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July 9, 2010

The “Triumph” of Lew Wallace

Joe Charlebois

One hundred and forty-six years ago today at the confluence of the Georgetown Pike (now Route 355), the Monocacy Junction of the B&O Railroad and just up river the Baltimore Pike to Baltimore (now Reich’s Ford Road), Union forces led by Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace lost the only Civil War battle on Union soil to Confederate forces.


The importance of this battle cannot be underestimated as Confederate forces, led by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, made a somewhat effortless trek up the Shenandoah Valley on their way to Frederick with the intent of attacking the Union capital. This Union loss was the “victory” that eventually saved Washington from an unopposed onslaught of Confederate forces.


Sitting just a scant three miles from the City of Frederick, the battlefield was the site of the three noted potential crossings of the Monocacy River.


While the Union’s General-in-Chief Ulysses Grant’s forces were tied up in battles around Richmond; Washington was left virtually unprotected to an attack from the north and west.


With notice of the movement of General Early’s forces up the Shenandoah Valley, the Union forces, under the direction of General Wallace, were able to amass approximately 5,800 troops – including 2,500 men, most of whom were inexperienced soldiers of the Potomac Home Brigade and Ohio militia. These men were called “Hundred Days Men” due to level of training they received and the time from enlistment to battle. The other fortifying contingent that marched northwest to join General Wallace came from Rickett’s Division of IV Corps.


When battle ensued on July 9, the federal forces were initially able to repel General Early’s advance. But with continued attacking maneuvers Early’s Confederates would eventually break the Union lines. General Wallace’s troops would lose nearly 1,300 men in their attempt to turn back the Confederates. General Early would eventually fallback and retreat toward Baltimore, leaving the road to Washington open.


With the staunch defense of Monocacy Junction, Early’s men were forced to encamp for the night. While the Confederates were forced to bivouac, Grant was able to send IV Corps reinforcements to protect Washington at Fort Stevens. The next day, as Early’s forces pillaged Urbana and made their way to Washington, they were met by Union forces at Fort Stevens too large to overcome. At this point General Early realized that any attack on the fort would mean certain defeat, so he retreated across the Potomac at White’s Ferry and into bordering Virginia.


Frederick is blessed to have the National Park Service operate and preserve the park on the site of this battle.


The battlefield is located just south of the Francis Scott Key Mall on Route 355. It lies on both sides of the road but the new visitor center on the north-bound side of U.S. 355 has interactive displays and museum quality pieces that make this visit top-notch! Re-enactments are commonplace and if you connect to the website (, you can get the schedule for events and activities at the park.


Although by its sheer size it is at best considered a skirmish, it is the “Battle that Saved Washington!”


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