Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Forgotten Gettysburg Campaign Trenches

Gettysburg Campaign Entrenchments outside Everett in Bedford County, PA

One unique story in my area concerns long forgotten Civil War entrenchments near Bedford and Everett, PA. My dad had heard of their location and we found them together. I got most of my information from an old book entitled The Minute Men of Pennsylvania and the website Mother Bedford. These entrenchments were constructed out of fear that Confederates would invade Bedford County, PA (some did). It was expected that Lee and his forces would attempt to capture the major Pennsylvania Railroad hub in Altoona. It is said by some that Lee was considering to take Altoona if he could press on after capturing Harrisburg. Gettysburg prevented all of this.

"In early June of 1863 the Army of Northern Virginia was pushing northward. The people of this region became quite alarmed. Confederate Cavalry was claimed to have been sighted in the Morrison's Cove area. On June 14, 1863 citizens decided it was time to organize a militia troop for their own defense. The troop that was formed over the next few days was neither accepted by nor mustered into the regular state or federal armed forces. Therefore it was not given an official designation. Initially, it took the name of the Pennsylvania Emergency Militia.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Militia was led by Colonel Jacob Higgins," a former member of the 1st PA Cavalry. The colonel also had commanded the 125th PA Infantry at Antietam less than one year before. He was on leave from the army at this time due to illness, but agreed to take command of the militia. In addition, he was from my hometown of Altoona. "By the end of the week his troop had come to consist of three battalions of infantry raised primarily in Blair County, PA. One battalion had been sent from nearby Johnstown in Cambria County.

Col. Jacob Higgins in his cavalry garb. Courtesy the Bedford Historical Society.

The McKee Gap (or Snake's Spring Gap) was chosen as the most strategic point to fortify and defend; it afforded the most easily accessible route of ingress to the Altoona region. It would also be the most easily defended position because of its natural shape and size. On June 23, Col. Higgins and his Pennsylvania Emergency Militia took possession of the McKee Gap and began to fortify the site. Entrenchments were dug into the hillside and obstructions were placed in the road that passed through the gap. Legend has it that wooden and stone platforms were constructed along the hillside and on the summits of Dunnings and Short Mountains on which artillery was placed. There exists no records to either confirm or deny the claim that any cannon were available to the troops. Four to six pieces of artillery were requested from the regular army, but they were never delivered.

On June 24, a detachment was ordered south to the Loys Gap to fortify that pass also. On the 25th the force was further depleted by the removal of a detachment to fortify passes in the region of St. Clairsville. Then, on the 26th of June, Col. Higgins marched the remaining troops to the Sideling Hill region southeast of the town of Bedford.

On the 1st of July, 1863, as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia met Meade’s Army of the Potomac in the Battle of Gettysburg, the Pennsylvania Emergency Militia was asked to be mustered into the regular army for a tour of duty of at least six months. The majority of the men would not agree to that and so the troop was disbanded and the men returned to their homes.

Because the militia had not been properly equipped, they had taken to stealing chickens and cattle from the neighboring farms, and therefore received the nickname of the 'Chicken Raiders'." Poor fellows. They somewhat remind me of the 26th PA Emergency Militia, who had similar misadventures. In nearby Everett (then known as Bloody Run), some of the Chicken Raiders were engaged in a small firefight with a small detachment of Albert Jenkin's Confederate cavalry. Both sides quickly skedaddled and returned to their main column. Such was the great military action in Bedford County.

Here is some information on the historical marker and site:

Dedicated: Saturday, June 29, 1963
County: Bedford
Marker Type: Roadside
GIS Coordinates: 40.1009, -78.38953

Location: SR 1005 (former Pa. 36 & LR 286) 5 miles S of Loysburg

Marker Text: Entrenchments still visible by the roadsides were prepared in June, 1863, by militia under Col. J.C. Higgins against threatened Confederate attack toward the railroad at Altoona. The march of troops toward Gettysburg on June 30 - July 1 ended the danger and the need for these defenses.

Driving Directions: From Bedford take Route 30 east to the "hospital" exit. Turn right after exiting and drive across the bridge (that crosses back over Route 30). Continue on this road (SR1005) to the north. The entrenchments will be on your left.

The trenches are right beside the road. Can't miss the sign.

Map and marker on site.

I would estimate the trenches stretch a half-mile. They are in very good condition.


  1. Very interesting. I'm a big fan of our brother did he take the pic.

  2. Jared, is there a roster of men in this unit?
    Christ Liebegott

  3. Not that I am aware of. It might be found in the period newspapers.