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John Pelham Historical Association

The Chambersburg Raid

Stuart's raid to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania was no grandstand play, but a carefully planned and skilled reconnaissance to obtain vital infotmation for General Robert E. Lee. It was Lee himself who directed the operation, and in orders to Stuart issued October 8, 1862, spelled out his mission in some detail, but left the return route to Stuart's discretion. Stuart was to gain all information of the position, force, and probable intention of the enemy. He was to destroy an important railroad bridge at Scotland, a few miles north of Chambersburg, was authorized to destroy public property, seize horses and supplies as needed, and take hostage Federal, state and local officials. This practice was started by General John Pope during the Second Manassas campaign, and the Confederates wished to reply in kind.

Stuart's expedition interrupted an idyllic life at cavalry headquarters, located at 'The Bower,' the home of Colonel Adam Stephen Dandridge in Jefferson County. Mr: Dandridge not only offered the hospitality of his home, but the delightful company of several unmarried daughters and nieces. Life at 'The Bower' had been full of romance, and an endless series of balls, charades and theatrics.

Stuart issued orders for 1800 specially selected men-- men only with the best mounts (the worn down condition of Heros von Borcke's horses excluded him from this adventure) to rendezvous at Darkesville on October 9th. Commanders in the expedition were Colonel W.H.F. ('Rooney' ) Lee, Colonel William E. ('Grumble') Jones, and Brigadier-General Wade Hampton. Four guns of the Stuart Horse Artillery under Major John Pelham accompanied the column. At noon, the command left Darkesville and reached Hedgesville that night where they encamped.

At dawn, Friday, October 10th, Lieutenant H.R. Phillips of the 10th Virginia Cavalry, wlth 25 men, and a scouting party under Lieutenant Robert Shiver drove in the Federal picket at McCoy's Ferry on the Potomac. Colonel Matthew C. Butler's 2nd South Carolina Cavalry plunged into the river and secured the ford, followed by the rest of Hampton's men, Jones and Lee. The Confederates reached the old National Turnpike. Near McCoy's, citizens informed Stuart that he had just missed a large Federal force, which had been at Clear Spring, Maryland and was enroute to Cumberland. Butler actually captured about 10 men of this party, and learned that they were six regiments of Ohio troops under General Jacob D. Cox, who was enroute to Kanawha, via Cumberland. Stuart wired this important information to Lee. A party of 20 men were sent to capture the Federal signal station at Fairview Heights. Only two officers escaped. Unimpeded, Stuart continued his march, using the mountains to screen his cavalry, and crossed into Pennsylvania.

Once the Confederates crossed the border, they became horse thieves. They were helped by a steady, drizzling rain, which led local farmers to keep their horses in. A central 'division' of 600 men moved out along either side of the road, collecting horses, drawn by the constant hum. of threshers.

Reaching the town of Mercersburg, local merchants were cleared of boots and shoes. It was not until they received receipts for payment did local citizens realize the true identity of their visitors. Hearing that a local citizen had an excellent map of Franklin County, W.W. Blackford of Stuart's staff went to get it. The inhabitants, all female, indignantly refused to let him have it. Wrote Blackford: 'Angry women do not show to advantage, and the language and looks of these were fearful, as I coolly cut the map out of its rollers and put it in my haversack. Five miles north of Mercersburg, the command halted to get corn. We took corn right from the field,' wrote Channing Price, 'having no trouble about a quartermaster buying forage.'

The calvacade reached Chambersburg about 8 p.m. The rain, which had been a steady drizzle, was now a downpour. Stuart sent out a scouting party, and set up his artillery under Pelham about a mile west of the town. Lieutenant Paul Hamilton, Hampton's aide (some accounts say Lieutenant Thomas Lee) headed the party to demand the surrender of the town. They were met by Judge F.M. Kimmell and Colonel A.K. McClure. McClure later wrote that the aide was a 'clever-looking butternut, dripping wet, without any mark of rank, bearing a dirty white cloth on a little stick....He refused to give his name, or the name of the general commanding and he could not state on what terms they would accept a surrender.' When McClure met General Hampton, he told him that the town was undefended. Hampton replied 'in a respectful and soldier-like manner' that he wished no unnecessary loss of life or private property, but all United States property he would use or destroy at his pleasure. He assured McClure that Federal wounded found in hospitals would be paroled. McClure went to his home. He was able to break open his liquor stock before the thirsty rebels arrived, but was too late to save his own horses.

Meanwhile the Confederates busily cut telegraph wires, but Governor Andrew Curtin was able to wire Secretary of War Stanton from Harrisburg: 'THE PEOPLE HAVE SURRENDERED CHAMBERSBURG,' thus giving the Federals a clue as to Stuart's whereabouts. Colonel Butler was authorized to go to the town bank, but some enterprising citizen had already removed the cash. Meanwhile, 'Grumble' Jones was sent on the all-important mission of destroying the railroad over Conococheague Creek. Much to his dismay, the bridge was made of iron, and he could not destroy it. That night, after setting up security around the town, Stuart spent a fitful night sleeping at the tollhouse of the city. He woke up three times, worrying about the rain, now coming down in torrents. Would the river rise before they could get back? Could the Potomac be forded?

At dawn, October 11th, Stuart had his men in the saddle. They broke into the town's depots and helped themselves to Federal overcoats, socks, underwear, and captured 5000 rifles, pistols, sabres and small arms. Butler remained behind to burn the depots. Giving the deliberate impression that he was. heading toward Gettysburg, Stuart started his march in that direction. The seizure of hostages and horses began again until they reached the Maryland border.

Having gone a little way, Stuart called for Blackford, his engineer and aide. Stuart wished to explain his motives in choosing the route back to Virginia. He said that Cox's command, which he had bypassed on the 10th, doubtless would have been ordered to halt and wait for Stuart's return. The Federals would expect him to return the way he came -- the route was shorter and the fords plentiful. Instead, Stuart would go a much longer route. Blackford told Stuart that he understood and approved of his reasons. 'I felt much touched by this mark of confidence,' Blackford wrote, 'and both his eyes and mine filled as we closed the conversation and began a march which for length, speed and boldness has few equals in cavalry annals.'

Stuart now drove his men hard -- there would be no rest until they reached the Potomac and crossed safely into Virginia. Reaching Cashtown, he turned sharply southward. Crossing into Maryland, the seizure of all property ceased, as the Confederates were still trying to court that state. At Emmittsburg, which they reached

 

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