Original Document
Original Document
Report of Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch, U.S. Army, commanding, August 8, 1864.

Department of the Susquehanna, of the burning of Chambersburg, and c.,


Harrisburg, Pa., August 8, 1864.

GENERAL: I have the honor to report that on the 27th ultimo, Brigadier-General Averell, of the Department of West Virginia, with his force lay at Hagerstown, Md., covering the several fords of the Potomac in that vicinity. At his request I sent him my mounted men, consisting of two companies of 100-days' men, retaining under of forty cavalry from Carlisle Barracks, that covered the roads leading toward Mercersburg, and Caprt. R. M. Evans' company of Independent Philadelphia Scouts, an unpaid force that watched in the vicinity of Emmitsburg. At Chambersburg, there was part of an infantry company, under Capt. T.S. McGowan, and a piece of field artillery.

On the 28th six companies of the 100-day's infantry that were called to Chambersburg were directed by orders to be sent to Hagerstown where they arrived on the morning of the 29th. After midday of this date general Averell fell back to Greencastle, where I had previously detached fifteen men and an officer from Lieut. H. T. McLean's party. This latter officer had pickets near McCoy's Ferry, which were driven, about 3 p. m., back to Mercersburg. The enemy's advance, 200 men, charged through the town, forced the small party to fall back after a severe skirmish. Dark coming on, a picket was left at Bridgeport, while Lieut. H.T. McLean fell aback to Saint Thomas, seven miles from Chambersburg, on the Pittsburg pike. In course of the day and evening all of the horses in the Valley, amounting to several thousand, were moved north by my order, and the trains of General Averell, with those at Hagerstown, refugees, and c., came through and encamped near Chambersburg. I notified General Averell that I had no force to protect them. That officer was duly notified of Lieut. H. T. McLean's movements as well as that I had no force to protect his trains.

The following dispatch was sent:


Chambersburg, July 29, 1864 - 10:15. p. m.
General W.W. Averell,
Greencastle :
Lieutenant McLean was driven out of Mercersburg by about 200 of the enemy. A force of about 400 and two pieces of artillery afterward came up.

At 12.30 a. m. July 30 a dispatch from Lieut. H. t. McLean was received that his pickets at Bridgeport had been driven in. I immediately notified General Averell as follows:

CHAMBERSBURG, July 30, 1864
Brig.Gen. W. W. Averell,
Greencastle :
Lieutenant McLean's pickets have been driven in at Bridgeport, on the road leading from Mercersburg to Saint Thomas. The force via Mercersburg has at least two pieces of artillery.
D. N. Couch

At 2 a. m. a verbal message from Lieut. H. T. McLean informed that he was being passed in from Saint Thomas.

The following dispatch by telegraph was sent:
Chambersburg, July 30, 1864-2 a. m.
General W. W. Averell,
Greencastle :
My force, Lieutenant McLean, is being driven back in from Saint Thomas, and falling back upon Chambersburg.
D. N. Couch

At 1 a. m. Maj. John S. Schultze, assistant adjutant-general, gave orders to Captain Brow, quartermaster in charge of the train above mentioned, to move via Shippensburg north. At 3 a. m. the enemy was near the town and I directed Maj. John S. Schultze to so notify General Averell and ask him what he intended to do. No replies has been received from that officer, and he subsequently informed me that he did not receive my dispatches of the enemy's advancing until 3.45 a. m. Upon finding the enemy so near, in order to save the trains, including those of the railroad, as well as to give warning to General Averell, one piece of artillery was directed to take position on the Pittsburg pike, a mile from town, covered by the infantry, about thirty-five men, and the calvary, twenty-four men, which was my whole strength, excepting one gun, ordered to cover the rear of the trains, then not all on the road. The gun that was on the pike opened on the enemy about 3.30 a. m. Maj. C. H. Mcneely, commissary of musters, was present to carry out my instructions. I respectfully call attention to the report of the Lieut. H.T. McLeans, commanding officer inclosed.

The enemy was held in check about two hours, my people slowly reitring through the town, being careful not to fire a shot within its limits, in order that there should be no excuse for firing the buildings or committing any barbarities upon the people. The enemy, consisting of Brigadier-General McCausland's brigade of five regiments, and four pieces of artillery, and Brig. Gen. b. T. Johnson's brigade of two regiments, four battalions, with two pieces of artillery, numbering 2,600 in all, formed line of battle on the fair grounds, men dismounted, and after firing two or three cannon shots into the town, and dismounted men. It is certain that both McCausland and Johnson were present.

The chief burgess being absent, some of the principled citizens were arrested by Major Gilmore and notified that by order of Major-General Early $100,00 in gold or $500,000 in currency was required to ransom the town. He was told by these gentlemen that there was not probably $50,000 in currency at hand ; to which he replied that "The town must be burnt." Details were made and placed under charge of officers and fires kindled, it is said, almost simultaneously in fifty different places. In some instances the first warning to occupants of buildings came from the fire and smoke beneath them, thus barely escaping with their lives. Some of the officers and men refused, or were persuaded not to carry out their barbarous orders, and assisted people in fleeing from the flames, but generally an inhuman and savage ferocity characterized their actions. The sufferers, with few exceptions, only saved the clothing on their persons. Thus was consummated this premeditated deed of barbarity. At about 11 a. m. the enemy drew in their pickets, and a little later their pillaging and burning parties retired towards McConnellsburg; General Averell entered three hours after from the direction of Fayetteville.

A lieutenant from Georgia, attached to a Virginia regiment, who deserted to our lines, states that it was understood by their troops that all buildings were to be burned from the moment Pennsylvania soil was touched.

Accompanying I invite attention to a telegram to General Averell with his reply, also a statement made by an intelligent sergeant on duty at these headquarters who was in Chambersburg during the rebel occupation, and part of the time a prisoner.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant.
Major-General, Commanding Department

Credit: Report of Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch, U.S. Army, commanding. From Official Records vol 70, pp.333-337.
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