General Meade and the Defense of Emmitsburg

Shortly after the Pennsylvania 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 during the opening phases of what would become the Battle of Gettysburg. 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.

General Daniel Sickles was born in 1819 in New York. As grown man, Daniel Sickles went into the law practice. Three times he was indicted for legal improprieties. He was known to be as womanizer, and married a young beautiful girl who was 15 years younger than him. In 1857 Daniel Sickles was elected to Congress. In those days when you went into politics you spent a lot of time away from home. It was acceptable for a man to have affairs with other women, but it was un-lady like for a married woman to have an affair with a man. Daniel Sickles had asked his friend Philip Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key (who is a relative of mine), to escort his wife to the balls and dinners that were always held in Washington, D.C. Philip Key was caught having an affair with Daniel Sickles’s wife and in an act of rage Daniel Sickles shot and killed Philip. He stood trial and became the first American to be acquitted on a murder charge pleading temporary insanity. Daniel Sickles moved back to New York until the out break of the Civil War.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, General Hooker choose to be relieved of command and General Meade was appointed the new commander of the Army of the Potomac. General Meade and General Sickles could never mask their ill feeling for each other. During the Chancellorsville battle, which was held in the spring of 1863, General Hooker gave the order to Daniel Sickles to surrender the high ground. The Confederate Army subsequently took possession and began to shell the federal lines. General Sickles vowed never take an order like that again. That was a promise which, General Sickles kept even in Emmitsburg. On June 30th General Meade had made his headquarters near Taneytown, located about seven miles east of Emmitsburg on Route 194. While General Sickles’ made his headquarters at Bridgeport which was part of a series of entrenchments made by the Federal army known as the Pipe Creek Defense Line. Bridgeport is situated five miles east of Emmitsburg on the Frederick and Carroll County border.

The Pipe Creek Defense Line ran from Middleburg, Maryland to Union Mills, Maryland. The Pipe Creek Defense Line included the major roads that led to Baltimore and Washington. D.C. Routes 30, 97, 140, and Bull Frog Road were the major arteries to Baltimore. The reserves that were held in Middletown and Frederick were protecting the road to Washington, D.C. The Western Wing under the command of General Reynolds was ordered to advance to Emmitsburg in on June 29th, to engage the Confederate Army head on rather than hitting them from the rear in the Cumberland Valley.

The intentions of the Confederates were uncertain. General Meade did not want to take a chance to prevent Washington or Baltimore from being targeted. Meade created the Pipe Creek Defense Line and deployed it on July 1st. General Sickles criticized General Meade for this defensive line for the reason that it predicted a Union defeat. (However at that time, General Meade did not know that the whole western wing of his army was already being deployed at Gettysburg.) If this was true, then Gettysburg would have never happened.

Some people surmise that the battle of Gettysburg should have happened near Taneytown, Maryland because of the Pipe Creek Defense Line. Some guess that General Meade took the wrong road and met the Confederates by accident. However if this was the case, General Buford would have never engaged the Confederate at Gettysburg. To prove this point, if the Pipe Creek Defense Line was created in case of a Union defeat then why was the order given to General Reynolds to advance to Emmitsburg. This order supports the idea there would be a major battle preparing to be fought in Emmitsburg and not Taneytown.

The Confederate Army was outside of Gettysburg from the directions of Cashtown, Carlisle, and York. A.P. Hill’s Corp came down Chambersburg Pike toward Gettysburg. Generals Early and Ewell moved down from the north and east on the York and Harrisburg Turnpikes. If General Buford had never engaged the Confederate at Gettysburg, the main parts of the Confederate Army would have moved toward Emmitsburg. Since General Reynolds received a message from General Buford that the Confederates were spotted in the direction of Fairfield, General Reynolds had the First Corp move north of Emmitsburg to Marsh Creek leaving behind the Eleventh Corp and a reserve of artillery at Emmitsburg. This was the protection of the town of Emmitsburg.

On the evening of June 30th through the morning hours of July 1st, The Third Corp under General Daniel Sickles was at Bridgeport, Maryland just east of Emmitsburg. It is here that the controversy begins with General Meade and General Sickles while the Third Corps was encamped at Bridgeport, Maryland. General Sickles was ordered by General Reynolds (his wing commander) to advance onto Cat Tail Branch facing Gettysburg, however due to General Meade’s orders a series of events would follow when General Sickles disobeys orders directed to him while he was at Emmitsburg on July 1st. The following Union correspondences state the specific orders given to General Sickles from General Meade and General Reynolds.

HEADQUARTERS LEFT WING, At Moritz Tavern, June 30, 1863.

Major-General Sickles, Commanding Third Corps:

General: Major-General Reynolds directs me to say he wishes you to camp upon Cat Tail Branch with your command, and for you to also send a staff officer to these headquarters.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant, Edward C. Baird, Captain, and Assistant Adjutant-General

[P. S.]-General Reynolds wishes, when you take up your position upon Cat Tail Branch, to face toward Gettysburg, and cover the roads leading from Gettysburg.

HEADQUARTERS THIRD CORPS, Bridgeport, on the Monocacy, June 30, 1863-7. 45 p. m.

Captain E. C. Baird, Aide-de-Camp, Headquarters Left Wing:

Captain: By direction of the general commanding, I have gone into camp here, countermanding a previous order to go to Emmitsburg, and I am to await here further orders from headquarters Army of the Potomac. When these orders were received, I sent Captain Crocker, of my staff, to communicate them to Major-General Reynolds, and to inform him of my position. My First Division and two batteries are farther toward Emmitsburg (across Middle Creek).

D. E. Sickles, Major General

HEADQUARTERS THIRD ARMY CORPS, Bridgeport, on the Monocacy, June 30, 1863.

Brigadier General S. Williams, Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac:

General: Enclosed please find communication from Major-General Reynolds. It is in accordance with my written orders, received from headquarters Army of the Potomac at 1 p. m., but in conflict with the verbal order given me by the general commanding while on the march. Shall I move forward? My First Division is about a mile this side of Emmitsburg.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

D. E. Sickles, Major General, Commanding

Headquarters Army of the Potomac, June 30, 1863

Commanding Officer Third Corps (General Sickles):

Major-General Reynolds reports that the enemy has appeared at Fairfield, on the road between Chambersburg and Emmitsburg. I am, therefore, instructed by the commanding general to say that it is of the utmost importance that you should move with your infantry and artillery to Emmitsburg with all possible dispatch.

Very respectfully, S. Williams, Assistant Adjutant-General”

Upon reaching Emmitsburg on July 1st, General Sickles received an order to hold Emmitsburg in case of a Confederate break through at Gettysburg. Subsequently another order came for the Third Corp to move forward to Gettysburg. Once the Third Corp began to break camp, yet another order was issued to disregard the order, to march to Gettysburg, 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.

General Sickles arrived at Gettysburg and took action in the Wheat Field. Here, another order given by General Meade was disobeyed. General Sickles was ordered to retreat back toward his original position giving up the ground gained by the Federals. General Sickles disregard for that order resulted in him being carried off the field, his leg shattered by a Confederate bullet. He was carried off the field smoking his cigar. His Third Corp holding of its position may have been significant in the Union victory at Gettysburg.

On July 7th, after the battle of Gettysburg, General Meade rode through Emmitsburg and briefly stopped to visit the town. The residents hailed him, thanking him for all that he had done to protect the town from the main Confederate Army. Since General Meade drew up the Pipe Creek Defense Line the Confederate Army really never had a chance of attacking Washington, D.C., considering that the Western Wing of the Army of the Potomac heavily protected Emmitsburg.

General Meade rode out of town heading down Old Frederick Road. The commander crossed Loyds Station-Covered Bridge and made his headquarters in the small community of Creagerstown. This cleared Emmitsburg of the hell and gore of the American Civil War to begin the healing and rebuilding.

General Sickles could have been court marshaled for disobeying orders given by a superior officer. Instead he was responsible for saving the Union on July 2nd at Gettysburg. General Sickles was awarded a medal of honor three decades after his actions at Gettysburg. The famous leg that was amputated at Gettysburg is still preserved today in Washington, D.C. Daniel Sickles returned to Washington to visit his leg whenever the opportunity existed. After the Civil War, he went to Gettysburg annually to pay his respects for all those who died there. Daniel Sickles is noted responsible for the preservation of those fields in Gettysburg, spending his own money to see it become a memorial. People in Emmitsburg today are reminded of his dedication to Civil War memorials and preservation work by the signs placed next to the U.S. Post Office.

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