Countdown to 1864: Confederates demanded $500,000 to save Chambersburg

The Burning of Chambersburg Light Show

The bombardment of Fort Sumter propelled the country to a state of war. Men of Chambersburg and Franklin County enlisted to support Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops, and by 1861 Chambersburg became a military town where Union troops trained. Both suppliers and troops were loaded into the cars of Cumberland Valley Railroad, and war hovered around the doorsteps of Franklin County communities. 

In 1862, Chambersburg had its first Confederate raid when General J. E. B. Stuart took horses, food, and other supplies, burning the railroad shops and cutting the telegraph wires on a hasty foray across the Mason Dixon line and into Franklin County. In the summer of 1863, Chambersburg experienced a more intense and lasting incursion as Robert E. Lee headquartered in Chambersburg and set up camp with 75,000 Confederate soldiers in and around the county seat before moving East toward Gettysburg to engage the Union Troops. The Battle of Gettysburg in the late hours of July 4 and the early hours of July 5, 10,000 troops clashed in Franklin County during the Battle of Monterey Pass. 

Each time Confederates entered Franklin County, the stakes increased. On July 30, 1864, no one envisioned such a vast and definitive impact the coming would have in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. 

The Ransoming of Chambersburg

On July 30, 1864, Brigadier General John McCausland and 2,800 Confederate cavalrymen entered Chambersburg and demanded ransom. $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in greenbacks (dollars). The ransom was in retaliation for burnings in Virginia, on the orders of Jubal Early in revenge for General Hunter permitting his troops to loot and burn private property in the Valley. The calvery traveled for two days just to see this threat through. 

Around 5:30 am, the Confederate artillery fired perhaps six rounds over the town. McCausland and his chief officers led his cavalry into the town square and sat down to breakfast and the franklin house. There the general ordered the arrest of leading citizens, including attorney J.W. Douglas, who was provided a copy of General Early’s order and was sent to tell the townspeople that the rebels would burn the town if they did not provide the required ransom.

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https://www.explorefranklincountypa.com/1864-burning/

In honor of 1864, the Ransoming, Burning & Rebirth Living History Re-enactment & Light Show, we will be publishing the story, accounts, and other historical information leading up to Saturday, July 16th. The Re-enactment and light show will occur at 9 pm after Old Market Day in front of the 11/30 Visitors Center.

Thank you to the Franklin County Visitors Bureau for providing the content for this series.

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