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CSA General Jubal Early interviewed by Yankee reporter

On August 26, 1864, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran an interview held near Frederick, Maryland, with famed Confederate General Jubal A. Early. Earlier that summer, Early had ordered his cavalry to raid Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and burn the town in retaliation for Union atrocities in the Shenandoah Valley. The wide-ranging interview covered topics such as Early’s attitude toward destruction of personal property and homesteads to his treatment of prisoners of war. At one point, the Virginia general reminisced about his visit to York County, Pennsylvania, the previous summer.

He had spared York the same fate as Chambersburg.

The burned-out Franklin County Court House in downtown Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, following the raid of Jubal Early’s cavalry under Brig. Gen. John McCausland in late July 1864. National Archives.

General Early remarked to the reporter, “I will further remark that this is the fifth time I have been in Maryland at the head of an army; yet I believe not one private house has been injured, nor one non-combatant molested.

Once I marched almost to the the banks of the Susquehanna at Harrisburg [note:Early did not go to Harrisburg; his men marched through Gettysburg to York] and thence down to Wrightsville, when the Federal troops, to escape our pursuit, set fire to the bridge in the middle [note: the 26th PVM set fire to the bridge at the fourth span from the Wrightsville side, not in the middle], whence the flames rapidly extended westward, and from its proximity placed the town of Wrightsville in very imminent peril.
My troops had just heard of the burning of the town of Darien, in Georgia, by the Federal army; a large number of my men were from that region, and very naturally felt a strong impulse at retaliation; but at my very urgent appeal they all, with alacrity and energy, joined in a united effort and actually extinguished the flames in time to save the town, and were richly rewarded by the grateful thanks of its citizens, who also bitterly denounced their own troops for exposing them to such danger.

In York, Pennsylvania, I found two large manufacturies engaged in making railroad cars for the Government, which of course it was my duty to destroy; but a slight examination satisfied me that to burn these would seriously endanger a large portion of that town; and hence I spared them for a moderate ransom [note: $100,000, of which Early collected $28,610 in cash from the citizenry]. On my return [note: toward Gettysburg on June 30] I partly retraced my advancing track, and was greatly surprised to find so little evidence or trace of the passage of so large an army. In fact, except in horses and forage for the army, very little damage had been sustained.”

The reporter concluded, “In private conversation, and on many occasions in public, in the presence of citizens of all shades of opinion, General Early intimated that he would frequently visit Maryland and Pennsylvania, and that he would pursue the war of retaliation as long and as bitterly as circumstances might require.”

Luckily for south-central Pennsylvania, Early would never again get a chance to send his forces into the Keystone State. There would not be a repeat of the burning of Chambersburg. A Union army under Phil Sheridan entered the Shenandoah Valley and battled Early’s men throughout the late summer well into the fall. Sheridan would eventually rout Early at Cedar Creek after the Rebels fumbled away an early victory.

By December, most of Early’s men had rejoined Robert E. Lee at Petersburg, although Early and a skeleton force remained in the Valley throughout the winter. In March 1865, Union troops demolished Early’s remnants at Waynesboro. Lee relieved Early from command a few days later.