On July 30, 1864, Confederate soldiers raided Chambersburg, demanding a ransom of $500,000 or they would burn the central Pennsylvania town. The people couldn’t pay the hefty amount, so the invaders torched it, destroying over 500 structures and leaving up to 2,500 people homeless.
For the 149th anniversary of the occupation, The Franklin County Visitors Bureau reenacted the burning. Once darkness got a grip on the town, the place was full of drama. An enemy Calvary unit galloped into town and confronted unprotected local officials. When they couldn’t meet the demand, the officer ordered his men to torch the buildings. Lots of theatre props were brought to bear as flicking lights and smoke made it seem as if the courthouse, bank, and other buildings were ablaze.
It was all carried out in a theatrical form on the steps of the old courthouse and throughout the town square. In the early evening, as people showed up to get the best spots, the large square and local eateries filled up. There were music performances, walking tours, book signings, exhibits, and more to entertain and inform the large crowd, in the hours before show time.
We took one of the tours and an outstanding tour guide shared the history of the raid, the burning, and the Civil War in the Cumberland valley. He did a perfect job, sharing a complicated narrative in a popular and entertaining way that was informative.
We enjoyed our comfortable July, Saturday evening in Chambersburg and plan to return for the 150th reenactment. This was a well-executed event, which drew a large crowd to an attractive old downtown square. Thank you Chambersburg and Franklin County Visitors Bureau for this excellent production. We enjoyed our time in your city and will be back.