CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. —When Confederate troops burned Chambersburg in 1864, the fires damaged or destroyed 500 structures, left 2,000 people homeless and caused $1.5 million in losses.
The town’s sacrifice will be commemorated in early April through a laser light show that helps to kick off Civil War 150, a planned five-year recognition across the United States.
Franklin County are joining with Fairfield and Gettysburg in neighboring Adams County to host some of Pennsylvania’s earliest events in Civil War 150. Presentations, encampments, period church services and music are scheduled April 7 to 10 in Greencastle, in Chambersburg on April 15 and 16, in Fairfield on April 22 and 23, and in Gettysburg on April 29 and 30.
“It’s going to make more people aware that Franklin County is part of the Battle of Gettysburg. ... You have all this activity that was part of the prelude to the Battle of Gettysburg,” said Janet Pollard, tourism director of the Franklin County Visitors Bureau.
The retreat from Gettysburg also crossed into Franklin County when the Battle of Monterey Pass was fought on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, Pollard said.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission started working on a sesquicentennial website a few years ago, and the anniversary became a hot topic at Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau meetings, Pollard said. Committees in each community guided what would be featured, she said.
Civil War 150 appeals to all ages wanting to learn about what happened, according to Pollard.
“I think the actual ‘burning’ will be cool with the laser lights. It’ll make history interesting, especially with the kids learning about it today,” said Penny Shaul, chairwoman of Chambersburg’s Downtown Business Council.
Festivals and events provide important economic boosts for the downtown merchants, Shaul said.
“History buffs who might not come to Chambersburg for shopping might see something they want,” she said.
Pollard said information about Civil War 150 in southcentral Pennsylvania has been promoted in special-interest publications across the country.
“I just took a call from Buffalo, N.Y. They’re coming for the ‘burning’ and booking rooms,” she said Monday.
Greencastle’s Allison-Antrim Museum President Bonnie Shockey said with the vast majority of events being free of charge, they provide educational and recreational opportunities to local families as well.
“The 150th anniversary of the Civil War comes around once. ... Considering the economy and the price of gas going up, it’s going to make it a very affordable ‘staycation,’” Shockey said.
Ted Alexander, historian at Antietam National Battlefield, recently wrote about Franklin County’s role in the Civil War.
Alexander wrote that John Brown planned his raid on Harpers Ferry, W.Va., while in Chambersburg, where he stayed in a boarding house with other raiders. At a quarry west of town, abolitionist Frederick Douglass unsuccessfully attempted to dissuade Brown from making the raid.
After the events in Harpers Ferry, several of Brown’s counterparts, including John Cook, escaped and fled through Franklin County. Cook was captured in Mont Alto, Pa., and kept overnight at the Franklin County Jail before he was sent back to Virginia for trial and execution, Alexander wrote.
On Sept. 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam was fought in Sharpsburg. More than 400 wounded soldiers were taken to Chambersburg for care at sites including King Street School and Corpus Christi Catholic Church. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, on a mission from Gen. Robert E. Lee, entered Franklin County after the Battle of Antietam to take civilian hostages in retaliation for Union hostage-taking in Virginia, Alexander wrote.
Lee camped east of Chambersburg in 1863 and decided to move east for what resulted as the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1 to 3. It was the largest and bloodiest battle of the war. Alexander wrote that the second-largest military action on Pennsylvania soil was the Battle of Monterey Pass on July 4 and 5, 1863, in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.
On July 30, 1864, Confederate Gen. John McCausland commanded a 2,800-man cavalry sent to levy a ransom on Chambersburg, seeking $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in greenbacks. The town was torched and looted.