The third Confederate advance north of Virginia - and associated trivia

hoosier

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Dillsburg, PA
It can be said that there were three significant Confederate advances north of Virginia during the Civil War. The first, in 1862, led to the battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg. The second, in 1863, culminated in the battle of Gettysburg. And the third, in 1864, led to the much less well-known (perhaps because it was much less bloody) battle of the Monocacy.

In this post, I'm going to describe the events that led up to the battle of the Monocacy and the aftermath of that battle. This is going to be quite a lengthy post. If anyone looking in here is interested only in the trivia question, I will post that in a separate post, immediately following this one.

The battle of the Monocacy (which took place just east of Frederick, MD) took place on July 9, 1864, but its origins can be traced as far back, and as far away, as the defeat of Franz Sigel at the battle of New Market in the Shenandoah Valley on May 15 of that year.

Following Sigel's somewhat humiliating defeat at New Market by a much smaller force including young cadets from VMI and Sigel's subsequent withdrawal to the Winchester area, Sigel was replaced as commander of the Federal forces in the Shenandoah by General David Hunter.

Hunter began a retaliatory movement up the Shenandoah Valley (in the Shenandoah, "up the valley" means south and "down the valley" means north). After winning the battle of Piedmont on June 5, Hunter proceeded to occupy Staunton on June 6. At that point he was joined by additional troops, bringing the total strength under Hunter's command to about 18,000.

Hunter moved on toward Lynchburg, pausing at Lexington on June 11-12 to occupy that town and to exact symbolic revenge for the New Market defeat by burning the buildings at VMI.

Meanwhile, Jubal Early with the Confederate II Corps, about 14,000 strong, began to move from Richmond toward Lynchburg.

Hunter arrived on the outskirts of Lynchburg on June 17. Early's forces arrived in that town, by train, on the 18th, whereupon Hunter, now facing a force roughly equivalent to his in size, withdrew westward, over the mountains into West Virginia.

By doing so, Hunter left the Shenandoah Valley wide open for an advance by Early's Confederates. Worse, he cut himself off from communication with the Union high command, leaving the high command completely unaware that the Shenandoah was as wide open as it was. If anyone knows any reason for Hunter's withdrawal that reflects in any way to Hunter's credit, please add it to this thread.

Early, after pursuing Hunter for several days, broke off the pursuit and turned north, proceeding down the Shenandoah to Harper's Ferry. He arrived at Harper's Ferry on July 4 and proceeded to disrupt rail traffic on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad line through Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg.

Thus, the executives of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad became aware, before anyone in the Union army high command, of the Confederate advance through the Shenandoah. They got word to General Lewis Wallace, who had held field commands early in the war but was currently assigned to administrative duties in Baltimore.

Early, having gotten as far as Harper's Ferry with so little resistance, now saw the opportunity to advance on Washington. Early began to move eastward, while Wallace, collecting about 2,300 assorted troops, moved west from Baltimore. Wallace's troops were eventually complemented by part of the VI Corps, bringing his total strength to about 5,800.

Wallace eventually took up a defensive position just east of Frederick along the banks of the Monocacy River. His artillery, positioned on high hills along one bank, were able to command both the National Road leading toward Baltimore and the Georgetown Road leading toward Washington.

On June 8, Early advanced through Hagerstown and reached Frederick.

The battle of the Monocacy began at about 6:30 the next morning. Though Early had the advantage of numbers, he was forced to spend much of the day probing for a point where he could flank the Union position and ford the Monocacy. Early's troops were not able to ford the river until about 3:30 in the afternoon. The heaviest fighting of the battle took place from that point until the end of the day, at which time Wallace, clearly outnumbered and unable to hold his position, withdrew his forces, who had suffered relatively light casualties, back toward Baltimore. Meanwhile, Grant, learning what was going on at Monocacy, ordered the balance of the VI Corps and the XIX Corps (which had been embarked on ships that were about to sail for New Orleans) to the defense of Washington.

Early continued his march toward Washington the next day, arriving at Ft. Stevens in the Silver Spring, MD area late in the day. Realizing that his men were exhausted from the rigors of the previous day's battle and the effects of the long march, he called a halt for the night.

It was said that, as his men rested, they could hear the sound of the boots of the VI and XIX Corps marching into Washington.

After evaluating the situation over the next couple of days, Early concluded that the city's defenses were now too strong and that any chance that an assault could be successful had disappeared. The Confederates withdrew to Rockville, MD and then crossed the Potomac to Leesburg, VA, thus ending the last Confederate incursion into the North.

Though Wallace, technically, was defeated at Monocacy, he may be credited with performing a delaying action that may have made the difference between Early's being able to occupy Washington and Grant's being able to send troops in time to stop him.

The above information is taken from a seminar class presented at Harrisburg by Scott Sheely on March 15.
 

hoosier

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Dillsburg, PA
OK, here's the trivia question.

Gen. Lewis Wallace commanded the Union troops at the battle of the Monocacy. Although Wallace technically was defeated at that battle, since the Confederates held the field at the end of the day, he succeeded in delaying a Confederate advance that, if not so delayed, might have succeeded in capturing Washington, DC.

Wallace has at least two claims to fame for things he did subsequent to the Civil War. What were they?
 
G

gunsmoke

Guest
Also before the war, he organized the first Indiana volunteer unit, to be recruited, for the Mexican War. Also he was elected to the Indiana state senate in 1856.
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
As Elisha Hunt Rodes put it, "Early was late." It wwas a rather short but sharp fight outside DC... Gotta credit Wallace with guts and realizing the importance of his delaying action.
 

hoosier

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Dillsburg, PA
Daniel, you are correct, he was the same Lew Wallace who wrote "Ben-Hur." And he did become the governor of the territory of New Mexico.

Charles, your information is correct also. Wallace did some significant things before, during, and after the Civil War.

I'd like to pose a follow-up question.

As governor of New Mexico, Wallace was at least nominally responsible for the capture of what famous Western outlaw?
 
A

aphillbilly

Guest
Henry McCarty, alias Kid Antrim, alias William H. Bonney, alias Billy The Kid
 

hoosier

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Dillsburg, PA
Aphillbilly, Billy the Kid is correct.

Shane, I see you entered your post at 7:50 while I was in the process of composing the post that I entered a few minutes later. Now that you mention it, I remember the "Early was late" line from the PBS series on the Civil War, but I had long since forgotten to which battle it referred. Thanks for the reminder.
 

8thvacav

Cadet
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Hey Guys, I lean to the south but Lew Wallace was a fascinating guy. I live close to Crawfordsville, Indiana, Lew’s home town. I believe Grant and Helleck used Lew as a scapegoat at Shiloh. In Grants own words, he said he wish he had let Lew come up on the road he first started on. That would have put him on the left flank of the Confederates. I also think Lew did a good job at Fort Donelson. He is a over looked General. He was also a Ambassador to Turkey.
Martin
 
Top