Historical Markers
Messersmith's Woods Historical Marker
Mouse over for marker text

Messersmith's Woods

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
US 30, Chambersburg

Dedication Date:
August 20, 1953

Behind the Marker

In 1863 the site of this marker was a pastoral landscape, just beyond the edge of Chambersburg. . There were no motels or shops, no clogged highways or hospital.
Robert E Lee in battle dress.
Robert E Lee in battle dress.
A hundred yards or more south of US 30 was a grove of trees owned by George R. Messersmith. A brook flowed through the woods, creating a bucolic setting that appealed to picnickers. Here, Chambersburgers gathered to celebrate the nation's birthday. Young couples in love promenaded around the area after alighting from their horse-drawn buggies.

After the markerConfederate Conference in the Chambersburg square, General Robert E. Lee, on June 26, chose these woods as the site of his headquarters. General Ambrose Powell Hill's Third Corps moved out the Chambersburg Pike and went into camp between Lee's headquarters and Fayetteville. General James Longstreet's three divisions of the First Corps, which had followed Hill's men into Pennsylvania, passed through Chambersburg to camps along the banks of Conococheague Creek northeast of town.

By the evening of June 27, then, all nine of Lee's infantry divisions were in Pennsylvania, six of them within a few miles of army headquarters. Two of markerRichard Ewell's divisions were heading for Carlisle and markerJubal Early's men had crossed the mountains, heading toward York.
Detailed drawing of the famous photograph of Longstreet.
James Longstreet

As he delayed in Messersmith's Woods, however, Lee was not happy. Although General Albert Jenkins and his cavalry were leading Ewell's advance up the Cumberland Valley, markerJeb Stuart, his cavalry commander, was missing, along with 4,000 of his men. Where had they gone?

The Confederate army needed cavalry out in front of its infantry divisions to locate the enemy and provide the intelligence Lee needed to plan his campaign. Before leaving Virginia, Lee had given Stuart discretionary orders about his route into Pennsylvania. Taking three brigades of his best horsemen – he left two behind to cover Lee's army as it crossed the Potomac–Stuart had disappeared. But where had he gone? Lee was perplexed, annoyed, and worried.

He did not know that Stuart, acting within his discretionary orders, had decided to ride behind the Yankee army, ford the Potomac River, and then head north to link up with Ewell's corps as it moved toward Harrisburg and York. Fate, however, had not been kind to the Confederacy and Jeb Stuart.

As his men started their ride, the Army of the Potomac began to move from its camps in northern Virginia, taking the roads that Stuart had intended to use. Forced to cross the river closer to Washington than he had intended, Stuart then tarried to interdict canal, rail, and telegraphic lines. His ride through Maryland was further delayed when he ran into probing Union cavalrymen. On June 30, troopers in blue and gray clashed in the markerBattle of Hanover, further delaying Stuart's attempt to find Lee's army.
Oil on canvas of General Robert E. Lee. Portrait with arms folded.
General Robert E. Lee.

As he guided the movements of his troops from his tent here in Messersmith's woods, Lee met with citizens who were brave enough to voice a complaint. The thousands of Rebel soldiers encamped near Chambersburg needed food, forage for horses, and medical items. Lee had issued strict orders against pillaging, so when Confederate officers made the rounds, looking for needed items, they gave the owners receipts for confiscated goods. But they paid for them in Confederate money.

On June 28, Mrs. Ellen McLellan visited the general to complain that the poorer families in town no longer had the flour they needed to survive. Lee, ever the humanitarian even in the midst of war, was moved by the woman's story. After hesitantly giving her his autograph, he issued an order to have some barrels of flour delivered from a nearby mill that his troops had taken.

That night, Lee was awakened by Major John Fairfax of General Longstreet's staff. A short time before, Rebel pickets had intercepted a man named Harrison, one of Longstreet's spies, who had just passed through the Army of the Potomac on his return from Washington. And Harrison had startling news-the Yankees had crossed the Potomac and were in Maryland, heading north! Lee now knew that he had to call back his troops marching towards Harrisburg in order to concentrate his army for a battle with the advancing Union army. Orders went out the next morning. The Confederate invasion had just crested.
Back to Top