The Burning of Chambersburg

During the Gettysburg campaign, Confederate troops restrained themselves from destroying non-government property. By the Rebels' next raid into the North, however, the policy had changed.

On July 30, 1864, Brigadier General John McCausland and 2,800 Confederate cavalrymen entered Chambersburg and demanded $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in greenbacks. The residents of Chambersburg failed to raise the ransom, and McCausland ordered his men to burn the town. Flames destroyed more than 500 structures leaving more than 2,000 homeless. One resident died of smoke inhalation. Damage was estimated at more than $1.6 million. To make matters worse, many inebriated Confederate soldiers looted homes and abused civilians. Mobs of angry townspeople looking for retribution killed several Rebels.

Good Samaritans in the Rebel ranks helped citizens escape and save their valuables; a Confederate captain even ordered his company to douse the flames. One officer, Colonel William Peters, staunchly refused to take part in the burning. McCausland had him placed under arrest.

Chambersburg was the only Northern town the Confederates destroyed. The attack inspired a national aid campaign and spurred the Union Army to the aggressive approach that finally won the war.