1864: The Ransoming Burning & Rebirth of Chambersburg - July 17, 2021
1864 Ransoming, Burning & Rebirth of Chambersburg commenced in April 2011 as part of Adams and Franklin Counties historical remembrance of the Civil War. The July 17 living history portrayal and light show is the tenth year Franklin County Visitors Bureau remembers the history of July 30, 1864. It strives to honor the spirit, will, and tenacity of Chambersburg’s citizens, who rebuilt the town. Today, standing on the square of Chambersburg, looking at the Memorial Fountain, it is hard to imagine the massive destruction of 1864.
Join us on Saturday, July 17th 2021 in Downtown Chambersburg as the town is set ablaze to commemorate the day that Chambersburg was held for ransom and then burned. We celebrate community, rebirth and Chambersburg’s rise from the ashes with a day full of events:
Visit the 11/30 Visitors Center on the Square throughout the day for book signings, drawings, kids’ activities, giveaway and tours.
Chambersburg Comes to Life
Old Market Day street festival kicks-off at 9am! Enjoy lots of art, food, crafts, vendors and music!
1pm: Come experience Edna Lawrence – a quilt storyteller as she talks about her art and passion for history and people.
5pm – 8pm: The PA Army Nation Guard joins the 11/30 Visitors Center bringing their rock climbing wall Downtown for all those adventurous individuals to endure!
7pm: A Cappella & Unplugged Final Round – the very talented finalists perform for your vote as they sing for a chance to win the big $500 prize!
Just before 9pm: As the sun sets, the history of the 1864 Ransoming, Burning & Rebirth of Chambersburg takes the night’s center stage as lights and atmospheric affects so real that bystanders will think they were transported back to 1864!
Explore the new lobby exhibit: Let the Journey Begin…People, Places & Possibilities all day!
On July 30, 1864, Brigadier General John McCausland and 2,800 Confederate cavalrymen entered Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, rang the Courthouse bell to gather citizens and read a ransom demand of $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in Yankee currency or else the town would be burned in retaliation for the destruction committed by General Hunter in the Shenandoah Valley.
Even if the citizens of Chambersburg wanted to meet the demand, they could not. With the Stuart’s raid in 1862 and the invasion of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1863, residents shipped their valuables out of town. Banks, also, transported their money to safer places. The townspeople knew Couch telegraphed Averell and stalled for time. As soon as McCausland realized the ransom demand would not be paid, he gave the order to burn the town.
Detachments were sent to different parts of the town. Firing the buildings on the square commenced. Houses were opened, furniture was broken, piled in heaps, and set on fire. Sometimes the fire was started in closets or bureaus with clothing. The Confederates moved quickly and fired building after building. It was a horrific and startling scene.
The firing of the town began about 8 AM and by 11 AM, the Confederate forces had all left Chambersburg with ten squares of properties in ruin and 2000 residents homeless. The destruction was massive. Flames destroyed more than 500 structures leaving more than 2,000 homeless.
However, this would not be the end. Out of the ashes of this tragic event, through strength and courage of a determined people, Chambersburg would be rise.
One month after the burning, Chambersburg was busy formulating progressive recommendations for the rebuilding of the Town. Then ten years after the 1864 burning, the community was solidly moving toward a new era. Ladies groups and veterans’ organizations resolved to establish a memorial to pay tribute to the soldiers of Franklin County in the Civil War. On Saturday, July 20, 1878 more than 15,000 gathered in the diamond of Chambersburg to remember, honor, and appreciate the County’s veterans with the dedication of the 26-ft. tall, 5-basin cast iron bronze Memorial Fountain. It included a 7-ft, tall bronze soldier. Along with the tribute to veterans, the day carried a significant amount of gratitude for the good fortune of Chambersburg to emerge from the ashes rather than be buried by the events of July 30th, 1864. It was a day to celebrate Chambersburg coming to life and Memorial Fountain stands as a constant reminder.
The rebuilding brought a fresh vibrant Chambersburg. The Cumberland Valley Railroad extended to Hagerstown and on to Winchester. The Western Maryland railroad extended the rail line from Waynesboro to Chambersburg. Chambersburg commenced the municipal operation of utilities and the size of the town expanded. By 1900, Chambersburg had 9000 residents, nearly twice the population at the time of the 1864 burning.