Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Blog Archive

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chambersburg / S.S. Institute Part # 1

PA Advanced Alliance Geography Institute
Journey Through Hallowed Ground
Summer 2009

Rushing Waters = Mill Power
Today we were headed off to historic Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, a settlement founded by the Chambersburg family where the Conococheague and Falling Spring Creeks come together. Benjamin Chambers took advantage of the fast moving water to power a grist and saw mill. The town grew up around him and was originally known as Falling Spring. The community grew to about 3,000 residents prior to the French and Indian War. However, the population declined by 90% during the conflict because the settlement was considered beyond the frontier line of safety. Fighting did occur nearby and Benjamin Chambersburg led the local militia in the town's defense.

Faded Colonial Grave Stones
The history of Chambersburg is often associated with violent events. In addition to the French and Indian War, the area was connected to Cresap's War, Pontiac's Rebellion, Burnt Cabins, Enoch Brown School Massacre, John Brown's Raid, and the Civil War. However, the one thing that most people associate with Chambersburg was that it was the only town north of the Mason Dixon Line to be burned by Confederate troops during the Civil War. In July of 1864 a Confederate detachment of cavalry forces led by General John McCausland invaded the town and demanded a ransom to spare it from being burned. Every town along their route was given the same ultimatum and every town scraped the money together to pay the ransom but one... Chambersburg!

The Burning of Chambersburg
(Painting Credit / Ron Lesser)
The town elders thought the price tag was just too high at $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in United States currency. They didn't really think they would go through with it and called their bluff... Guess what... they were dead wrong and the town went up in flames across several square blocks, completely destroying over 500 buildings in the center of town. The only building spared was the Masonic Temple because General McCausland was a Mason and did not want to break his oath to the Freemasonry, so the temple was untouched by the torch. If the town would have known this in advance, maybe they could have put a Masonic symbol on every building in town! Rumor has it, the elders had the gold but just didn't want to part with it. Remember kids, it doesn't pay to be greedy! (Painting: The Burning of Chambersburg by Ron Lesser)

Chambersburg Founders Statue
One house that was spared from fire was Mary Ritner's Boarding House where John Brown had previously stayed and planned much of his famous failed raid at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Had the Confederate troops known of the connection, they surely would have sought the house out and had it destroyed. Chambersburg, being located on the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland, was frequented by both runaway slaves and slave catchers. The Underground Railroad was active in the area and probably a reason why John Brown came to this town to plan out his scheme to liberate the slaves of southern states. Today the house is known as the John Brown House and you can tour this restored property that helped spark the Civil War.

 Boarding House Exterior
John Brown rented an upstairs bedroom in the summer of 1859 under the alias, Dr. Isaac Smith and claimed to work in the iron business. While at the boarding house, several key abolitionist co-conspirators visited Brown at the house where they worked to secure weapons for their planned raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. They were financed by a group of wealthy abolitionists from New England, known as the Secret Six, who provided funding for their cohort operations. The weapons, along with iron working tools to help cover up their activities, were stored in wooden crates in local warehouses.

Boarding House Parlor
The think tank of the house was the center parlor on the first floor (shown above) where they key elements of the plan were most likely discussed and worked out in detail. Frederick Douglass is said to have met Brown at a nearby abandoned stone quarry one night near Chambersburg where Brown laid out his plan of attack. Douglass saw the surrounding steep mountains of Harper's Ferry as a natural fence, preventing escape. He labeled the plan a suicide mission and refused to participate in Brown's plan. Not to be discouraged, John Brown continued putting the pieces of his puzzle together and eventually moved his weapon stores to the Kennedy Farm in Maryland where he would collect his followers and later launch his assault.

Later we will visit Harper's Ferry and see how John Brown's determined mindset would divide the country further and move the country closer to Civil War. Stay tuned...


Journey Through Hallowed Ground Series
Part # 1 / John Brown’s Raid / Chambersburg

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Series
Part # 2 / John Brown’s Raid / Harper’s Ferry

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Series
Part # 3 / Lincoln’s Cottage at The Soldier’s Home

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Series
Part # 4 / Lincoln in Gettysburg / The Gettysburg Address

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Series
Part # 5 / Gettysburg Town and National Battlefield Park


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