A Place in Civil War History
One hundred and fifty years ago at the confluence of the Georgetown Pike (now Route 355), the Monocacy Junction of the B&O Railroad and just up river from 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.
In July of 1864, Frederick was essentially left unprotected from the advance of unchallenged southern forces. Prior to the Battle of Monocacy, the city was subject to the ransom demands of Confederate General Jubal Early. The town was quickly able to produce $200,000 and was saved from the torch. After the ransom demands were met, the advancing Confederates turned their attention toward Washington.
The importance of this battle at the Monocacy River cannot be underestimated. Prior to reaching Frederick, Confederate forces, led by General Early, made a somewhat effortless trek up the Shenandoah Valley on their way to Frederick with the intent of attacking the Union capital from the north and west while the Union’s General Ulysses Grant’s forces were tied up in battles around Richmond, Virginia.
Sitting just a scant three miles from the City of Frederick, the battlefield was the most likely area for General Early’s troops to cross the Monocacy as this was the site of the three noted potential river crossings – including the B&O railroad bridge that was a main supply route for Union Troops.
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 the 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 Gen. James B. Ricketts’ Division of IV Corps.
When the battle ensued on July 9, the federal forces were initially able to repel General Early’s advance. But with continued attacking maneuvers, General 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, General Early’s men were forced to encamp for the night. While the Confederates were forced to bivouac, General Grant was able to send IV Corps reinforcements to protect Washington at Fort Stevens. The next day, as General Early’s forces pillaged Urbana and made their way to Washington, they were met by Union forces at Fort Stevens which were 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.
This Union loss was the “victory” that eventually saved Washington from an unopposed onslaught of Confederate forces. Although by its sheer size it is at best considered a skirmish, it truly is the “Battle that Saved Washington!”
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 NPS.gov website (http://www.nps.gov/mono/index.htm), you can get the schedule for events and activities at the park.
Starting on July 5th, the National Park Service will be hosting artillery demonstrations, music, tours, historical stories and real time hikes over the same grounds that both the Blue and the Gray trod all those years ago. There will also be programs at Mt. Olivet cemetery, Frederick’s City Hall, the Frederick Visitor Center as well as downtown. Please take time to stop by one of these locations and relive the fight that our town was intimately apart of 150 years ago this week.