back to Uniontown. Postmaster of that place writes that rebel forces Estimated at 20.000 reported under Command of Stonewall Jackson,” he wrote in a telegram to President Lincoln.

But Lincoln wasn’t fooled by the Confederate Army’s moves – or lack of them. The following day he sent Curtin a telegram that there was no need to worry.
“I am not less anxious to do my duty to Pennsylvania, than yourself; but I really do not yet see the justification for incurring the trouble and expense of calling out the militia. I shall keep watch and try to do my duty,” he told him. Lincoln rightly believed the Confederates were plotting diversionary tactics.

But there were other faulty reports.

The Burlington (IA) Hawkeye, in its June 27th, 1863 edition, carried a number of reports under the headline, “THE INVASION OF PENNSYLVANA,” that included Uniontown prominently in its coverage.

“Major Benson, of the U.S. Volunteers received intelligence from Fayette County, Pennsylvania this morning that rebels in heavy force were advancing on Pittsburgh, via the National Road leading from Cumberland across the Allegheny Mountains. It is thought their pickets had reached Grantsville, Md., three miles from Uniontown,” one report claimed.

The invasion never took place. Uniontown, by the way, is really 37.2 miles from Grantsville. Perhaps that’s why the invasion never took place.

However, in the same article, and below the incorrect information about Uniontown, there was another warning about another part of Pennsylvania that would be the scene of a battle that would have profound consequences.

“A special dispatch from the Philadelphia Enquirer reports the rebels advancing on Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with 40,000 men and 18 pieces of artillery,” it said.

Nobody took that report for granted. Just four days later, on July 1st, the Battle of Gettysburg began, and would become the turning point in the Civil War.

There were an estimated 51,000 casualties on both sides during that battle. One can only speculate how the war, and the nation, would have been different if those erroneous reports about a planned invasion of Fayette County had been true.

Searching old archives and finding old facts – always provides me with questions as well as answers.

I found a copy of a handwritten check by Abe Lincoln on the Library of Congress web site. Presidential candidate Lincoln paid a certain Isaac Sisson ten dollars on April 30th, 1860.

A search for the name Isaac Sisson produced an article in the August 4th, 1860 edition of the Racine (WI) Daily Journal.

“The honorable Judge Isaac Sisson, of Cayuga County, N.Y., who has voted with the Democrats since the days of Jefferson, is out for Lincoln. He says he has stuck to the Democrats as long as he could see anything left of the party, and now, having it utterly dissolved he feels it is his duty to work for it no longer, but he intends to support the Republican candidates, Lincoln and Hamlin,” it said.

My question, of course, is did Sisson’s loyalties change with that ten dollar check?