Day Tripper: Chambersburg

Pry Family Quilt

Celebrate The Burning and Rebirth of Chambersburg

The Franklin County Visitors Bureau invites all to 1864 Ransoming, Burning & Rebirth on July 16, 2022.

History comes alive in Chambersburg during the re-enactment of the 1864 Ransoming, Burning & Rebirth of Chambersburg. The town will be set ablaze with atmospheric affects so real you will think you’ve traveled back to 1864. Celebrate community and the human spirit — its resiliency, faith, and courage — with a historical re-enactment of the ransoming, burning, and rebirth of Chambersburg on July 16 at 9 p.m.

The re-enactment and light show is done completely with atmospheric effects, lights, and actors! Join the thousands that gather to watch as the town is transported back to 1864 and history comes to life.

On July 30, 1864, Brigadier General John McCausland and 2,800 Confederate cavalrymen entered Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, rang the Courthouse bell to gather citizens, and read a ransom demand of $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in Yankee currency or else the town would be burned in retaliation for the destruction committed by General Hunter in the Shenandoah Valley.

Even if the citizens of Chambersburg wanted to meet the demand, they could not. With the Stuart’s raid in 1862 and the invasion of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1863, residents shipped their valuables out of town. Banks, also, transported their money to safer places. The townspeople knew Couch telegraphed Averell and stalled for time. As soon as McCausland realized the ransom demand would not be paid, he gave the order to burn the town.

Detachments were sent to different parts of the town. Firing the buildings on the square commenced. Houses were opened, furniture was broken, piled in heaps, and set on fire. Sometimes the fire was started in closets or bureaus with clothing. The Confederates moved quickly and fired building after building. It was a horrific and startling scene.

The firing of the town began about 8 AM and by 11 AM, the Confederate forces had all left Chambersburg with ten squares of properties in ruin and 2000 residents homeless. The destruction was massive.  Flames destroyed more than 500 structures and $1.5 million in personal property and real estate.

However, this would not be the end.  Out of the ashes of this tragic event, through strength and courage of a determined people, Chambersburg would rise.

One month after the burning, Chambersburg was busy formulating progressive recommendations for the rebuilding of the Town. Then ten years after the 1864 burning, the community was solidly moving toward a new era. Ladies groups and veterans’ organizations resolved to establish a memorial to pay tribute to the soldiers of Franklin County in the Civil War. On Saturday, July 20, 1878 more than 15,000 gathered in the diamond of Chambersburg to remember, honor, and appreciate the County’s veterans with the dedication of the 26-ft. tall, 5-basin, cast iron, bronze Memorial Fountain. It included a 7-ft, tall bronze soldier. Along with the tribute to veterans, the day carried a significant amount of gratitude for the good fortune of Chambersburg to emerge from the ashes rather than be buried by the events of July 30th, 1864. It was a day to celebrate Chambersburg coming to life and Memorial Fountain stands as a constant reminder.

The rebuilding brought a fresh vibrant Chambersburg. The Cumberland Valley Railroad extended to Hagerstown and on to Winchester. The Western Maryland railroad extended the rail line from Waynesboro to Chambersburg. Chambersburg commenced the municipal operation of utilities and the size of the town expanded. By 1900, Chambersburg had 9000 residents, nearly twice the population at the time of the 1864 burning.

A Day Packed with Family fun

Leading up to the light show — so realistic the town looks ablaze — is the Market Day Festival in downtown Chambersburg, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. More than 100 vendors fill the streets with arts, handiworks, food, and music.  A full day of fun and events are lined up throughout Downtown Chambersburg starting with Old Market Day along with exhibits, presentations, kids’ activities and a rock wall. At 6 p.m., downtown Chambersburg steps back to 1864, offering Civil War walking tours, displays, book signings, kids’ games, a corn hole competition, and T-shirt trivia. At 7 p.m., the 1864 celebration continues with the final round of A Cappella & Unplugged, performed on the steps of the 11/30 Visitors Center. Bring a lawn chair and join selecting this year’s champion and winner of $500.

History Comes Alive

At 9 p.m., history comes to life as Jacob Hoke, an actual merchant on the square of Chambersburg in 1864, meets Confederate General “Tiger” John McCausland, who executed the order of his superior, General Jubal Early, to ransom Chambersburg and burn the town if the ransom was not paid.

As the story unfolds, the downtown buildings are the backdrop of the ransoming, burning, and ultimately the rebirth of the town, which courageously rose from the ashes of war.

The history behind the event is the July 30, 1864, Confederate ransoming of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The demand was for $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in Union currency. When the town could not pay the ransom, Chambersburg was burned.

More than 2,000 residents were left without homes. 537 buildings were destroyed. The total loss of real estate and personal property exceeded $1.5 million in the dollars of the day. In stark contrast, today’s Chambersburg thrives.

Hagerstown Magazine