Three times in less than two years Chambersburg was invaded by Confederate forces, the last incursion a revenge raid that left the town’s center a charred ruin.
Confederate cavalry commander Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart led the first raid in October 1862, when Lee ordered him to cut the Cumberland Valley Railroad, a vital link to the Union forces of Gen. George B. McClellan in Hagerstown.
Stuart crossed the Potomac River northwest of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., on Oct. 10 and arrived in Chambersburg with 1,800 men that night. While destroying much property overnight, the Rebels mission of destroying the railroad had not been accomplished by the time they departed on Oct. 11.
In June 1863 the Confederates returned to town, this time as part of the Gettysburg Campaign. Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, who lost a leg in an earlier battle, arrived in a carriage on June 24 and set up headquarters in the Franklin County Courthouse. Rebels also occupied Mercersburg and Carlisle and even threatened the state capital of Harrisburg.
Ewell was foraging for the Army of Northern Virginia and issued requisitions for “5,000 suits of clothing, including hats, boots and shoes; 5,000 bushels of grain (corn or oats); 10,000 pounds of sole leather and an equal quantity of horse shoes, 6,000 pounds of lead, 10,000 pounds of harness leather, 400 pistols, all the caps and powder in town, also all the Neat’s Foot Oil, 50,000 pounds of bread, 500 barrels of flour, 100,000 pounds of hard bread, 25 barrels of vinegar, 25 barrels of sour kraut” and more, according to Jacob Hoke’s 19987 book, “Gettysburg — The Great Invasion of 1863.”
“Why, gentlemen, you must think we are made of these things ... it is utterly out of our power to furnish these things,” said Judge Kimmell, the town’s wartime general superintendent of affairs as quoted by Hoke.
The Confederates took what they could find and left, Hoke wrote.
In other towns, runaways slaves and free blacks hid or fled in advance of the Confederates, Hoke wrote. Residents stripped their homes of valuables and farmers drove their livestock away to keep them out of rebel hands, Hoke wrote.
Thirteen months later, the Confederates were back, this time led by Brig. General John McCausland, on a mission to avenge the burning of homes in the Shenandoah Valley by Union forces.
McCausland, accompanied by 2,600 cavalrymen, arrived on July 30, 1864, and demanded the town fathers hand over a ransom of $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in U.S. currency. The small force of Union troops in town fled at the sight of the rebels.
Chambersburg was given six hours to meet the ransom demand, but failed to do so. During the wait, the rebels plundered stores, warehouses and homes and, when the money was not forthcoming, set fire to the town.
In all, more than 500 structures were destroyed, including 274 homes, and the damage was estimated at $1.5 million. A Confederate soldier was killed by a mob when he became separated from his unit.
The raiders left town on the afternoon of July 31.