Mrs. Samuel Lightner would never have considered herself an actress. She was a wife and a mother of eight and filling those roles was enough for anyone. However, in late June of 1863, she performed a role worthy of the best actresses of the time.
Despite the fact that her family supported the Union and her husband was in the army, Mrs. Lightner played the role of a Confederate sympathizer in order to save a railroad. Samuel Lightner had been drafted in 1862 as Chambersburg, Pa., worried about a Confederate invasion from Washington County.
For nearly a year, Mrs. Lightner had worked hard to keep the family farm near Greenville, Pa., running and to care for her eight children.
At the end of June 1863, a group of Confederate scouts rode up to the farmhouse asking to be fed. Mrs. Lightner had only a few minutes to make a decision. She “was fearful of displeasing the southern soldiers lest they retaliate by setting fire to the home,” according to the Public Opinion. Part of the fear certainly came from worrying about the safety of her children, but Mrs. Lightner also knew she was hiding a secret that she needed to protect.
Her decision made, she welcomed the soldiers and allowed them to camp on her farm. According to Benjamin Lightner, who was a youngster at the time, he mother spent the next week baking 25 loaves of bread for the soldiers and supplying each of the men with a pint of milk.
At the end of the month, the soldiers headed east where they would participate in the Battle of Gettysburg.
When word of what Mrs. Lightner had done leaked out, she experienced a lot of criticism among her neighbors. It wasn’t until years later that it became known that Emmanuel Hale, Mrs. Lightner’s father and a employee of the Cumberland Valley Railroad, had brought bonds owned by railroad to the farmhouse and asked his daughter to hide them. She had done so and this was another reason she had needed to keep the Confederate soldiers from searching the house or burning it down.
The Cumberland Valley Railroad was an early railroad that was chartered in 1831 and connected to Pennsylvania’s Main Line. It ran from Harrisburg to Chambersburg down to Hagerstown and Winchester, Virginia. In 1839, it became the first railroad to have passenger sleeping cars. The railroad had been used to supply Union troops during the war.
The Confederate army had already shown a willingness to destroy the railroad when soldiers tore down railway building in Chambersburg in 1862 around the same time Samuel Lightner was drafted. Around the same time as Mrs. Lightner was hiding the securities, the Confederate army had burned the railroad’s property in Chambersburg and torn up miles of track. A year after this incident, the Confederate army under Jubal Early returned to Chambersburg and burned even more of the railroad’s property.
One of the Lightner children, Mrs. W.F. Kohler of Scotland, Pa., told the story of the reason her mother had helped the Confederates to the Public Opinion in the early 1950’s.