Position of Confederate artillery outside the park Visitor Center looking in the direction of the Union line beyond the Monocacy River; the Best Farm and House are at the center. The July 9, 1864 Battle of the Monocacy River is often termed The Battle That Saved Washington, D. C. Fought between the Army of Northern Virginia's fabled Second Corps commanded by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early and a "pickup" Federal force led by Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace the uneven contest bought time for Union reenforcements to arrive to help secure the National Capital, denuded as it had been of garrison troops to strengthen the Army of the Potomac, depleted in U. S. Grant's bloody Overland Campaign that spring and early summer. When I first visited here fifty years ago there was little to mark the progress of this small but pivotal battle apart from a few scattered monuments. Now a relatively new unit of the National Park Service, Monocacy Battlefield interprets well the action here. By the time of the battle, Gen. Robert E. Lee had taken a great gamble in order to again drive the Federals, now led by "Black Dave" Hunter, from the Shenandoah Valley and rail lines supporting his army besieged at Richmond and Petersburg. He detached one-third of his army under Jubal Early to drive Hunter from the Valley, advance north, and threaten Harpers Ferry and the Maryland countryside, and if possible capture weakened Washington, D. C. Early's force consisted of his own infantry divisions of Robert E. Rodes, John B. Gordon, and Stephen D. Ramseur, plus that of John C. Breckinridge which had been added. Cavalry brigades under John McCausland and Bradley T. Johnson gave Early "eyes" with which to probe for the enemy. Early's force consisted of only about 12 - 15,000 men, a shadow of the once-powerful Second Corps of Stonewall Jackson. Opposing the Confederates, only about half as many men were available to Wallace, who had rushed from his Baltimore headquarters at the behest of the president of the B&O Railway to protect the junction and its steel bridge over the Monocacy here about three miles south of Frederick, Maryland. Wallace had been sidelined following the April, 1862, Battle of Shiloh owing to a dispute with U. S. Grant, who alleged he had failed to support him in a timely manner at that engagement, and was serving as the commander of the Department of Maryland and Delaware. He had managed to scrape together about 3,500 men from his far-flung command, but immediately prior to the battle here had the good fortune to persuade the first of the reenforcements rushed by Grant from his base at Petersburg to also join him. This was an infantry division of the VI Corps led by James B. Ricketts which raised Wallace's force to between 6 - 7,000 men. Wallace took position on the south side of the Monocacy, leaving a token force on the Confederate side near the wooden covered bridge which carried the Urbanna Pike across the river, hoping to delay Early's deployment. Above is the New Jersey Monument, bearing the distinct "Greek cross" emblem of the Union VI Corps which stands alongside the Pike north of the river. The Best Farm saw the opening of the battle as Confederate guns indicated by the replica above and below began to duel with the outnumbered Federal guns across the Monocacy. Despite being outgunned, the Federals were able to set fire to a large wooden barn that was being utilized as cover by Confederate riflemen. The Best House, seen below, wound up being used as a Confederate field hospital during and after the battle. Early was known as a bold and aggressive fighter, but here at Monocacy he exercised unusual caution, taking possibly excessive time to reconnoiter and deploy his forces. Rodes' Division was advanced to the north where it essentially sat out the affair staring at a small Union force across the river and never really participating in the battle. ( The scene of this limited action falls outside the area covered by the present park. ) Ramseur's Division probed and feinted in the center against Wallace's skirmishers on the north bank near Monocacy Junction. Meanwhile, Early himself sought a crossing to the south where Gordon's Division might ford and turn the Union left. This was provided when McCausland's cavalry boldly splashed across, tied their horses to fences surrounding the Worthington House below, and moved forward on foot against what they thought was the unprepared Union rear. Unfortunately for McCausland, this was the general area where Wallace had posted the VI Corps division of Ricketts and his veterans who quickly changed front to repel the dismounted cavalry, sending them reeling back to the Worthington House. While they regrouped for another try, Early sent word for Gordon to bring his division across the river to turn the Union flank. The Worthington House also became a field hospital, mainly for McCausland's cavalry and Gordon's infantry; below, an NPS ranger leads a battlefield tour for a nearby Civil War Roundtable on a warm Saturday afternoon. The heaviest fighting incurring the most severe loss occurred at the Thomas House and Farm below, where Gordon's men repeatedly charged Ricketts' troops. Although Early outnumbered Wallace by 2-to-1 that was of little importance here where both sides were roughly equal and Ricketts occupied a strong position behind stout fences, some of which broke up the attacking Confederate formations. Eventually the hot and tired Confederates pressed forward, driving Ricketts northward and exposing the New Jersey and Vermont troops at the bridge, which was torched to prevent it falling into Confederate hands but inadvertently left some of the skirmishers stranded on the north bank. The skirmishers here and at the iron railroad bridge quickly withdrew opening the latter for some of Ramseur's men to cross over on. As evening was approaching, Wallace decided he had done all he could and ordered a withdrawl which followed the roads leading back in the direction of Baltimore, leaving the road to Washington open. Unfortunately for Early and the Southern cause, the casualties he suffered here and the overall condition of his small army precluded any rapid pursuit. Even Lew Wallace's nemesis U. S. Grant later admitted that the battle and subsequent Union defeat was "a greater benefit to the cause than often falls to the lot of a commander of equal force to render by means of a victory."