Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Goblets and the Burning of Chambersburg

In last October’s Oral History post, I referred to the story of Confederate Capt. Fred Smith and his role in the 1864 burning of Chambersburg, Pa. One part of the story not mentioned was that the woman gave Smith two goblets as a token of her appreciation for his chivalry. This account has been passed down through Smith’s family for generations.

Today I discovered another version of the story, told in 1864 by a man described as an “eyewitness and sufferer” to the events of the July day that ended in the destruction of downtown Chambersburg. He recounted how Smith and his squad stole a watch and other items of value belonging to newspaper editor, influential Keystone State Republican Party leader, and Lincoln ally Alexander McClure (1828-1909), then put the torch to McClure’s home, Norland. At the end of the account, a reference is made to the goblets, which were allegedly strapped to the saddle of one of the Confederate soldier’s horses and carried back to Virginia.

These two accounts couldn’t be more different. Smith’s version, passed down through the family, celebrates his chivalry. The eyewitness’ version chides Smith for his lack of Southern honor. But both have one detail in common: The goblets, which are currently in possession of the family. According to one of the descendants, one bears an inscription added by Smith for his sister, added after the goblets were brought back to Virginia. The other features an engraving of a “castle-like” home. I’ve just emailed an image of Norland to the family. I am hopeful that the two will match.


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