For those of you that have been to the Washington DC area, you know that urban sprawl is everywhere. DC has grown outward on all points of the compass. In the path of the sprawl are small towns, beautiful farmland, and Civil War battlefields. One of those battlefields is driven on daily by thousands of motorists, and if you blink you will easily miss it.
The July 1864 Battle of Monocacy is referred to as “the battle that saved Washington.” Confederate forces under the command of Lieutenant General Jubal Early drove down the Shenandoah Valley into West Virginia and Maryland. Early’s force threatened both Baltimore and Washington. The capture of either city could help break the siege lines around Petersburg Virginia.
A rag-tag force was thrown together by Union Major General Lew Wallace. Wallace had become a black sheep in the army following his performance at Shiloh, in 1862. Wallace with some 5,800 men were the only sizable Union force standing between Early and the nations capital.
On the morning of July 9, 1864 Early’s force moved east from Frederick Maryland toward Wallace’s men. Fighting broke out on and around the Best Farm. Throughout the day Southern forces tried to break the Union hold of the Georgetown Pike, the Best Farm, and Monocacy Junction. It would not be until near 4 PM before the Confederates wrestled control of the rail bridge and junction from Union hands.
Stiff resistance was also met at both the Worthington and Thomas Farm’s. Confederates using a ford at the Worthington Farm crossed the Monocacy River and were met by the 8th Illinois Cavalry and infantry under the command of Brigadier General James Ricketts.
The fighting at the Worthington and Thomas Farm’s was very similar to the fighting at the junction. Union forces were pressed hard, but were able to hold out until late afternoon, when they were driven from the field.
Though a Union loss, the Battle of Monocacy delayed Early’s advance on Washington long enough for Union reinforcements to arrive from the Petersburg sector. Through the actions of the hodgepodge force thrown together by Wallace, Washington and the Union war effort in the east was saved.
The battlefield today sits just at the edge of Frederick Maryland. The city has grown outward to nearly the visitor centers doorstep. Slowly, but surely, encroaching from the east is the sprawl of Washington. Through nearly the middle of the battlefield runs Interstate 270. Interstate 270 leads thousands of travelers to and from the DC area on a daily basis. As the motorists whiz by few actually know that they are driving over an area that saved the nations capital nearly 150 years ago.
For what this battlefield may lack in size, it more than makes up for in character. The trail system nearly makes you forget that civilization is so close by. A small, but well done visitor center allows you to explore the battles history, as well as step on to the observation deck and take in much of the field. In the future we will have a more in-depth post about the battle and the battlefield, but for now I thought I would share the views most people have of Monocacy, just buzzing by.