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Effort under way to commemorate raid

May 06, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee sent Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry into Pennsylvania less than a month after the Sept. 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam to make sure the Union Army wasn't following the Rebel army back across the Potomac into Virginia.

Stuart was under orders to grab all the horses and supplies he could on his brief foray into Pennsylvania. His final destination was Chambersburg, then he was to high-tail it back to the safety of the Potomac.

Stuart crossed the river in Washington County and came into Franklin County in Montgomery Township before entering the Borough of Mercersburg.

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The flamboyant Stuart, as depicted in a painting of the event by artist Ron Lesser, looked like a viceroy leading his Rebel horde past a stately brick farmhouse on his way to the borough's Public Square.

The farmhouse was owned by William Smith, Jerry Ross' great-great-grandfather, on what today is Fort Loudon Road.

Ross is leading an effort to commemorate Stuart's raid in Mercersburg with a three-day celebration in October complete with a re-enactment of the event. A committee of local volunteers is planning the celebration.

Ross lives in the old farmhouse with his wife, Debby, and little white pooch, Soby. The couple runs a computer-based business in the house.

A main feature of the celebration will be three paintings by Lesser.

Ross commissioned the first, "On to Mercersburg," showing Stuart and his cavalry passing by the Ross homestead. Ross paid Lesser more than $10,000 for the work, which was completed last summer. It hangs over the mantel in his dining room.

Ross, 58, said he will leave the painting to the Fendrick Library when he dies.

He recruited Mercersburg Academy to commission the second painting, which Lesser finished last month. Titled "Cannons in the Square," it shows Stuart and his men as they set up two 12-pounder cannons in the borough square to frighten and demoralize the locals.

Stuart took nine influential citizens and officials hostages and sent them back to Virginia. His men took about 600 pairs of shoes from a local tannery and rounded up nearly 600 horses from area farms before moving north toward Chambersburg, said Ross, who has made it a point to learn all he could about the raid.

He got some of his research from "General J.E.B. Stuart's Raid Through Mercersburg" by John V. Thompson, a local author.

"I was inspired by Thompson's book," Ross said.

Mercersburg's biggest claim to fame is that it's the birthplace of President James Buchanan, the only U.S. president born in Pennsylvania. Ross thinks Stuart's raid will make a significant addition to the town's history if enough people can know about it.

Lesser is working on "Charting the Course," the third painting in the trilogy. It will show Stuart standing on the porch of a house now owned by local attorney Thomas Steiger Jr. reading a large map of Franklin County.

"At the time, the map was only a couple of years old and it showed the location of all of the farms in the county," Ross said. "It turned out to be a big help to Stuart because it told him where all the farms were."

The third painting is being commissioned by First National Bank of Mercersburg.

Ross said prints of all three paintings will be made and sold, with the proceeds going to the library.

The three-day celebration begins on the evening of Oct. 11 with a discussion of the raid by three area historians.

Civil War re-enactors will replay the raid, including the cannons in the square, on Oct. 12 and 13. There will be a period ball on Saturday night in the grand Victorian ballroom at Mercersburg Academy.

Sunday will feature a Civil War camp, church services and a Civil War wedding plus a special recognition of the black soldiers who fought for the Union in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. About 40 veterans of the 54th are buried in Mercersburg.

Tickets for the events go on sale May 10. For information, call 1-717-328-5827 or go to the Web site at www.pathsofthecivilwar.com.

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