Chambersburg Civil War Ruins

Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

On July 30, 1864, Confederate troops entered the southcentral Pennsylvania town of Chambers­burg. Their commander, General John McCausland, demanded that the residents turn over $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in cash to spare their community. When the residents refused to pay, he ordered his troops to bum the town.

While this was not the first visit by the Confederates to the Franklin County settlement, it was markedly different. Earlier visits had resulted in the “liberation” of some horses and the purchase of supplies (albeit in devalued Confederate currency), but no large-scale plundering and destruction of property. The attack by McCaus­land’s forces was
more severe – robbing residents on the streets, plundering their homes, and setting fire to private as well as public buildings. Not all Confederates participated willingly. A cavalry unit prevented other troops from setting fires in much of southeastern Chambersburg.

The damage to the town was extensive, and resulted in claims of three million dollars for compensation under a law passed by the state legislature in 1866. The destruction was captured by Charles L. Lochman (1822-1900), a commercial photographer in Carlisle between 1859 and 1874. When Lochman heard of the destruction of the nearby town of Chambersburg by rebel forces he, like several other photographers in the region, took his camera and made several views of the ruins. These in turn were printed and sold to a curious public. The view presented here is a vignette taken from a larger panoramic tableau of the town produced by Lochman.

These photographs are part of Manuscript Group (MG) 218 titled “Photograph Collections held by the Pennsylvania State Archives.” The terms manuscript and manuscript groups are used to differentiate personal papers and non-governmental records from those created by agencies of state and local government. The State Archives acquires personal papers of private individuals and non-governmental organizations and business concerns when they compliment its extensive holdings of government files. Relating to these photographs are detailed official files created between 1864 and 1879, such as the Chambersburg War Damage Claim Applications, War Damage Adjudicated Claim Certificates, Minutes of the Board of Appraisers of Chambersburg War Damages, and the Record of Chambersburg War Damage Claim Final Awards Issued Under Act of February 15, 1866, which are part of Record Group (RG) 2, Records of the Department of the Auditor General.