09 - Friday, July 29, 1864 - The Battle of Mercersburg

By Joan C. McCulloh

In June and July in 1864 rumors swirled through the area that the Confederates would again invade.  When men who went to the Corner southwest of Mercersburg to look over possible roadwork heard rumors that the Confederates were coming toward town, they returned to town.  Then Constable George Wolfe and Robert S. Brownson, who had been chosen as captain of Co. C when it was formed in 1862 and who after his return home had resumed his practice of medicine, went to investigate.  They soon spied the approach of General John McCausland and what they soon recognized as about 2,900 men of the enemy. 

At that time Lt. H. T. McLean of the United States Sixth Cavalry and about twenty-two men were in Mercersburg as scouts.  As the Confederates entered town by what is now South Park Street, McLean’s men fired at them from a limekiln just west of the present Mercersburg Elementary School and about two hundred yards south of the Presbyterian Church.  As the Confederates returned fire, both sides exchanged volleys with the Union men emerging from and returning to the limekiln.  Dr.  Thomas Creigh, who as minister of the Presbyterian Church was particularly interested in the battle, noted “the rapid fire on both sides.” As the Union troops were outnumbered, they moved toward the corner of South Park and West Seminary Streets with the Confederates in pursuit.  Again the sides exchanged volleys.  Then on the Diamond both sides fired shots at each other again, and Dr. Creigh reported that “one {bullet} struck near our house,” located north of the Diamond. More of this running battle occurred at the bridge on what is now North Main Street and again at Fort Loudon Road.

McCausland’s occupation of the town was characterized by looting of the stores, as Dr. Creigh observed:  “They broke into the stores and did all the damage they could altho {sic} most of the merchants had removed their best goods.” McCausland’s men also accosted local citizens and demanded money and watches.  The Reverend John Buckley of the Methodist Church recalled:  “On the 3rd of July it was rumored by telegraph that the rebels were coming again and they did enter Maryland.  The whole country was kept in commotion by this until July 29 when some 3,000 men commanded by Genl McCausland a man of neither principle or character entered this place and ransacked every store, shop and horse-stable in this place, but the public had generally put their effects out of their way so that they could get but little.”

As some of McCausland’s men stayed in town all day, they filled the streets with terror as they rode their horses up and down the streets boisterously and at times insulted bystanders.  That night many of them camped north of town and the next morning, July 30, 1864, left for Chambersburg.  On that day McCausland’s troops burned the central part of Chambersburg.  Reverend Buckley stated: “They went into camp till 10 or 11 then proceeded to Chambersburg where the next morning by 9 A.M. they enveloped the town in flames destroying about 260 dwellings.”     

On Sunday, July 31, church services were brief as local residents heard that sixty of McCausland’s men were to return to Mercersburg in order to burn it also.  Since the people were understandably frightened as they knew what had happened in Chambersburg, they formed a guard, and the men armed themselves for resistance.  Reverend  Buckley reflected further:  “After this  terrible excitement the tide of war turned against the rebels in almost every engagement and the people became more settled.  But a woeful declension in religion prevailed….”

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