Franklin County residents remember 150th anniversary of burning of Caledonia Ironworks

June 29, 2013|By ROXANN MILLER |
  • Ross Hetrick, president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, sits near the dam that was used to power the original Caledonia Ironworks operation.
By Roxann Miller

FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. — It’s been 150 years since Confederate troops burned Caledonia Ironworks to the ground — just days before the Battle of Gettysburg.

On Saturday, area residents gathered at Caledonia State Park off U.S. 30 in Fayetteville for the 150th anniversary of the burning.

“This was an important part of the overall campaign. It was perhaps the biggest destruction that they did on their campaigns through the area, and it’s something that people should know about,” said Ross Hetrick, president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society of Gettysburg, Pa.

He gave a copy of Saturday’s lecture, “The Burning of Caledonia Ironworks,” to the state park office and plans to give one to Franklin County Historical Society-Kittochtinny in Chambersburg, Pa., as well.

“On June 26, 1863, Confederate forces under the command of Gen. Jubal Early burned and looted Caledonia Ironworks, which provided the livelihoods of 200 to 250 people,” Hetrick said.

The Confederate soldiers stole all of the mill’s horses, even the crippled ones, 4,000 pounds of bacon, molasses and other products, and $2,000 worth of corn and grain, Hetrick said. They burned the ironworks, a sawmill, two forges and a rolling mill, he said.

“Then, out of simple spite, they broke all the windows of the workers’ homes,” Hetrick said.

The reason for the thuggish looting was that Early hated Stevens, who owned the ironworks and was an outspoken congressman and abolitionist, Hetrick said.

Things could have been worse if Stevens had been captured by the Confederates, Hetrick said.

Early has been quoted as saying to Stevens’ Ironworks manager: ‘“I would hang him (Stevens) on the spot and divide his bones and send them to ... several states as curiosities,’” Hetrick said.

Hetrick fielded questions from the audience.

“Is the furnace that’s over there now (referring to the furnace at Caledonia) the one he (Stevens’) rebuilt?” a member of the audience asked.

“That is such a neat, nice-looking furnace. It was rebuilt as a monument to Thaddeus Stevens in 1927 by the Alpine Club,” Hetrick said.

“Could you tell us about his personal life?” another member of the audience asked.

Hetrick said Stevens was a lifelong bachelor.

“The big controversy with his life was his relationship with Lydia Hamilton Smith, who was his housekeeper over in Lancaster from 1848 until his death in 1868,” Hetrick said.

He thinks there was no intimate relationship between Stevens and Smith that was alluded to in the movie “Lincoln.”

Hetrick said some think that his stance on equality came later when he was a young lawyer in Gettysburg and represented a slave owner on a case known as the Charity Butler case.

In 1821, he took a case for a Maryland slave owner who claimed that Charity Butler was his property. She had escaped slavery and settled in Gettysburg, where she married a free black. They had two children. At the time, if a slave lived six months in Pennsylvania, he or she was free, Hetrick said.

Butler’s attorney argued that because she had been in Pennsylvania on and off for six months, she was free. Stevens argued successfully that the visits were not consecutive and so the time did not count. The court sent Butler and her two children back into slavery.

Stevens never took another slave owner’s case and represented slaves for free, Hetrick said.

Pam Wertner of Chambersburg, Pa., was a licensed guide at Gettysburg Military Park in the 1990s.

But she wanted to learn more about the man known as “The Great Commoner.”

“I read that Thaddeus Stevens was running for re-election in 1868 and he passed away and he still won the election. Is that true?” Wertner asked.

Hetrick said Stevens died Aug. 11, 1868, and Stevens’ name was on the primary ballot. Stevens won the primary, Hetrick said, but a living person ran in the general election.

“I thought this was really interesting,” she said after Hetrick’s lecture.

Chambersburg businessman Marvin Young felt a kinship with Stevens.

“I was born and raised in Chambersburg, and local Franklin County history really interests me,” he said. “I am a big advocate of capitalism, and here was a man that was more interested in the ideals of freedom than profit.”

For more information about Thaddeus Stevens, go to

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