Picketing the Army of the Potomac’s Winter Encampment: Union Cavalry at Lamb’s Creek Church

Lamb's Creek Church
Lamb’s Creek Church

Following the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 and the failure of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s “Mud March”, the Army of the Potomac established winter quarters in Stafford County. Responsibility for guarding the approaches fell to the Union cavalry. Picket lines were established from Dumfries south to the hamlet of Falmouth and then west to the vicinity of Hartwood Church. East of Falmouth it continued into King George County, where  the Federals used Lamb’s Creek Church as an outpost. This position allowed them to patrol south toward the Rappahannock or farther east to King George Courthouse.



Constructed by 1750, Lamb’s Creek Church served locals of the Episcopalian faith. Primary responsibility for this sector of the picket lines fell to Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s division. The 2nd New York and 10th New York from Col. Judson Kilpatrick’s brigade occupied the area in the middle of January. The Tenth returned later in the month to  “high winds and rains.” “Notwithstanding the storm, great activity…was everywhere manifested” wrote one trooper.”

Typically, the troopers deployed to the picket line which was supported by a reserve. At the main post, the troopers were in the saddle and faced the direction of an enemy advance. Carbines and pistols were always close at hand. Every two hours, the men on the main line were relieved by their comrades at the reserve. In the reserve posts, the men could warm themselves next to a fire and enjoy a cup of coffee and hardtack. Although their behavior was more relaxed at the reserve, weapons were always close at hand and the horses remained saddled and bridled. Regiments usually spent three to four days on the picket line before rotating back to their encampment while another regiment took their place.

Despite the harsh weather experienced throughout the early months of 1863, some men looked back fondly upon their time at the small chapel. “Some of the pleasantest memories of the service  are of hours passed at the picket reserve that winter” recalled a member of the 1st Maine. “Lamb Creek Church…and…other points along the river where the reserves were stationed, will always call up agreeable recollections. The men got better acquainted with each other under those circumstances than while being in camp with two, or at most four to a tent.”

The 10th New York returned to the church on March 9. Two days later, the Empire Staters dispatched a contingent south to patrol the Rappahannock. There, they engaged and turned back a party from the 2nd Virginia Infantry of the Stonewall Brigade who attempted to cross the river to the north bank. The opening of the Chancellorsville Campaign drew the Union troopers away from winter duties and Lamb’s Creek Church.  It still stands today on State Route 694 between State Routes 3 and 218.

2 Responses to Picketing the Army of the Potomac’s Winter Encampment: Union Cavalry at Lamb’s Creek Church

  1. I love this little narrative about the Lamb’s Creek Church and the United States Cavalry. I am a big fan of the cavalry and the part they played in the ACW. Please write more on the subject. Thank you, Daniel.

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