04 - The Home Front
By Joan C. McCulloh
Just as many men volunteered to serve in the Union armies, many people on the home front, often filled with foreboding, wished to serve.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1860 at a community worship service in the German Reformed Church the Reverend Isaac Brown, minister of the church, preached on a text from Ezekiel 14: 13-14 that begins “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly….” On January 4, 1861, a national fast day by proclamation of the President, James Buchanan, all of the churches had services and in the evening came together for worship.
Sometime that summer local women formed an aid society, supported financially by public lectures and festivals, and continued their work throughout the war. These women knitted socks and sent food, blankets, and other articles to the troops including a New Testament to each man in Co. C of the 126th. The women in the Ladies’ Aid Society worked tirelessly throughout the war. As the intensity of the war accelerated, more and more wounded needed to be cared for. Therefore, the women intensified their efforts and sent an increasing number of boxes. In one box among many sent in 1862 the ladies had packed “43 glasses of jelly, 26 cans of fruit, 18 sacks of dried fruit, 3 beef rounds, 18 jars of preserves, 29 oil cloth cushions, 11 pillows, 15 pairs of drawers, 10 sheets, 11 towels, 116 pillow cases, 10 hospital wrappers, 19 shirts, 1 jar of pickles, 7 bottles of wine, 3 bottles of catsup, 29 wedges of soap, and scraped lint and bandages.” By January 1863 the Society had sent eighteen boxes valued at $400. In March 1863, after the ladies had sent “box 20,” Co. C thanked the ladies for “their benevolent and patriotic efforts.” These ladies also assembled what were called housewives, small sewing kits, to be sent to the troops. Following the enlistment of African American men into the Massachusetts 54th and 55th Regiments local African American ladies formed a similar Ladies’ Aid Society and sent supplies to the men in the camps and those in the fighting. After the burning of Chambersburg on July 30, 1864, the ladies sent provisions to help the people there.
But also defense was on the minds of local people. To support the Union cause this community sold necessary supplies to the government. In December of 1862 agents of the federal government came to town and purchased 1,200 bushels of oats. Bonds were given to the commissioners of Franklin County for sixty-six muskets and other gear for equipping that number of men. In August 1862 after the Second Battle of Bull Run that proved that the war would be long and difficult and after local citizens realized that the war was coming closer to home, local men gathered on what is now the site of Borough Hall, formed a Home Guard, and elected G. G. Rupley as captain. On September 7, 1862, the ministers of the town churches announced that there would be a meeting on the next day in the Diamond in order to organize the people for the defense of the town. But on that same Sunday evening the men met in the Presbyterian Church, appointed a committee of safety, and chose William D. McKinstry as chairman. On Monday at a mass meeting in the Diamond the men appointed a permanent committee whose headquarters would be the McKinstry building on the Diamond. Having learned that the Confederates were within fifteen miles of Hagerstown, people were understandingly frightened. On that same evening local citizens again met in the Diamond and listened to addresses by local ministers. As a result of these meetings two cavalry units and three infantry units were formed in Mercersburg and Montgomery and Peters Townships. The committee posted pickets on the road leading to Greencastle, the road through Shimpstown to Hagerstown, and the road through the Corner so that no one without a pass authorized by the committee could either leave or enter town. Sometimes, however, local citizens did not understand why the pickets were stopping them.
After the Battle of Antietam on September 17, during which it was said that people immediately south of town could hear the guns, all of the ministers of the town and several other men boarded Solomon Divilbiss’s omnibus, a multi-seated wagon, and traveled to Boonsboro. Some then went to the battlefield on horseback, and others, on foot. There they attempted to aid the wounded and helped to bury the dead. In doing so they came across two wounded soldiers from Mercersburg and buried a dead Confederate soldier. Dr. Thomas Creigh wrote after his return: “ We returned to Boonsboro after one of the most eventful days of my life. In looking back over it, it seems as if in that one day I had lived a thousand days, so crowded had it been with incidents.” One of the local men had brought along bread, butter, ham, and whisky, and when he discovered that they were missing, he was philosophical about his loss and said simply that the men needed them. Later that month the ladies also went in Solomon Divilbiss’s omnibus and took provisions to the men of Co. C of the 126th Regiment, the company of local area men.