Mercersburg, Pa., plans 140th celebration in October

August 14, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - In September, Washington County will celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Antietam, a major event in the war between the states.

A month later, Mercersburg will celebrate the 140th birthday of its own Civil War event - Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's daring, three-day raid through town. While not as famous as Antietam, the event is important to the history of this Franklin County community.

The town is planning a three-day celebration to commemorate the event with a re-creation of the raid, other re-enactments, a remembrance ball, historical readings and memorial and worship services.


It runs Oct. 11, 12 and 13.

Jerry Ross, a local organizer, commissioned three $10,000 oil paintings by a New York artist to commemorate Stuart's raid. The last painting was unveiled in July. Prints of all three will be sold as fund-raisers.

Local resident John W. Thompson has written a book about Stuart's raid, which was ordered by Gen. Robert E. Lee following the Battle of Antietam. Lee wanted to give his army a rest following the bloody one-day battle and needed to learn if the Union army intended to chase him into Virginia.

He sent Stuart and his cavalry across the Potomac River into Maryland and up into Pennsylvania to find out.

Stuart and his 1,500 men were reportedly told to cause as much disruption in Pennsylvania as possible, to capture leading citizens and local officials for use as hostages and prisoner exchanges and to destroy a railroad bridge in Scotland, Pa., north of Chambersburg, Pa.

Stuart also was encouraged to replenish his supply of horses by stealing them along the way. He ended up with more than 1,200 by the time the raid ended.

Titled, "Horses, Hostages, and Apple Cider J.E.B. Stuart's 1862 Pennsylvania Raid," Thompson's book came out in July and is an expanded version of his first book on Stuart's raid, which focused only on the Rebel's brief foray into Mercersburg.

The new book, Thompson's third, follows Stuart and his cavalry from Virginia, through Washington County and on to Chambersburg. His second book, "Historic Views of Mercersburg," was published in 2000.

Thompson said research for the new book took him to historical societies and libraries in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, Frederick and Washington counties and Franklin and Adams counties in Pennsylvania.

The book makes use of old photographs and postcards, many of them his own, and compares them with modern photos taken of the same scenes.

"You can get an actual sense of how things looked during the raid," Thompson said.

Thompson helped to organize the Mercersburg Historic Society when he moved to the borough in 1995.

He said he was inspired to write about Stuart because one of his Virginia ancestors, Maj. Daniel Grimsley, was a member of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, one of the Rebel general's units.

Also, he said, Stuart and his men passed by his pre-Civil War house on North Main Street during the raid.

Thompson had 500 copies of his book printed. They are available for $65 at Border's Books Music and Cafe in Hagerstown. A spokeswoman at the store said the book was "selling very, very well."

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