Raid on Chambersburg
by John Paul Strain
by John Paul Strain
After the battle of Antietam, General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia needed time to rest, resupply, and reorganize. General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was doing the same. But General Lee wished to keep the pressure on the federal army by sending General JEB Stuart’s cavalry back into Maryland and Pennsylvania on a daring raid. If successful, the raid would cut valuable railroad supply lines, obtain anything of value for the army, and basically create havoc, panic, and cause the demoralization of federal troops. Stuart was also instructed to capture government officials who might be exchanged for any captured Confederate leaders or sympathizers. General Lee outlined in detail Stuart’s route, with his main objective being the destruction of the Cumberland Valley Railroad Bridge over the Concocheague Creek near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
On October 9th General Stuart and General Wade Hampton left camp with 1800 cavalrymen and four cannons under the command of Major John Pelham. The force crossed the Potomac River at McCoy’s Ford between Williamsport and Hancock on the foggy morning of the 10th. Stuart’s cavalry rode quickly and quietly north avoiding any entanglements. (General Stuart’s cavalry saber scabbard was covered in leather, so as not to make noise while on horseback). Once the force reached the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania, one-third of Stuart’s men fanned out to seize every healthy horse they could find. Citizens were given Confederate script in return for goods seized.
The expedition eventually crossed the West Branch of Concocheague Creek near the town of Mercersburg. By the time General Stuart’s cavalry reached the town of Chambersburg that evening, the weather had changed with dropping temperatures and cold rain. The town was occupied without incident and Stuart’s men went about their work efficiently, cutting telegraph lines, burning railroad warehouses, confiscating supplies, and so on. Stuart sent a company to burn the railroad bridge at Scotland, but the men turned back after citizens convinced the raiders that the bridge was made of iron. Several dignitaries of the town were taken into custody and General Stuart symbolically appointed General Hampton “Military Governor” of the town.
The following day General Stuart and his command headed back to Virginia by way of Cashtown. The raid was heralded by New York’s Harper’s Weekly as “one of the most surprising feats of the war”. Stuart and his soldiers brought back 1200 horses, supplies, weapons, and a number of prominent politicians, while spreading fear throughout the north. The raid was a great embarrassment to the Federal Army and President Lincoln. It would be just a few weeks later that President Lincoln would replace General George McClellan as commander of the army. The raid would become known as “Stuart’s second ride around
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