Jubal Early Recalls His Role in the Burning of Chambersburg
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“I have to inform you that the Town of Chambersburg was burned on the same day in which the demand on it was made by McCausland and refused”
Jubal Early, the former Confederate general, recalls his role in the burning of Chambersburg to magazine editor, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Edward Bok. JUBAL EARLY.
Autograph Letter Signed to Edward W. Bok, Lynchburg, Va., June 1, 1882, 2 pp., 8 x 10 in.
Lynchburg VA June 1st 1882
In reply to your enquiries I have to inform you that the Town of Chambersburg was burned on the same day in which the demand on it was made by McCausland and refused – It was ascertained That a force of the enemy’s cavalry was approaching, and there was no time for delay – Moreover the refusal was peremptory, and there was no reason for delay, unless the demand was a mere idle threat –
As to the other enquiry – I had no knowledge of what amount of money there might be in Chambersburg – I knew that it was a town of some Twelve Thousand inhabitants – The Town of Fredrick in Maryland, which was a much smaller town than Chambersburg, had in June very promptly responded to my demand on it for $200.000 – Some of the inhabitants, who were friendly to us, expressed a regret that I had not put my demand at $500,000. There was one or more National Banks at Chambersburg, and the Town ought to have been able to raise the sum I demanded − I soon heard that the refusal was based on inability to pay such a sum, and there was no offer to pay any sum. The value of the houses destroyed & h…[?], with their contents, was fully $100,000 in gold, and at the time I made the demand the price of gold in greenbacks had very nearly reached $3.00, and was going up rapidly. Hence it was that I required the $500,000 in greenbacks, if the gold was not paid. To provide against any further depreciation of the paper money.
I would have been fully justified by the laws of retaliation in war, in burning the town, without giving the inhabitants the opportunity of redeeming in.
Very Respectfully Yours
J A Early
Edward W. Bok Esqr.
Chambersburg was a frequent stop for Confederate forces, first invaded (and raided) by Jeb Stuart in 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia then passed through on its way to Gettysburg in 1863. The next year, on July 30, 1864, Early ordered Brigadier General John McCausland to demand a ransom of $500,000 in “greenbacks” or $100,000 in gold from the citizens of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. When they failed to take the demand seriously (in fact many laughed at the captured and then released banker who was sent by the Confederate officers to deliver the terms) McCausland, acting on Early’s orders, burned a large portion of the town. Nearly 600 buildings were destroyed. Some Confederate soldiers looted and burned individual homes after demanding, and often receiving, ransoms from owners. General Early’s primary interest was not the ransom. Instead, he hoped the population, which included many Confederate sympathizers in Maryland and Western Pennsylvania, would blame the pillaging and destruction of the Shenandoah Valley on Union armies. This letter makes plain he never regretted the action even though it backfired terribly: enraged citizens killed five of his cavalry and photographs of the ruined town circulated in the North causing many to call for reprisals against Southern civilians. Indeed, General Sheridan did just that, again burning farms and barns in the Shenandoah after crushing Early’s forces and completely decimating the agricultural economy of an entire region.
The purpose of the correspondence between Confederate Generals and Mr. Bok was Mr. Bok was to acquire autographs, and valuable Civil War information for [deletion] “The American Pantheon,” a project he was clearly excited about, but that never seemed to materialize.
Jubal Anderson Early (1816-1894), graduated from West Point in 1837 and served briefly in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and the Mexican War (1846-1848) prior to the Civil War. At first against secession, Early became a fervent supporter of the Confederacy. He is credited with several victories, including the First and Second Battles of Bull Run. Infamous for his crude language and habits, Early was notoriously called “Lee’s Bad Old Man.” Early never surrendered to Union forces, and evaded capture in his home state of Virginia before fleeing in exile to Mexico and later Canada. President Andrew Johnson pardoned Early in 1868 even though he never took the required oaths of loyalty to the Union.
Edward William Bok (1863–1930) was a Dutch born American editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. He was born in Den Helder, The Netherlands. At the age of six, he immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, USA, and became an office boy with the Western Union Telegraph Company in 1876. In 1882, he began work with Henry Holt and Company, and then, in 1884, he became involved with Charles Scribner’s Sons, where he eventually became its advertising manager. From 1884 until 1887, Bok was the editor of The Brooklyn Magazine. His 1920 autobiography, The Americanization of Edward Bok, won the Gold Medal of the Academy of Political and Social Science and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. Edward W. Bok died on January 9, 1930.
Lossing, B. (1878). The Pictorial Field Book of The Civil War in the United States of America
(Vols. 1-3) New Haven, CT: Geo. S. Lester.