05 - October 10, 1862 - J.E.B. Stuart’s Raid

By Joan C. McCulloh

          After the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, life in our area seemed more settled so that farmers could work in their fields, merchants could tend to their shops and stores, and people could begin to live their accustomed  lives. On October 10 people were pleased to see blue-clad troops come from the direction of Blairs Valley.  One lady gave some of the soldiers dressed in blue some brandy she had been saving for Union troops.  But their pleasure soon turned to chagrin as the blue-clad troops were followed by many, many more men dressed in the gray of the Confederacy.  The local people were being invaded by the cavalry of thirty-one year old General J.E.B. (James Ewell Brown) Stuart.  Stuart and his men had crossed the Potomac at McCoy’s Ferry near Williamsport, Maryland, and in a ride around General McClellan’s troops had as one of their missions the disruption of the Cumberland Valley Railroad as well as that of other Union supply routes. 

          On their way into Mercersburg some Confederates who were coming through Claylick took a prisoner there, Joseph Winger, known to be a staunch supporter of the Union.  About 12:30 the vanguard of the Confederates in their blue uniforms reached Mercersburg, but the blue to the dismay of local citizens soon turned to gray.  Stuart himself set up his headquarters on the side porch of Bridgeside, a stone house that was the family home of Mr. and Mrs. George Steiger and their children.  It was necessary for Stuart to use the porch as the Steiger children inside the house had German measles. While he was accepting the hospitality of Mrs. Steiger, his men were busy.  Dr. Thomas Creigh wrote:  “They surrounded the town with guard and pickets.  Went to the Post Office and took or destroyed everything of value.  Entered the stores of Messrs. Brewer, Fitzgerald, McKinstry, Grove, Smith and Bradley and took what they wanted. They took horses, 2,3,5, {from} Adam Hoke 18.”  While they were raiding the town, they arrested the town officials.  In addition, they took with them John McDowell, an older man, George Rupley, the burgess, James Grove, who had come from Baltimore to visit his sister, the postmistress, Perry Rice, and Cornelius Louderbaugh.  As some Confederates turned the corner from East Seminary Street into North Fayette Street, they heard a shot.  Not accepting kindly Daniel Shaffer’s explanation that he was shooting a chicken for his dinner and asserting that he had insulted the Palmetto flag of South Carolina, they took Shaffer with them.

          As the Confederates left Mercersburg, the constable, George Wolfe, on a horse belonging to James O. Carson, as his own horses had been taken, rode to Greencastle and there telegraphed a warning to the citizens of Chambersburg that the enemy was heading for that town.  He also telegraphed the same warning to Co. A. K. McClure in Chambersburg, but McClure ignored it and put it into his pocket.  Then Wolfe through inclement weather rode to Williamsport and Hagerstown to report to authorities there.

          After having left Mercersburg about 2:30 in the afternoon, the Confederates on their way to Chambersburg near Bridgeport, now Markes, took George Steiger who was returning home in his butcher wagon.  After the enemy had ordered two of the new citizen prisoners into his wagon, Steiger realized that he also was a prisoner.  However, later that day with the statement that he needed to feed his horses Steiger managed to escape.

          Others, however, were less fortunate as the events of October 10 did not end for them on that day.  Now citizen prisoners, they were taken to Libby Prison, a former tobacco warehouse, in Richmond, Virginia.  On their way to Chambersburg Daniel Shaffer, a “bright and cheerful tailor,” was ordered to ride the horse of an injured Confederate and, therefore, was concerned that the local citizens would think him to be a rebel.  Shaffer, along with the others except for Perry Rice who died on February 20, 1863,  was eventually released.  When Shaffer arrived home, he reported that one  hundred and thirty-one men had lived in a room of approximately 125 x 50 feet with the windows boarded and without fire, beds, tables, and chairs and with four half-candles to provide light in the evenings.  The men, who arrived there with only the clothing in which they had been captured, slept on rough army blankets or, if none were available, on the floor. Since George Rupley had had some money with him when he was captured, he could buy blankets.  The first one he bought he cut into two pieces and gave one-half to Joseph Winger.  The second one he cut in half and gave the pieces to Perry Rice and Daniel Shaffer. The food consisted of meat and bread, both seasoned with saltpeter.  When smallpox struck the prison, the men were transferred for a time to Castle Thunder nearby but were later returned to Libby Prison.  In Castle Thunder the situation was worse, as at Libby Prison the men could have food brought in from the outside. Living in fear that they would be sent farther south, the men spent long days in doing little except reading, gambling, and making objects out of bone. Since Daniel Shaffer, who carved a pipe from a small tree limb, knew how to sew,  he made clothing for the men out of army blankets.  When Shaffer returned to Mercersburg, he brought with him in addition to his carved pipe a rat-eaten Bible he had found in the prison and was wearing a suit he had made from an army blanket.

          Local citizens attempted to help.  On Christmas Eve in 1862 the townspeople presented a petition to Town Council asking that it raise money to “defray in part the expense of those five unfortunate men who thus suffer not only separation from home, but also the horrors of Libby Prison, Richmond.”  People were pleased when the town received a receipt for this money signed by Perry Rice but were later dismayed to learn that the receipt was a forgery and that the men had not received the money.  For these men October 10 was a long, torturous day.

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