Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

An unsigned postcard of the Hotel Washington in Chambersburg sent to Roland G. Smith at the Ligonier Motor and Machine Company in Ligonier, Westmoreland County, was postmarked October 19, 1913, nearly fifty years after Confederate forces decimated the Franklin County seat on July 30, 1864. Southern soldiers destroyed 550 buildings and structures in Chambersburg in addition to looting houses and stores (see Lost and Found on page 48). More than two thousand residents were displaced. Despite the widespread arson and vandalism, Confederates killed only one Chambersburg resident; angry citizens, however, killed at least five enemy soldiers by the time the forces withdrew. Citizens vowed to rebuild their devastated community, settled in 1730.

“We are leaving for Harrisburg as soon as the grease cups are tightened, that is if we do not decide to go to Gettysburg,” the anonymous correspondent wrote. Was the writer a resident of Chambersburg or a visitor making a round of southeastern Pennsylvania communities affected by the American Civil War? Just four months earlier the nation commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg with an enormous reunion of Union and Confederate soldiers at the scene of the horrific three-day bloodbath in Adams County (see “Making Peace on the Gettysburg Battlefield, Fifty Years Later,” by James Rada Jr. on page 24). Conducted from June 29 through July 4, the six-day event drew 53,407 veterans, including 8,750 Confederates.

All honorably discharged veterans of the North and South were invited and forty-six of the forty-eight states were represented.

In his July 4 address, President Woodrow Wilson summarized the spirit of the 1913 reunion. “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel long forgotten — except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”

The Hotel Washington, erected after the end of the Civil War at the corner of Lincoln Way East and Second Street, housed a famous dining room and luxurious accommodations catering to such individuals as Henry Ford, Andrew Mellon, and Babe Ruth. The hotel employed two hundred people during its heyday. The popularity of motels caused the decline of the Chambersburg landmark and it was razed in the 1980s. The site is now occupied by a parking lot.