Confederate Destruction of Cumberland Valley Railroad Property in Pennsylvania

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
The Cumberland Valley Railroad between Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Hagerstown, Maryland was an important link serving commercial interests in the two decades leading up to the war, at which time it became a vital supply line for Union forces operating in the Shenandoah Valley. Thus it became an important strategic military target of the Army of Northern Virginia during its invasions and raids of the North between 1862 and 1864. In mid- to late June 1863, when a portion of that army was concentrating in the vicinity of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, a number of commands were put to work damaging and destroying everything associated with the railroad. Participants collectively reported that at least seven miles of track were taken up, apparently including most of the stretch between Chambersburg and Scotland Station, which was five miles to the northeast, along with a portion of track south of Chambersburg. Railroad support facilities located in the larger towns like Chambersburg and Greencastle were likewise targeted for destruction.

The following extracts from primary sources detail this undertaking, and the attachment helps visualize the area, using the 1858 map of Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

June 16, a railroad bridge and telegraph connections were destroyed by our men [Jenkins cavalry at Scotland Station, the bridge spanning Conococheague Creek]. (Jenkin’s Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign, diary of Lt. Hermann Schuricht; 16th Virginia Cavalry, Virginia Regimental Histories Series)

June 24, three miles from Chambersburg on the road to Harrisburg. Our troops are engaged in destroying the railroad track near here. (Letter of John Lewis Cochran, Provost Marshal to Lt. Gen. Longstreet)

June 27, came to Greencastle, the Harrisburg R. R. runs down main street. The depot on the north side of town was burned and the R. R. in several places. (Diary of Private Thomas L. Ware, Company G, 15th Georgia)

June 29, near Chambersburg, our regiment and the 17th [Georgia] with others of the division sent to tear up and burn the R. R. We tore up all the ties and piled the iron on it and burnt four miles [of] the R. R. We burnt the bridge across the river at Scotland Station [located] five miles [from] Shippensburg. The bridge was first burnt by our advance cavalry [Jenkins] and rebuilt … we returned … and burnt it again. It was a very costly one, 50 feet high and 50 yards long. We did not burn the depot. (Diary of Private Thomas L. Ware, Company G, 15th Georgia)

June 29, destroyed several miles of the valley railroad. (Company D, 8th South Carolina, Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ed. by Janet B. Hewitt, part II, vol. 64, serial no. 76, Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1998)

June 29, near Chambersburg, we have got to take up the railroad. /// June 30, 35 men detailed to take up the railroad. We took up two or three miles and burned it up. /// July 1, nearly all of our division pulling up railroads and destroying public property in Chambersburg. (Diary of George P. Clarke, Company I, 7th Virginia)

June 30, near Chambersburg, today we are tearing up the railroad. (Papers of Bishop John Cowper Granberry, Brig. Gen. Garnett’s Brigade)

June 30, Chambersburg, rebels tore up railroad track and burned crossties, have everything ready to set fire to warehouses and machine shops. (Diary of Rachel Cormany)

June 30, moved back about two miles this side of Chambersburg, occupied in destroying the Hagerstown and Chambersburg railroad. (Itinerary of Brig. Gen. Kemper’s Brigade)

July 1, Chambersburg, while waiting to be relieved the men of Pickett’s division were employed in tearing up the track of the Cumberland Valley railroad, which was thoroughly done for a mile or more, piling and firing the ties, heating the rails and bending them around trees. (The Story of a Confederate Boy in the Civil War, by David E. Johnston, 7th Virginia Infantry Regiment)

July 1, detached and marched unarmed into town to destroy railroad property, batter down public buildings and break up machinery. (Supplement to the Official Records, Companies A and G, 8th Virginia)

July 1, ordered by [Brig. Gen.] Garnett to take a detachment and destroy the railroad shops there; pierced walls with iron rails, ruined a large turntable by heating and warping it. (Lt. Col. Edmund Berkeley, 8th Virginia, Confederate Veteran magazine, vol. 19, p. 37)
 

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John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
The Cumberland Valley Railroad between Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Hagerstown, Maryland was an important link serving commercial interests in the two decades leading up to the war, at which time it became a vital supply line for Union forces operating in the Shenandoah Valley. Thus it became an important strategic military target of the Army of Northern Virginia during its invasions and raids of the North between 1862 and 1864. In mid- to late June 1863, when a portion of that army was concentrating in the vicinity of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, a number of commands were put to work damaging and destroying everything associated with the railroad. Participants collectively reported that at least seven miles of track were taken up, apparently including most of the stretch between Chambersburg and Scotland Station, which was five miles to the northeast, along with a portion of track south of Chambersburg. Railroad support facilities located in the larger towns like Chambersburg and Greencastle were likewise targeted for destruction.

The following extracts from primary sources detail this undertaking, and the attachment helps visualize the area, using the 1858 map of Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

June 16, a railroad bridge and telegraph connections were destroyed by our men [Jenkins cavalry at Scotland Station, the bridge spanning Conococheague Creek]. (Jenkin’s Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign, diary of Lt. Hermann Schuricht; 16th Virginia Cavalry, Virginia Regimental Histories Series)

June 24, three miles from Chambersburg on the road to Harrisburg. Our troops are engaged in destroying the railroad track near here. (Letter of John Lewis Cochran, Provost Marshal to Lt. Gen. Longstreet)

June 27, came to Greencastle, the Harrisburg R. R. runs down main street. The depot on the north side of town was burned and the R. R. in several places. (Diary of Private Thomas L. Ware, Company G, 15th Georgia)

June 29, near Chambersburg, our regiment and the 17th [Georgia] with others of the division sent to tear up and burn the R. R. We tore up all the ties and piled the iron on it and burnt four miles [of] the R. R. We burnt the bridge across the river at Scotland Station [located] five miles [from] Shippensburg. The bridge was first burnt by our advance cavalry [Jenkins] and rebuilt … we returned … and burnt it again. It was a very costly one, 50 feet high and 50 yards long. We did not burn the depot. (Diary of Private Thomas L. Ware, Company G, 15th Georgia)

June 29, destroyed several miles of the valley railroad. (Company D, 8th South Carolina, Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ed. by Janet B. Hewitt, part II, vol. 64, serial no. 76, Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1998)

June 29, near Chambersburg, we have got to take up the railroad. /// June 30, 35 men detailed to take up the railroad. We took up two or three miles and burned it up. /// July 1, nearly all of our division pulling up railroads and destroying public property in Chambersburg. (Diary of George P. Clarke, Company I, 7th Virginia)

June 30, near Chambersburg, today we are tearing up the railroad. (Papers of Bishop John Cowper Granberry, Brig. Gen. Garnett’s Brigade)

June 30, Chambersburg, rebels tore up railroad track and burned crossties, have everything ready to set fire to warehouses and machine shops. (Diary of Rachel Cormany)

June 30, moved back about two miles this side of Chambersburg, occupied in destroying the Hagerstown and Chambersburg railroad. (Itinerary of Brig. Gen. Kemper’s Brigade)

July 1, Chambersburg, while waiting to be relieved the men of Pickett’s division were employed in tearing up the track of the Cumberland Valley railroad, which was thoroughly done for a mile or more, piling and firing the ties, heating the rails and bending them around trees. (The Story of a Confederate Boy in the Civil War, by David E. Johnston, 7th Virginia Infantry Regiment)

July 1, detached and marched unarmed into town to destroy railroad property, batter down public buildings and break up machinery. (Supplement to the Official Records, Companies A and G, 8th Virginia)

July 1, ordered by [Brig. Gen.] Garnett to take a detachment and destroy the railroad shops there; pierced walls with iron rails, ruined a large turntable by heating and warping it. (Lt. Col. Edmund Berkeley, 8th Virginia, Confederate Veteran magazine, vol. 19, p. 37)
I have always came to believe that after Gettysburg that the ANV returned to Virginia and that Meade only sent a token force to follow them to a sure that they could find their way back .There were skirmishes but no major conflicts.Now I read that it was Meade that went North and that Lee followed him.Longstreet with his corp was sent to aid Bragg ,terrible error why not Hill. Then Meade sent Xl and Xll to Chickamauga.These movements depleted both armies .As stated I always believed that the ANV retreated but now it would seem as Meade and his army retreated north and the ANV followed them.Can you suggestI a book which covers that period after Gettysburg? I am about to read Jeffery Hunt's ,Meade and Lee at Bristoe -The Problem of Command and Strategy after Gettysburg from Brandy Station to Buckcan Races Aug.1 to Oct.30,1863.I have this notion that its is going to be as difficult to read as remembering the title.The question for me is if Lee did move North why has it always been shown that he retreated and why would Meade move North as to appear in retreat after defeating the ANV?
 

Gettysburg Guide #154

Sergeant
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 30, 2019
I have always came to believe that after Gettysburg that the ANV returned to Virginia and that Meade only sent a token force to follow them to a sure that they could find their way back .There were skirmishes but no major conflicts.Now I read that it was Meade that went North and that Lee followed him.Longstreet with his corp was sent to aid Bragg ,terrible error why not Hill. Then Meade sent Xl and Xll to Chickamauga.These movements depleted both armies .As stated I always believed that the ANV retreated but now it would seem as Meade and his army retreated north and the ANV followed them.Can you suggestI a book which covers that period after Gettysburg? I am about to read Jeffery Hunt's ,Meade and Lee at Bristoe -The Problem of Command and Strategy after Gettysburg from Brandy Station to Buckcan Races Aug.1 to Oct.30,1863.I have this notion that its is going to be as difficult to read as remembering the title.The question for me is if Lee did move North why has it always been shown that he retreated and why would Meade move North as to appear in retreat after defeating the ANV?
When you say that Meade and Lee both moved north following the Battle of Gettysburg, it is a bit puzzling to understand exactly what movements you are referencing. When Lee pulled out of Gettysburg on the evening of July 4, the ANV moved westward trough some mountain passes and into the Cumberland Valley. They then turned southward and into and across Maryland. Upon arriving at Williamsport, MD the Confederates found the way blocked by a rain swollen Potomac River.

Meade did endeavor to pursue. Union cavalry and infantry engaged the tail of one of Lee's retreating columns on the night of July 4 at Monterey Gap. Some Confederate wagons were captured, but the Confederates fought an excellent delaying action and the main body of the column got away. Meade's orders from General Halleck were to be sure to cover Washington. Therefore, rather than chase directly after the retreating ANV, Meade moved first south and then west through Maryland to try to cut off the retreat.

Meade believed he had the ANV trapped against the Potomac on July 13 and was disinclined to attack the defenses that the Confederates had put up over the course of the prior 24 hours without better preparation. When the AOP attacked the next morning, they discovered that most of the ANV had escaped across some makeshift pontoon brigades overnight. Author Eric Wittenburg has a book about the period from July 4 to July 14, which is entitled "One Continuous Fight". The title is self explanatory and right on point.

After July 14, Meade and the AOP also moved into Virginia. For the balance of the year, Lee and Meade maneuvered their respective armies in a kind of dance, each trying to get a strategic advantage over the other. To over simplify things, there were times when Meade maneuvered somewhat northward to pull his army away from a perceived trap that Lee was trying to lay. But that was all part of the chess match that two fine generals were waging against one another. Meade never pulled out of Virginia.

The last move in the chess match was probably Mine Run. Here it seemed that the AOP finally had a chance to outflank the ANV. However, the Confederates had erected a solid breastworks overnight and Meade called off the attack. Some criticize this decision, but most recognize that an attempted attack on the well fortified position would have been a disaster.

At one point, Meade wanted to move towards Fredricksburg, but he was ordered by the authorities in Washington not to do so. Had this been permitted, it is altogether probable that the first big battle in the East in 1864 might have been on more open ground instead of in the thickets of the Wilderness. It is one of the many "what ifs" of the war.
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
When you say that Meade and Lee both moved north following the Battle of Gettysburg, it is a bit puzzling to understand exactly what movements you are referencing. When Lee pulled out of Gettysburg on the evening of July 4, the ANV moved westward trough some mountain passes and into the Cumberland Valley. They then turned southward and into and across Maryland. Upon arriving at Williamsport, MD the Confederates found the way blocked by a rain swollen Potomac River.

Meade did endeavor to pursue. Union cavalry and infantry engaged the tail of one of Lee's retreating columns on the night of July 4 at Monterey Gap. Some Confederate wagons were captured, but the Confederates fought an excellent delaying action and the main body of the column got away. Meade's orders from General Halleck were to be sure to cover Washington. Therefore, rather than chase directly after the retreating ANV, Meade moved first south and then west through Maryland to try to cut off the retreat.

Meade believed he had the ANV trapped against the Potomac on July 13 and was disinclined to attack the defenses that the Confederates had put up over the course of the prior 24 hours without better preparation. When the AOP attacked the next morning, they discovered that most of the ANV had escaped across some makeshift pontoon brigades overnight. Author Eric Wittenburg has a book about the period from July 4 to July 14, which is entitled "One Continuous Fight". The title is self explanatory and right on point.

After July 14, Meade and the AOP also moved into Virginia. For the balance of the year, Lee and Meade maneuvered their respective armies in a kind of dance, each trying to get a strategic advantage over the other. To over simplify things, there were times when Meade maneuvered somewhat northward to pull his army away from a perceived trap that Lee was trying to lay. But that was all part of the chess match that two fine generals were waging against one another. Meade never pulled out of Virginia.

The last move in the chess match was probably Mine Run. Here it seemed that the AOP finally had a chance to outflank the ANV. However, the Confederates had erected a solid breastworks overnight and Meade called off the attack. Some criticize this decision, but most recognize that an attempted attack on the well fortified position would have been a disaster.

At one point, Meade wanted to move towards Fredricksburg, but he was ordered by the authorities in Washington not to do so. Had this been permitted, it is altogether probable that the first big battle in the East in 1864 might have been on more open ground instead of in the thickets of the Wilderness. It is one of the many "what ifs" of the war.
Thank you for this information This leads to another inquiry,It would appear that Meade was doing what Lincoln and the war department wanted him to do ,to PRESS LEE .and finish destroying the ANV.The issue was that Lee refused to cooperate. by his movements to evade or to have traps set that Meade and his generals would not play .Then what else could Meade have done after doing more than any previous commander had achieved? Was there personal issues or did Stanton want Grant from the West.?
 

Gettysburg Guide #154

Sergeant
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 30, 2019
Thank you for this information This leads to another inquiry,It would appear that Meade was doing what Lincoln and the war department wanted him to do ,to PRESS LEE .and finish destroying the ANV.The issue was that Lee refused to cooperate. by his movements to evade or to have traps set that Meade and his generals would not play .Then what else could Meade have done after doing more than any previous commander had achieved? Was there personal issues or did Stanton want Grant from the West.?
In my personal opinion, those who criticize Meade for not bagging Lee's entire army in the aftermath of Gettysburg fail to take into account some of the realities of the situation. Meade had lost the services of 3 of his corps commanders in the battle (and in the case of Hancock's 2d Corps, Gibbon, who should have been next in line, was also wounded). Two divisions and a dozen brigades in the AOP had lost their commanders either killed or wounded (some brigades lost more than one commander), and there were severe casualties in the rank and file. Moreover, to clear the roads for quicker movement of troops, food and fodder had mostly been left behind in Maryland. The soldiers need to be re-supplied.

Politically, the wounded General Daniel Sickles (sans one leg) was back in Washington by July 5. He was no doubt already beginning to spin his version of the battle, wherein he was the hero, and Meade was allegedly getting ready to retreat. Meade was also hampered to some degree by his Chief of Staff, Gen. Dan. Butterfield, a leftover from Hooker's command who seems to have been hoping to see the return of Hooker. Meade, who was appointed to command of the AOP on June 28, had not yet had time to get his own staff properly into place.
 
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