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Burning of Chambersburg re-enactment draws huge crowd

July 22, 2012|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • David Wayne Shuey, playing Gen. John McCausland, tells Chambersburg residents that the town needs to pay a ransom or the Confederates will burn it down. That's exacltly what happened on July 30, 1864. Shuey's drama was part of the Burning of Chambersburg re-enactment Saturday night in the town square.
By Roxann Miller, Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — “The rebels are coming. They’re right behind me,” a female voice declared from the crowd during Saturday night’s re-enactment of the burning of Chambersburg on Memorial Square.

That warning was followed by the sound of horse hooves and the abrupt entrance at courthouse plaza of Confederate Gen. John McCausland demanding that Chambersburg pay a hefty ransom.

“We will give you an opportunity that the Yankees did not give our brethren in the Shenandoah Valley. You will raise a ransom or this city will be burned,” said David Wayne Shuey, who portrayed McCausland.

On July 30, 1864, Chambersburg was ordered to pay $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in Yankee greenbacks, or the town would be set on fire, starting with the courthouse.

Keven Walker portrayed Jacob Hoke, a merchant on the square of Chambersburg in 1864, who witnessed the burning of Chambersburg. He also served as the narrator for Saturday’s event.

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“Mr. Hoke, I suspect you do not take our threats seriously,” Shuey said as McCausland. “Start with the courthouse, and then the town hall. Then move down Main Street. Light this town ablaze.”

As the smoke began to roll down Main Street, 6,000 people stood spellbound watching history repeat itself — this time using the magic of LED lights and atmospheric effects to simulate fire.

Eslinger Lighting of Enola, Pa., produced the lighting effects.

“It was virtually hell on earth here in Chambersburg. Every block was filled with smoke,” Walker said while portraying Hoke.

“It’s important to remember that this did not happen in a far-off place. It happened right here where you are standing,” he said.

Jarrett Johnson was born and raised in Chambersburg.

He watched the hourlong event with his wife, April, and 20-month old son, Gabriel.

“It was nice to see. I love Civil War stuff,” Johnson said.

He said he’d like to see the light show expanded to include more downtown buildings.

Lauren Mellott, 15, and her brother, Tyler, of Chambersburg, watched the re-creation of the historic event Saturday.

“It was really eye-opening,” Lauren said. “I really enjoy history myself, so being able to kind of relive that experience and be in the shoes of what those people felt was a really neat experience.”

Tyler said he knew the story of the burning of Chambersburg, but really felt sad for the people who lost their homes in 1864.

Phyllis and Ken Peiffer of Chambersburg are interested in history.

“I’m thrilled they have such a wonderful crowd. I see a lot of children here, which I think is great that they learn the history of what happened here,” Phyllis Peiffer said.

Janet Pollard, tourism director for the Franklin County Visitors Bureau, which sponsors the event, said the re-enactment has a wide appeal.

“We were very successful in pulling people from outside the area, as well as locally,” she said. “We were bringing people from Philadelphia, (Washington) D.C., Baltimore, Maryland, Lancaster, Hershey and York . I’m excited about the opportunities that this event offers.”

In 2011, about 3,000 attended the historic re-creation of the burning of Chambersburg. Pollard said this year’s attendance doubled that.

“We’re building on this and hoping by 2014 for the 150th of the burning (of Chambersburg) that we have a really well-rounded event,” Pollard said.

She said there’s a lot of history in Franklin County that bears acknowledging.

“This is a commemoration of the 1864 burning, and the rebirth of the town. In a lot of ways, it kind of reflects what happened with the Civil War because the country was torn apart. But it did come back together, and it moved forward — it grew together,” she said.

Pollard said the event cost approximately $15,000, but next year she hopes to secure a national sponsor to offset the expense.

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