Mercersburg Home

Historical Perspective

Although much has been written about Stuart's '62 Raid into Pennsylvania, and the subsequent political repercussions, little has been noted about the role the town of Mercersburg and its environs played, unwittingly, in the success of that raid.

The Event

Early on the 10th of October 1862, Stuart and 1800 mounted cavalry and four cannons crossed into Pennsylvania and by 12:00 noon they entered Mercersburg. At 2:00 o'clock they left Mercersburg, taking with them a number hostages, leather goods including hundreds of pairs of shoes, and hundreds of horses from nearby farms. Twenty seven hours later, after stopping in Chambersburg, they slipped back across the Potomac with hundreds of horses, and uniforms and shoes for over 2,000 soldiers.


In 1861, the year before J.E.B. Stuart's Raid through Mercersburg, the war had not gone particularly well for the Union. Following the Union surrender at Fort Sumter, Confederate forces routed an overconfident Union force at Manassas. The early optimism at the yet to be completed "White House" had turned to concern and President Lincoln's, political fortunes, were shaky at best.

By the fall of '62, however, the fortunes of war had changed. Grant had prevailed at Shiloh and in September, at the battle of Antietam, although each side suffered staggering casualties, the Union, by most accounts, "Won" the day, and had regained the their momentum.

Although shocked and saddened by the loss of life at Antietam, Lincoln was encouraged by the progress of the Union forces. He implored his Commander, General George McClellan, to pursue Lee, who had retreated, into Virginia.

General McClellan did not. Being a cautious man, and one who would rather not lose than win, McClellan "waited", as he told President Lincoln, "for the right time, to strike". Lincoln was livid, but always the diplomat, said of McClellan, "he is a fine engineer, but he prefers a stationary engine".

General Robert E. Lee, in the meantime, surprised, that he was not pursued by McClellan, sent General J.E.B. Stuart into Pennsylvania and behind Union lines, to gather information about the location of the Union forces, destroy a major railroad bridge near Chambersburg, and procure much needed supplies for his Army.

Stuart knew that the Union Army was on high alert. And, although highly confident of his success, he knew southern Pennsylvania was rife with Union patrols and that once he crossed into Pennsylvania it would be only a matter of time before he was discovered. Therefore, it was, he believed, imperative to his success that he commence his raid with as much cover as he could and "telegraph" as little information about his route and point of return.

Stuart knew too that the fertile land of the Cumberland Valley and its industrious towns would be important to the success of his planned incursion into Pennsylvania. Traveling light and without replacement horses, Stuart knew his troopers and light artillery would find fresh horses on Pennsylvania farms and sufficient supplies over the course of the raid.

In addition to the needs of his cavalry, he expected that Mercersburg and the Federal Depot at Chambersburg would provide shoes and clothing for Lee's Army.

In fact, the farms of Pennsylvania were so plentiful that Stuart's cavalry took over 1,000 horses - enabling Stuart and his men to cover over 100 miles in less than 36 hours. More important, because of the ready availability of plow horses, the horse artillery was able to kept pace with the calvary and was available to provide timely and needed cover fire when Stuart was re-crossing the Potomac.

There is evidence, also, that Mercersburg not only provided supplies to Stuart's forces but the "plan" for their pillaging of some of the countryside. Documents indicate that before the Raid, Stuart had knowledge of a highly detailed county map held by a citizen of Mercersburg. It is believed that this map, which "located" every farm and public office, was very valuable to his troopers in their "sweep" of horses and supplies, enabling them to quickly locate the most likely prospects.

It's almost impossible for us today to imagine the gravity of Stuart's Raid to the population of Pennsylvania. The shock to the residents was palpable. Although there was no horrible loss of life, Stuart's action struck fear, for the first time, into the hearts of the populations of the North, who thought the war was . . . "somewhere" . . . south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Further, by invading Pennsylvania and returning almost unopposed, Stuart humiliated the Union military command.

It was the effect of Stuart's Raid through Pennsylvania on Washington and President Lincoln that had the most lasting effect from an historical point of view. As most civil wars, this was not an entirely popular war to begin with. Many state representatives were critical of Lincoln's leadership and used the failures of the military, like Stuart's Raid, to further their attack on his policies.

The events of October 10th were the last straw for Lincoln. In the end, Lincoln felt that McClellan's caution and lack of determination was the reason for Stuart's success, so on November 5th 1862, Lincoln dismissed General McClellan as Commander of the Army of the Potomac.

Lincoln's subsequent appointments, ending with General Grant, pursued the war with a vigor and determination that was sorely needed -- and fundamentally changed the way the war was fought in '63 and '64.

In the end, the merchants of Mercersburg and its fertile environs, contributed directly to the success of Stuart's Raid, although unwittingly and indirectly to the dismissal of McClellan and to the wars outcome.

Another Historical Perspective

After the Raid -- A Prisoner's Personal Account

Click here to read a personal account of Stuart's raid after the cavalry left the town of Mercersburg. It is from a Philadelphia paper. "The Daily Evening Bulletin" . . Tuesday,October 28, 1862. It is transcribed verbatim.