July 9, 1864: Battle of Monocacy

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In early July 1864 Washington was in something of a panic.  Jubal Early fresh from his victories in the Shenandoah Valley was driving north towards Washington.  The extensive fortifications of Washington had been stripped of men, sent south to participate in Grant’s Overland Campaign.  Grant on July 6, ordered two veteran brigades of the VI Corps to be shipped to Baltimore by sea.  Until they arrived, all that stood between early was Major General Lew Wallace and 6300 Union troops, many of them recently recruited 100 day men, short term enlistees mustered into service in the Spring of 1864.  Few of Wallace’s men had ever seen combat.

The future author of the block buster novel Ben Hur, the West Point trained Wallace had not had a good war up to this point.  Unfairly made a scape goat after Shiloh, Wallace had been shunted aside to non-combat assignments, his most notable achievement being his preparation of Cincinnati for a Confederate attack that never came during Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky in 1862.

Now the commander of the Mid-Atlantic region, the War had come to him.

Wallace decided to stand and fight at Monocacy Junction three miles south of Frederick, Maryland.  At Monocacy the Georgetown Pike to Washington and the National Road to Baltimore both crossed the Monocacy River there as did the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  Delaying Early here would give at least one more day for reinforcements to get to Washington.  Wallace was in luck and VI Corps troops from Baltimore reached him before the battle.  The odds were still long however, 5800 Union troops facing 14000 Confederates, with Wallace’s men defending a six mile front to guard the Georgetown Pike, the National Road and the Baltimore and Ohio.

The Union beat off two attacks by Confederate divisions attacking along both the Georgetown Pike and the National Road.  An attack by Gordon’s division on the left forced a retreat of Wallace to Baltimore beginning in the late afternoon.  However, he and his men succeeded in delaying Early just long enough to save Washington, as Early noted in his memoirs:

Some of the Northern papers stated that, between Saturday and Monday, I could have entered the city; but on Saturday I was fighting at Monocacy, thirty-five miles from Washington, a force which I could not leave in my rear; and after disposing of that force and moving as rapidly as it was possible for me to move, I did not arrive in front of the fortifications until after noon on Monday, and then my troops were exhausted…

Union casualties were 1294 to some 700-900 Confederate.

Wallace proposed that a memorial should be built at Monocacy to the Union troops who died there stating:

“These men died to save the National Capital, and they did save it.”

Such a memorial has never been built, but it should be.  The report of Lew Wallace on the battle: (more…)

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Published in: on July 9, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 9, 1864: Battle of Monocacy  
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