Charles E. Meyer Ruin in Chambersburg, PA: Main Street Looking South
Medium Albumen print from wet plate negative
Photo Date 1864 Print Date 1864
Dimensions 4-1/2 x 7-1/2 in. (114 x 191 mm)
Photo Country United States (USA)
Photographer Country United States (USA)
Contact Alex Novak and Marthe Smith
About This Image
Rare photograph documenting the destruction during the Civil War of Chambersburg.
Charles E. Meyer copyrighted these images of the Chambersburg ruins that were published by R. Newell in 1864. Jeffrey Kraus has postulated that Meyer worked for Newell at the time and photographed the ruins for him, which were then published in stereo, CDV and larger views, like this one. Charles Meyer only operated as a photographer for one year in 1864 at 722 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA, immediately adjacent to Newell, whose offices were next store at 724 Arch St. Oddly enough, Kraus says the Chambersburg images are the only ones attributed to Meyer. The images came from a scrap book owned by Newell. In the scrapbook there is a CDV-size image advertising these images in "stereoscopic and card views".
Born in NJ in 1822, Robert Newell, the prominent Philadelphia commercial photographer operated a studio from circa 1855 to 1900. His firm, which originally specialized in portraiture, later focused on "Artistic Business and Landscape Photographs" and was reorganized as R. Newell & Son circa 1872. Newell recorded important events in Philadelphia, such as the 1864 Great Central Fair for the U.S. Sanitary Commission. and commercial, residential and ecclesiastical buildings throughout the city. In 1876, the studio (Robert and Henry Newell) issued a series of six viewbooks under the title "Old Landmarks & Relics of Philadelphia." Newell also produced series of stereographs during the 1860s depicting commercial streets, the volunteer fire companies, and views of Fairmount Park and local cemeteries, as well as invented acid proof photographic ware in the 1870s. He died in 1897.
The images are also later attributed to the Zacharias Brothers in the book "Chambersburg" by Maurice Leonard Marotte and Janet Kay , but that is likely to be in error, since the name was put on much later copies of the images and by handwritten note.
On July 30, 1864, Confederate troops entered the south central Pennsylvania town of Chambersburg. Their commander General John McCausland demanded from the residents $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in cash. When the residents refused to pay, he ordered his troops to burn the town.
They attacked, robbing residents on the streets, plundering their homes, and setting fire to private as well as public buildings. Occupants were ordered to vacate at once. Those who were physically unable to leave were left to burn, though all but one were rescued by heroic neighbors. Residents who tried to take possessions with them as they left their homes often had them stolen by the troops afterward. Several homeowners paid Confederates to spare their property; after receiving the bribes, the troops still set fire to their homes. Not all Confederates participated in wanton destruction willingly. Even General McCausland complained that his assignment did not appeal to some. One officer helped residents take clothes and other belongings from their homes before burning them. A Confederate cavalry unit prevented other troops from setting fires in much of southeastern Chambersburg.
The Confederates "destroyed" $3,000,000 worth of property and rendered 3,000 persons homeless. At least ten square blocks in downtown Chambersburg lay in ruins. Public buildings, including the Franklin County Courthouse, Bank of Chambersburg, the printery of the German Reformed Church, numerous stores as well as many private homes perished in the flames.
Provenance: personal scrap album of 19th-century photographer and publisher Robert Newell; Kean Archives.
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