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Military Engagements Around
Emmitsburg in the Civil War 

General Meade's Pipe Creek Circular

John Allen Miller

I grew up in Keymar, Maryland and have always taken an interest in American History. Route 194 was the major highway that ran through the area. As I grew up and started seeing the state highway markers, I realized that there was a great deal of history that was forgotten.

In New Midway where I went to elementary school,  in front of the fire station is a marker that says, "George Washington stayed the night here." In Keymar off of Route 194 near Keysville, there’s a marker, about my ancestor Francis Scott Key, who was born on a local farm named Tera Ruba. Near my home in Middleburg there is a sign about the Army of the Potomac, which states General Meade headquarters, was located here.

I often wondered as a child why General Meade was headquartered there. In school I learn about a great battle named Gettysburg. The teachers stated that Confederates came from the north; the Federals came from the south. As I studied more about the Civil War, I came to realize that General Meade had a defensive plan that called for the Army of the Potomac to spread out in a series of entrenchment’s known as the Pipe Creek Defense Line.

As we approach the 140th anniversary of the Pipe Creek Defenses Line, I find it a shame that the people who visit Gettysburg, aren’t told of the importance of General Meade’s Pipe Creek Line or Emmitsburg being home to the Western Wing of the Army of the Potomac. Nor is anything ever mentioned about General Stuart’s Raid on Chambersburg and how the Confederate came through Emmitsburg in October of 1862.

When I dress in my uniform and walk the streets of Emmitsburg, I'm often asked the same question: "Is there a re-enactment in Gettysburg this weekend?" I always respond with: "No, I do it to honor those that fought in this town."

Most residents are amazed by the fact that Emmitsburg was in the war, and always ask me to tell them stories about the pivotal role this historic little town played in the battle that decided the fate of the union ... stores like the General Meade's Pipe Creek Circular ...

On June 3rd 1863, the Confederate Army started their second invasion north. The Gettysburg Campaign would prove to be the turning point in the Civil War. As General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia headed toward the Potomac River, the Confederates ran into a series of engagements. Some of which has been totally forgotten in our history books today. On June 15th, Confederate forces were indeed in Maryland. Skirmishes had developed on June 15th and on June 17th at Williamsport, Catoctin Creek, and at Point of Rocks, Maryland, while the main Confederate army was still in Virginia. On June 19th, the Confederates were engaged at Middletown, and on June 21st a skirmish occurred at Frederick, Maryland. The Confederates in Frederick County were pinpointing the locations of any Federal troop movements that were in the area.

On June 22nd a skirmish erupted along the pass called Monterey near present day Blue Ridge Summit.  Confederate General Albert Jenkins ran into an armed civilian militia.  After several minutes of fighting, the civilians were forced to retire.  Skirmishes also occurred at Greencastle. From June 24th to June 26th, the Confederates were scattered over Frederick County and southern Pennsylvania causing skirmishes at Sharpsburg, Greencastle, McConnelsburg, and Gettysburg.

On the morning on June 27th 1863, the Union Army was encamped near Frederick, Maryland. At this time General Meade replaced General Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac. The Confederates were already on northern soil as skirmishes developed near Frederick on June 28th at Offutt’s Cross Roads, Rockville, and Seneca. The exact location and the exact target of the Confederates was unknown. During the day of June 28th, Frederick County saw the Union Army traveling every major roadway from Frederick toward the Mason-Dixon line.

As reports of Confederate troops in southern Franklin and Adams Counties, Pennsylvania, General Meade ordered the scouting of Confederate movements, sending his cavalry division to follow the main Confederate Army north under General John Buford.  Not knowing what the Confederate tensions were, mainly because the Confederate Army was so spread out, General Meade needed to secure all roads leading south into Baltimore and Washington. 

Shortly before the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, General Meade headquartered at Middleburg started to formulate a battle plan called the Pipe Creek Defense Line in its earliest stages. This line covers the roads from Middleburg to Union Mills leaving Emmitsburg as the far left of General Meade's western wing. By cutting Carroll County in half, it would surely prevent any rebel advance toward Baltimore or Washington, D.C.  An Itinerary Tablet at Middleburg states the movements of the Army of the Potomac:


Headquarters Army of the Potomac moved from Frederick to Middleburg First and Eleventh Corps marched from Frederick to Emmitsburg Second Corps from Monocacy Junction via Liberty and Johnsville to Uniontown Third Corps from near Woodsborough to Taneytown Fifth Corps from Ballinger’s Creek via Frederick and Mount Pleasant to Liberty Sixth Corps from Hyattstown via New Market and Ridgeville to New Windsor Twelfth Corps from Frederick to Taneytown and Bruceville.

First and Second Brigades First Cavalry Division from Middletown via Boonsborough, Cavetown, and Monterey Springs to near Fairfield Reserve Cavalry Brigade of the First Division from Middletown to Mechanicstown Second Cavalry Division from New Market and Ridgeville to New Windsor Third Cavalry Division from Frederick to Littlestown and the Artillery Reserve from Frederick to Bruceville.

Skirmishes at Muddy Branch and Westminster Md. and at McConnellsburg and near Oyster Point Pa.”

On June 30th, General Meade had his headquarters located northeast of Taneytown. As the Western Wing expanded further westward, General Meade relocated his headquarters to the Shunk Farm outside of Taneytown. The Shunk Farm, sits along Route 194 north of Taneytown, he stayed from June 30th until the evening of July 1st. With his headquarters there General Meade could direct the battle since it was the center of his newly formed plan.  Taneytown was a more suitable area for Meade’s headquarters, because it was located directly on the Pipe Creek Defense Line. This was the Western Wing of the Army of the Potomac. 

After the western wing of the Federal army saw Confederate troops at Fairfield, on the 29-30th of June, the plans of the Pipe Creek Line started to become obsolete before they were officially deployed on July 1st. After receiving this information General Reynolds who was marching from Frederick was ordered to move the First Corp to Emmitsburg, followed by the XI Corp under the command of General O.O. Howard. General Reynolds positioned the first corp. at Marsh Creek on the evening of June 30. 

At Bridgeport, Maryland General Sickles was ordered to take his third corps to Emmitsburg and occupy the area that General O Howard's had encamped the previous night.  There at Bridgeport a stateside road markers states:


As part of Meade’s Screen for Washington as the Confederates invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania, The Third Corps of the Army of Potomac arrived here on June 30th, 1863 From Taneytown.  The next day General Daniel Sickles marched this corps to Emmitsburg. "

By July 1, General Buford engaged the Confederate forces at Gettysburg. As news of the engagement came to General Meade, he ordered the Federal troops to push forward from the Pipe Creek Line and head for Gettysburg, thus avoiding a major battle in the small towns of Emmitsburg or Taneytown.  This how the Federal Army managed to gain the upper hand as division after division re-enforced those already engaged at Gettysburg.  

What exactly was the Pipe Creek Defense Line? The Pipe Creek Defense line was named and designed after a river that flowed through Frederick and Carroll County. It flowed east to west covering every major roadway that led into Baltimore. The most direct road that went into Baltimore was the Littlestown Pike and ran through the center of the Pipe Creek Defense Line. 

The Eastern Wing of the Army of the Potomac was located in Manchester, under the command of General John Sedgwick. General Sedgwick’s Sixth Corp encampment near Route 30, would stop any Confederate advancement on Baltimore via Hanover. General Henry Slocum and his Twelfth Corp were located south of Union Mills. On the eastern side of Union Mills was the Fifth Corp under the command of General George Sykes. These forces protected any of the other routes that led toward Baltimore.

General Hancock and his Second Corp were near the area of Union Bridge, protecting parts of the center of the Pipe Creek Defense Line that ran to Westminster. General John Reynolds and his First Corp were supposed to be located near Frizzleburg with General Meade and his headquarters. This was to keep the Pipe Creek Defense Line interacted until the whole Confederate Army was exposed. If the Confederates broke through the Pipe Creek Defense Line and attacked any of the Union Corp, the Federals were to fall back south of the Pipe Creek. This protected Washington, D.C. and Baltimore from an invasion. Since Westminster had a railroad, it was to be used as a supply depot around Baltimore.  If the Confederate attacked the Pipe Creek Defense Line, General Meade was prepared to move out to Frizzleburg and set up headquarters.

In the official reports of General Meade during the battle of Gettysburg he explains the purpose of the Pipe Creek Line and what importance it had:


From information received, the commanding general is satisfied that the object of the movement of the army in this direction has been accomplished, via, the relief of Harrisburg, and the prevention of the enemy's intended invasion of Philadelphia, &c., beyond the Susquehanna. It is no longer his intention to assume the offensive until the enemy's movements or position should render such an operation certain of success.

If the enemy assume the offensive, and attack, it is his intention, after holding them in check sufficiently long, to withdraw the trains and other impedimenta; to Withdraw the army from its present position, and form line of battle with the left resting in the neighborhood of Middleburg, and the right at Manchester, the general direction being that of Pipe Creek. For this purpose, General Reynolds, in command of the left, will withdraw the force at present at Gettysburg, two corps by the road to Taneytown and Westminster, and, after crossing Pipe Creek, deploy toward Middleburg. The corps at Emmitsburg will be withdrawn, via Mechanicsville, to Middleburg, or, if a more direct route can be found leaving Taneytown to their left, to withdraw direct to Middleburg.

General Slocum will assume command of the two corps at Hanover and Two Taverns, and withdraw them, via Union Mills, deploying one to the right and one to the left, after crossing Pipe Creek, connecting on the left with General Reynolds, and communicating his right to General Sedgwick at Manchester, who will connect with him and form the right.

The time for falling back can only be developed by circumstances. Whenever such circumstances arise as would seem to indicate the necessity for falling back and assuming this general line indicated, notice of such movement will be at once communicated to these headquarters and to all adjoining corps commanders.

The Second Corps now at Taneytown will be held in reserve in the vicinity of Uniontown and Frizellburg, to be thrown to the point of strongest attack, should the enemy make it? In the event of these movements being necessary, the trains and impedimenta will all be sent to the rear of Westminster.

Corps commanders, with their officers commanding artillery and the divisions, should make themselves thoroughly familiar with the country indicated, all the roads and positions, so that no possible confusion can ensue, and that the movement, if made, be done with good order, precision, and care, without loss or any detriment to the morale of the troops.

The commanders of corps are requested to communicate at once the nature of their present positions, and their ability to hold them in case of any sudden attack at any point by the enemy.  This order is communicated, that a general plan, perfectly understood by all, may be had for receiving attack, if made in strong force, upon any portion of our present position.

Developments may cause the commanding general to assume the offensive from his present positions.  The Artillery Reserve will, in the event of the general movement indicated, move to the rear of Frizellburg, and be placed in position, or sent to corps, as circumstances may require, under the general supervision of the chief of artillery. The chief quartermaster will, in case of the general movement indicated, give directions for the orderly and proper position of the trains in rear of Westminster.

All the trains will keep well to the right of the road in moving, and, in case of any accident requiring a halt, the team must be hauled out of the line, and not delay the movements. The trains ordered to Union Bridge in these events will be sent to Westminster.  General headquarters will be, in case of this movement, at Frizellburg; General Slocum as near Union Mills as the line will render best for him; General Reynolds at or near the road from Taneytown to l.

The chief of artillery will examine the line, and select positions for artillery. The cavalry will be held on the right and left flanks after the movement is completed. Previous to its completion, it will, as now directed, cover the front and exterior lines, well out. The commands must be prepared for a movement, and, in the event of the enemy attacking us on the ground indicated herein, to follow up any repulse.

The chief signal officer will examine the line thoroughly, and at once, upon the commencement of this movement, extend telegraphic communication from each of the following points to general headquarters near Frizellburg, viz, Manchester, Union Mills, Middleburg, and the Taneytown road.

All true Union people should be advised to harass and annoy the enemy in every way, to send in information, and taught how to do it; giving regiments by number of colors, number of guns, generals' names, &c. All their supplies brought to us will be paid for, and not fall into the enemy's hands.

Roads and ways to move to the right or left of the general line should be studied and thoroughly understood. All movements of troops should be concealed, and our dispositions kept from the enemy. Their knowledge of these dispositions would be fatal to our success, and the greatest care must be taken to prevent such an occurrence.

By command of Major-General Meade: S. Williams, Assistant Adjutant-General. 


So much of the instructions contained in the circular of this date, just sent to you, as relates to the withdrawal of the corps at Emmitsburg should read as follows:

The corps at Emmitsburg should be withdrawn, via Mechanicstown, to Middleburg, or, if a more direct route can be found leaving Taneytown to the left, to withdraw direct to Middleburg. Please correct the circular accordingly.

 By command of Major-General Meade: S. Williams, Assistant Adjutant-General.”

The success of the Pipe Creek Defense Line was that it enabled troops to be positioned toward Gettysburg quickly. By the time General Buford was engaged in battle, it did not take long for the First and the Eleventh Corp to get to Gettysburg in the morning hours of July 1st, as they were encamped near Emmitsburg. The rest the Union army was concentrated only about fifteen to twenty miles away at the battle of Gettysburg. If it weren’t for the Pipe Creek Defense Line, the Battle of Gettysburg would have been a major failure for the Army of the Potomac. The Confederates would have decimated General Buford’s detachment of cavalry and marched to Washington’s front door.

Shortly after the Gettysburg Campaign in the summer of 1863, General Daniel Sickles, commander of the Third Corp, tried to bring General Meade up on charges. The charges were related to General Meade’s plan for the Pipe Creek Defense Line. For what reason did General Sickles try to do this, because of an order given to him on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg.  On July 1st, the Third Corp began to break camp, an order was issued to disregarding a pervious order, to march to Gettysburg, and instead General Meade wanted General Sickles to hold Emmitsburg at all cost. General Meade must have felt that if a Confederate breakthrough occurred, the Confederate army would try to out flank the Union army, by way of Emmitsburg. General Sickles pressed forward to Gettysburg, completely disregarding the order of holding Emmitsburg.

This was also General Sickles’ testimony when he tried to bring General Meade up on charges. General Sickles felt that the order of holding Emmitsburg, was preparing the Army of the Potomac to retreat back toward Emmitsburg. After a short hearing on the charges, General Daniel Sickles was removed from field command. General Sickles however remained in the military until after the Civil War.

After the battle of Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac moved back to positions Southwest and West of Westminster on the Pipe Creek Line. From there the Federal Army would begin its pursuit of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  The I, III,V,VI, and the XI Corp came through Emmitsburg in pursuit of General Lee’s army. Federal cavalry under the command of General Kilpatrick came into Emmitsburg in pursuit of the wagon train up on Jack’s Mountain, which led to the Battle of Monterey Pass.  About thirty three percent of the Army of the Potomac was stationed in Emmitsburg on June 30th. After Gettysburg, more than half of the Army of the Potomac came through Emmitsburg on their way toward Frederick and the Middletown Valley.

Read other civil war articles by John Miller