Potomac, and the line from Hancock to Harper's ferry was well picketed. General Couch had no troops — not even an organized battalion on the border. He had organized six or seven regiments of one hundred days men; but as fast as they were officered and armed they were forwarded to Washington, in obedience to orders from the authorities. He was left, therefore, with no force whatever to defend the border. The national authorities had persistently refused to uniform the citizens of the border, and thus enable them to organize for their own defence, without exposing themselves to certain butchery in case of capture, and the border was thus entirely defenceless. General Averell was still between us and the enemy, and it was hoped that in case of an advance, he could, with the aid of citizens, successfully defend Chambersburg, which was known to be a place in which McCausland longed to glut his infernal vengeance. Hunter was compelled to manuoevre so as to prevent Early from getting between him and Washington, and therefore, could not devote his attention to defence against raids. Had Early drawn him up the Potomac and then hastily moved upon Washington, it would have been defenseless, and must have fallen. On Thursday the twenty-eighth ultimo, the rebels recrossed the Potomac at three different points — McCausland, Johnston, and Gilmore, with three thousand mounted men and two batteries, below Hancock, and moved toward Mercersburg. They reached Mercersburg at six P. M., where they met Lieutenant McLean, a most gallant young officer in the regular service, with about twenty men. His entire command numbered forty-five, and he had to detach for scouting and picket duty more than half his force. So suddenly did they dash into Mercersburg that they cut the telegraph wire before their movement could be telegraphed, and it was not until ten o'clock that night that Lieutenant McLean got a courier through to General Couch with the information. In the meantime, two other columns crossed the same morning, Generals Vaughn and Jackson, with over three thousand mounted men, at Williamsport, and moved toward Hagerstown. General Averell fell back to Greencastle during the day, and a small column of the enemy advanced five miles this side of Hagerstown, where they encamped that night. Another column crossed at Shepherdstown the same morning and appeared near Leitersburg, on General Averell's left, in the course of the evening, but advanced no further. General Averell was thus threatened in front and on both flanks by three columns, each larger than his own; was isolated from Hunter, his chief officer, and his whole reserve in case he fell back upon Chambersburg, was General Couch and staff, Lieutenant McLean's little command of less than fifty men, some sixty infantry, and a section of artillery. It must be remembered too, that his command was utterly exhausted; having been on duty almost day and night for a week, and previously broken down by the movement of General Hunter upon Lynchburg and his retreat to Charleston. While it seems clear that General Averell could have saved Chambersburg had he fallen back to this point instead of halting at Greencastle, we are unwilling to censure him, or to hold him responsible for the sad record that McCausland has given to the history of our town. If but one column had threatened him, or had reinforcements been in his rear, he would doubtless have met every expectation of our people. He is a brave and gallant officer — has well earned his fame, and it should not be hastily tarnished. General Couch, as we have stated, had no troops either here, or within reach of this point, with which to oppose the rebel advance. A few companies of infantry, but half-organized one hundred days men, were thrown forward from Harrisburg to Averell on the morning before the Mercersburg movement was known, and they remained there under his orders. All the troops General Couch had were on picket duty, or with Lieutenant McLean, who gallantly embarrassed McCausland's advance at every step. He had not even a guard to spare to arrest the stream of stragglers and deserters from Hunter's army — chiefly one hundred days men. Scores of them passed through, mostly without arms, and had they been arrested they would probably have been valueless. General Averell was under orders from General Hunter, and not subject to the order of General Couch. He was advised by General Couch by telegraph of the rebel occupation of Mercersburg, and the movement toward this point, which turned Averell's right flank and rear, and urged to fall back if possible and cover this point and save his flanks; but for reasons, which we believe will yet be satisfactorily explained, General Averell did not move from Greencastle until morning, and then he made a circuit by Mount Hope, doubtless to protect his left and save his command from a combined attack by the several columns which had advanced from the river. His trains were sent here about six P. M., with a strong guard, and squads of disabled and demoralized men; but they were moved toward Shippensburg at one A. M. on Friday morning, and the guard, of course, went with them. General Averell did not reach here until about three P. M. on Saturday--nearly five hours after the rebels had burned the town and retreated westward. General Couch was troopless, and therefore helpless as a commander. His failure to secure the aid of General Averell, and the steady advance of the rebels, made it evident that he could not hold the town, even if every citizen in it had fought resolutely by his side; and as the sequel shows, he apprehended that an unsuccessful resistance, in which citizens were engaged, against a fiendish foe like McCausland, would but swell the measure of rebel vengeance. Lieutenant McLean was driven to the western turnpike at St. Thomas by one A. M. on Friday morning, and resolved to retard the advance of
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Table of Contents:
Doc . 16 . operations in Tennessee .
Doc . 19 . the siege of Suffolk, Virginia .
Doc . 36 . General Rousseau 's expedition.
Doc . 59 . battles of Spottsylvania , Va: battle of Sunday , May 8 , 1864 .
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