Military Engagements Around
Emmitsburg in the Civil War
General Meade's Pipe Creek Circular
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
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 ...
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.
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.
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:
“ARMY OF THE POTOMAC June 29,
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.”
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.
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.
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
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Taneytown, July 1, 1863.
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
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
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
By command of Major-General Meade: S. Williams, Assistant
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
July 1, 1863.
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
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
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.
other civil war articles by John