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The burning of Chambersburg.

General John M'Causland.
The wanton destruction of the private property of citizens of Virginia, by the orders of General Hunter, a Federal commander, may be considered as one of the strongest reasons for the retaliation, by Early's order, upon the city of Chambersburg. Andrew Hunter lived in the county of Jefferson, near Harper's Ferry, and was a relative of General Hunter; A. R. Boteler and E. J. Lee also lived in the same vicinity. No reasons that I have ever heard have been given for the burning of their houses. Governor Letcher's property was in Lexington, Virginia; the Military Institute was near Lexington, also. I do not think that any better reasons can be given for the destruction of these properties than could have been given if General Hunter had destroyed every house, barn, or other building, that was standing and in good order, upon his line of march from Staunton to Lynchburg. The property of J. T. Anderson was in the county of Botetourt, and located near the banks of James river, at Buchanan. Mrs. Anderson and a lady relative were the only occupants at the time. I destroyed the bridge across James river to retard Hunter in his march upon Lynchburg, and it detained him with his army for two days, during which time he occupied this house as his headquarters. He promised the ladies protection, and after his departure, an officer and some soldiers returned with a written order from him to destroy everything about the premises. A few days afterward, as General Hunter was passing another Virginia mansion, a lady asked him why he destroyed the magnificent home of Colonel Anderson. He replied, “that Virginia women [771] were worse traitors than their husbands, and he would burn the houses over their heads to make them personally and immediately experience some punishment for their treason;” and on another occasion said to a lady, that he would “humble the Virginia women before he left the State.” I could enumerate many other acts of actual destruction, and threats and acts of wanton violence on the part of Hunter, all of which went to make up public sentiment that prevailed at the time in Virginia, and which required the military authorities to take some steps to prevent their recurrence in future, besides stopping the useless destruction that was then going on. But what I have given is considered sufficient to explain the reasons why the city of Chambersburg, in Pennsylvania, was destroyed.

It may be considered as indispensable to give the location of the forces composing the Union and Confederate armies during the latter part of the month of July, 1864, in order to properly understand the raid that was made into the State of Pennsylvania, and which resulted in the destruction of Chambersburg. Hunter's army (Union) was scattered along the northern bank of the Potomac river, in Maryland, from near Hancock to Harper's Ferry, the main body being near the latter place. Early's army (Confederate) was located on the opposite side of the same river with its main body near Martinsburg. Each army had its cavalry on the flanks. My, command was on the left of Early's army, and I think that Averills cavalry was located opposite to me-at least a portion of it was there. When I speak of cavalry, in the course of this sketch, I am aware that the term is not properly applied; and, as far as the Confederate troops which I commanded were concerned, they were badly armed, badly mounted, and worse equipped — in fact, they were mostly mounted militia. The men would have made good soldiers if there had been time to discipline them, and arms and equipments to have furnished them. The horses were nearly all worn out, and there was no supply to draw others from. We attempted to get horses in Pennsylvania, but found them removed from the line of march, and we had no time to look for them elsewhere.

In July, 1864, the cavalry brigade which I commanded was encamped near the Potomac river, in the county of Berkeley, West Virginia. It made the advance post of the army under General Early, that was guarding the approaches into Virginia through the Shenandoah Valley. On the 28th of July, I received an order from General Early to cross the Potomac with my brigade and one under General Bradley T. Johnston, and proceed to the city of Chambersburg, and after capturing it to deliver, to the proper authorities, a [772] proclamation which he had issued, calling upon them to furnish me with one hundred thousand dollars in gold, or five hundred thousand dollars in greenbacks, and in case the money was not furnished I was ordered to burn the city and return to Virginia. The proclamation also stated that this course.had been adopted in retaliation for the destruction of property in Virginia, by the orders of General Hunter, and specified that the houses of Andrew Hunter, A. R. Boteler, E. J. Lee, Governor Letcher, J. T. Anderson, the Virginia Military Institute, and others in Virginia, had been burned by the orders of General D. Hunter, a Federal commander, and that the money demanded from Chambersburg was to be paid to these parties as a compensation for their property. It appears that the policy of General Early had been adopted upon proper reflection; that his orders were distinct and final, and that what was done on this occasion by my command was not the result of inconsiderate action or want of proper authority, as was alleged by many parties at the North, both at the time and since the close of the war.

On the 29th of July, the two cavalry brigades that were to make the dash into Pennsylvania, by turning the right of Hunter's army, were assembled at or near Hammond's mill, in Berkeley county, West Virginia. During the night the Federal pickets on the northern side of the Potomac were captured, and the troops crossed just at daylight on the morning of the 30th, and moved out and formed the line of march on the National road. Major Gilmer drove the Federal cavalry from the small village of Clear Spring, and pushed on toward Hagerstown to create the impression that the rest of the troops were following. At Clear Spring we left the National road and turned north on the Mercersburg road. We reached Mercersburg about dark, and stopped to feed our horses, and to give time for the stragglers to come up. After this stop the march was continued all night, notwithstanding the opposition made at every available point by a regiment of Federal cavalry. Major Sweeney, with his cavalry battalion, kept the roads clear, and we reached Chambersburg at daylight on the 31st. The approach to the town was defended only by one piece of artillery and some irregular troops that were soon driven off, and the advance of our force took possession of the town. The main part of the two brigades was formed in line on the high ground overlooking the town. I at once went into the place with my staff, and requested some of the citizens to inform the city authorities that I wanted to see them. I also sent my staff through the town to find out where the proper officials were, and inform them that I had a proclamation for their consideration. Not one could be [773] found. I then directed the proclamation to be read to many of the citizens that were near me, and requested them to hunt up their officers, informing them I would wait until they could either find them, or by consultation among themselves determine what they would do. Finally, I informed them that I would wait six hours, and if they would comply with the requisition their town would be safe; and in case they did not it would be destroyed in accordance with my orders from General Early. After a few hours of delay many citizens came to me — some were willing to pay the money, others were not. I urged them to comply with such reasons as occurred to me at the time, and told them plainly what they might expect. I showed to my own officers the written instructions of General Early, and before a single house was destroyed both the citizens and the Confederate officers that were present fully understood why it was done, and by whose orders. After waiting until the expiration of the six hours, and finding that the proclamation would not be complied with, the destruction of the town was begun by firing the most central blocks first, and after the inhabitants had been removed from them. Thus the town was destroyed, and the inhabitants driven to the hills and fields adjacent thereto. No lives were lost by the citizens, and only one soldier was killed, and he was killed after the troops left the vicinity of the place. About noon the troops were re-formed on the high ground overlooking the town, where the most of them had been posted in the early morning, and the return to the Potomac was begun shortly afterward. We encamped at McConnelsburg that night, and reached the river the next day, at or near Hancock, Maryland.

In confirmation of what I have written Major Gilmer says in his book, “Four years in the saddle,” page 210: “He showed me General Early s order.” General Early, in his “Memoir,” page 51, says: “A written demand was sent to the municipal authorities, and they were informed what would be the result of a failure or refusal to comply with it.” On page 59 he says: “On the 30th of July, McCausland reached Chambersburg, and made the demand as directed, reading to such of the authorities as presented themselves the paper sent by me.” Colonel W. E. Peters, who commanded one of the regiments in Johnston's Brigade, when the burning commenced came and asked me if the burning was being done by my orders. I showed him the order of General Early, and he was satisfied, and proceeded to carry out the order as was being done by other regiments of his brigade. In this expedition the troops passed through more than one hundred miles of hostile territory, executed [774] all orders that were issued with promptness and regularity, and never have I heard of any complaints of acts unauthorized by their superior officers. I think that these facts will show that this entire expedition was planned and executed in accordance with the orders of superior officers of competent authority to order it, and, moreover, that it was an act of retaliation perfectly justified by the circumstances, and was at all times kept clearly within the rule governing civilized warfare.

Vattel in his “Law of nations,” lays down the following rule, and it may not be inappropriate to quote it in order that many persons, who may read what is said about the destruction of Chambersburg, may have the opinion of a standard authority upon such proceedings:

A civil war breaks the bonds of society and governments, or at least suspends their force and effect. It produces in the nation two independent parties who consider each other as energies, and acknowledge no common judge. Those two parties, therefore, must necessarily be considered as thenceforward constituting, at least for a time, two separate bodies, two distinct societies. Though one of the parties may have been to blame in breaking the unity of the State, and resisting the lawful authority, they are not the less divided in fact. Besides, who shall judge them? Who shall pronounce on which side the right or the wrong lies? On earth they have no common superior. They stand, therefore, in precisely the same predicament as two nations who engage in a contest, and being unable to come to an agreement, have recourse to arms. This being the case, it is evident that the common laws of war-those maxims of humanity, moderation and honor commonly observed-ought to be observed by both parties in every civil war. For the same reasons which render the observance of those maxims a matter of obligation between State and State, it becomes equally and even more necessary in the unhappy circumstances of the two incensed parties lacerating their common country. Should the sovereign conceive he has a right to hang up his prisoners as rebels, the opposite party will make refusals; or, to destroy their country, they will retaliate. The Duke of Alva made it a practice to condemn to death every prisoner he took from the Confederates in the Netherlands. They, on their part, retaliated, and at length compelled him to respect the law of nations and the rules of war in his conduct toward them.

The above the rule and example of nations, and applying it to this case, I think that any one can understand it.

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