July 2014 Documents of the Month

On July 30, 1864, Confederate cavalry under command of Brig. Gen. John McCausland, burned the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. It was the most famous example of a Confederate force committing the kind of destructive act that Federal troops committed frequently in the South. McCausland acted under orders from his commander, Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early, who later explained that he had concluded that “it was time to open the eyes of the people of the North” to the destruction their troops were committing in the South.

Shown here is an official copy of the orders that Early wrote on July 26th to McCausland and to Brig. Gen. Bradley T. Johnson found Johnson’s ‚Äč

papers. The orders are in the hand of Maj. Thomas Rowland, a young former West Point cadet who was assistant adjutant general for Brig. Gen. Robert Ransom, commander of Early’s cavalry.

Also shown is the first page of a letter that Thomas Rowland wrote home to his mother on August 1, 1864. In it he explained that “This last crossing [of the Potomac] was only intended as a feint to cover the movements of McCausland & Bradley Johnson who started at the same time on a raid into Maryland & Pennsylvania. They have not returned yet.”

McCausland and Johnson carried out their orders relating to Chambersburg, but the presence of a Federal force prevented them from advancing toward Cumberland, Maryland, and confronting that Unionist town with a similar fate. Early wrote in his autobiography (published posthumously in 1912): “For this act I, alone, am responsible, as the officers engaged in it were simply executing my order, and had no discretion left them. Notwithstanding the lapse of time which has occurred and the result of the war, I see no reason to regret my conduct on this occasion.”

Transcript of orders

Hd Qurs V. D. July 26th 1864

Instructions for Gens McCausland & Johnson.

Cross your brigades at McCoy’s Ferry or Clear  Spring & then proceed to Hagerstown & from their [sic] to Chambersburg. At Chambersburg levy $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in Northern Money to pay for the houses of Andrew Hunter, Alexander R. Boteler, & Edmund I. Lee of Jefferson Co. Va. Which were burned by order of the Federal military authorities, & if the money is not paid, burn the entire town as a retaliation for the burning of these [missing] & others in the state of Va. by[Fe]deral authorities. Burn the Depots at Chambersburg & proceed from there by McConnellsburg to Cumberland & destroy the Bridges on Balt & Ohio R. Rd. as you go, & if you can, the tunnel at Pow Pow [sic: Paw Paw].  Levy on Cumberland $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in Northern funds. Then destroy R.R. Shops, depots &c, & burn all iron works & machinery at all the coal pits in that region of country. Break up the establishment at New Creek & burn all bridges within reach. Gather all the cattle you can in Alleghany County & the adjoining county in Pennsylvania. Also from the Western part of Hardy, taking care not to disturb the property of good southern men in this county.

Their cattle if fit for beef must be taken & paid for. Return through Hardy County towards Winchester leading the cattle through Brooks Gap to Harrisonburg.

J. A. Early

Lt. General

T. Rowland

Official Copy
Order to burn Chambersburg

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