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The Battle of Monocacy

Discussion in 'The Eastern Theater' started by James N., Aug 26, 2014.

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  1. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    212.JPG
    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    The Best House, seen below, wound up being used as a Confederate field hospital during and after the battle.

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    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.

    219.JPG

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    223.JPG

    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."

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    Last edited: Aug 27, 2014

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  3. 7th Mississippi Infantry

    7th Mississippi Infantry Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    As usual, great job James N.
    Very interesting. :thumbsup:
     
  4. Drew

    Drew Captain

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    That sounds like a grudging acknowledgement, IMO. This is potentially one of the great "what ifs" of the war. If Wallace hadn't been there....it's anyone's guess what would have happened next.
     
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  5. JeffBrooks

    JeffBrooks Sergeant Major

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    Visiting Monocacy in October. Very excited!
     
  6. Buckeye Bill

    Buckeye Bill 1st Lieutenant

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    Outstanding OP, James!

    I was very impressed with this NPS venue.

    Bill
     
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  7. unionblue

    unionblue Brev. Brig. Gen'l Member of the Year

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    JeffBrooks,

    Already visited the site.

    You will enjoy it.

    Sincerely,
    Unionblue
     
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  8. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Exactly - I was so impressed by this quote from the NPS folder I copied it verbatim though it's slightly confusingly worded. Grant was capable of holding a grudge for a long time - witness Rosecrans, McClernand, and eventually Custer who all felt his uncompromising wrath - and I wonder exactly where the quote was found? If from his memoirs maybe he'd mellowed a bit. As for Wallace, he seems to have reverted to command of his department where Lincoln depended on him to oversee the fall elections in Maryland and Delaware and use his position to insure Republican victories there by preventing Southern sympathizers from voting. Monocacy seems to have been his only field exercise following Shiloh, though after the war he was again in the spotlight as president of the military court that tried, found guilty, and condemned Confederate Capt. Henry Wirz for alleged war crimes at Andersonville.
     
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  9. Buckeye Bill

    Buckeye Bill 1st Lieutenant

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    *** Bump ***
     
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  10. dlavin

    dlavin First Sergeant

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    awesome write up
     
  11. Greg Taylor

    Greg Taylor Sergeant Major

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    Interesting write-up. I visited the battlefield in 2011 and found it to be very interesting. Monocacy is an example that not all battles can be judged by the immediate result (ie.- win or lose). The consequences that follow are just as important.
     
  12. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    In that respect I'm reminded of another defeat with equally momentous consequences, First Kernstown, fought in March, 1862, about which the loser Stonewall Jackson said,

    "I am well satisfied with the result... Time has shown that while the field is in possession of the enemy, the most essential fruits of the battle are ours. For this and all of our Heavenly Father's blessings, I wish I could be ten thousand times more thankful."
     
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  13. Buckeye Bill

    Buckeye Bill 1st Lieutenant

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    * The 14th New Jersey Monument at Monocacy Junction, Maryland (Tour Stop : 2)

    Simply HDR_1436468819396.jpg

    * Simply HDR App on my phone.
     
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  14. kylefoley76

    kylefoley76 Cadet

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    Thanks for posting this. I grew up living 10 minutes from this battlefield.
     
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  15. bankerpapaw

    bankerpapaw 2nd Lieutenant

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    Great pictures!!! Thanks.
     
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  16. rhettbutler1865

    rhettbutler1865 Colonel, CSA Cavalry Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    Nice, FRESH, post. Thanks, James.:thumbsup:
     
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  17. hanna260

    hanna260 Sergeant Major

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    The Battle that Saved Washington DC, eh? Well, now I'm redfaced because I had never heard of it before now!! Amazing how many battles were important besides Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, and Appomattox, eh? Thanks for sharing, James! :smile:
     
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  18. John Hartwell

    John Hartwell Captain Forum Host

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    I always think of A.S Roe's remark in his brief memoir Recollections of Monocacy:

    "General Lew Wallace commanded on this day, at least so history states, and so it was reported among us; but few, if any, of us had ocular evidence of his presence. There was considerably more lying than fighting in this day's record. I have heard that General Wallace was repeatedly requested to give consent to the constructing of a small earthwork in front of our line, but he was unwilling that this should be done. At any rate, all the defense that any of us had was what we could make with bayonet and cup or spoon, scarcely more than a potato hill."

    That's just a private's personal recollection. His first experience of combat would be his last, and only won him six months In a Rebel Prison: Or, Experiences in Danville.

    In between those two periods, he journeyed: From Monocacy to Danville: a Trip with the Confederates. He also related his return after exchange, travelling through Richmond, Annapolis, and Home. An interesting, informal set of brief memoirs from a Fulton, N.Y. man in the 9th N.Y. H.A

    jno
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2015
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  19. civilken

    civilken 2nd Lieutenant

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    May I say those pictures are breathtaking. I have told enough people that I suffer from glaucoma so my vision is quite impaired but I have glasses that blow everything up big enough for me to see some things and I just love the work I came on the site to ask a question I have read several articles about the fight but nothing really in Debt would you happen to know of any lectures on the computer or talking books on the subject I would appreciate it and thank you once again for the pictures.
     
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  20. tlyne

    tlyne Private

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    "Desperate Engagement" by Marc Leepson is a pretty good book about the battle.
     

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