Another rebel column of infantry and artillery crossed the Potomac simultaneously at Shepherdstown and moved toward Leitersburg. General Averell, who commanded a force reduced to about 2,600 men, was at Hagerstown, and being threatened in front by Vaughn and Jackson, on his right by McCausland and Johnson, who also threatened his rear, and on his left by the column which crossed at Shepherdtown, he therefore fell back upon Grencastle.
General Averell it is understood was under the orders of General Hunter, but was kept as fully advised by General Couch as was possible of the enemy's movement on his right and to his rear. General Couch was in Chambersburg, where his entire force consisted of sixty infantry and forty-five cavalry and a section of a battery of artillery, in all less than 150 men. The six companies of men enlisted for 100 days remaining in the State and two companies of cavalry had, under orders from Washington (as I am officially advised), joined General Averell. The town of Chambersburg was held until daylight by the small force under General Couch, during which time the Government stores and train were saved. Two batteries were then planted by the enemy, commanding the town, and it was invested by the whole command of Johnson and McCausland. At 7 a. m. six companies of dismounted men, commanded by Sweeney, entered the town, followed by mounted men, under Gillmore. The main force was in line for battle. A demand was made for $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in Government funds, as ransom, and a number of citizens were arrested and held as hostages for its payment. No offer of money was made by the citizens of the town, and even if they had any intentions of paying a ransom, no time was allowed, as the rebels commenced immediately to burn and pillage the town, disregarding the appeals of women and children, the aged and infirm, and even the bodies of the dead were not protected from their brutality. It would have been vain for all the citizens of the town, if armed, to have attempted, in connection with General Couch's small force, to defend it. General Couch withdrew his command, and did not himself leave until the enemy were actually in the town. General Averell's command being within nine miles of Chambersburg, it was hoped would arrive in time to save the town, and efforts were made during the night to communicate with him. In the meantime the small force of General Couch held the enemy at bay. General Averell marched on Chambersburg, but did not arrive until after the town was burned, and the enemy had retired. He pursued and overtook them at McConnellsburg, in Fulton County, in time to save that place from pillage and destruction. He promptly engaged and defeated them, driving them to Hancock and across the Potomac.
I commend the houseless and ruined people of Chambersburg to the liberal benevolence of the Legislature, and suggest that a suitable appropriation be made for their relief. Similar charity has been heretofore exercised in the case of an occidental and destructive fire at Pittsburg, and I cannot doubt the disposition of the Legislature on the present occasion.
On the 5th day of this month a large rebel army was in Maryland, and at various points on the Potomac as far west as New Creek, and as there was no adequate force within the State I deemed it my duty on that day to call for 30,000 volunteer militia for domestic protection. They will be armed, transported, and supplied by the United States; but as no provision is made for their payment it will be necessary, should you approve my action, to make an appropriation for that purpose.