By ECW Correspondent Emily Losito
A young Ryan T. Quint sat at his high school desk entranced in a Civil War documentary. His teacher had No Retreat from Destiny playing on the screen, a 2006 film about the battle of Monocacy. Quint didn’t know that this would spark his curiosity into the history behind smaller battles and lead to his first book, Determined to Stand and Fight: The Battle of Monocacy.
In his book—the latest entry in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War Series—Quint reviews the pivotal 1864 battle and its significance to history.
While working on the book, Quint marched all around the Monocacy battlefield. He felt it was necessary and important that he walked through the 1,500-acre national park, located just outside Frederick, Maryland. He said that it would be easy for readers to tell if he had understood the lay of the land or not when he was writing.
Quint also went to the Monocacy archives. He said staff and friends were very helpful in writing the book. He also said that he wrote a paper on the battle of Monocacy in college, and his paper won an award for the best thesis. “It was kind of a one-two punch,” he said, referring to writing his thesis and his book.
Through his research, Quint got to know the two major military leaders of the battle. The Union army would have Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace to thank for saving Washington, D.C., from the hands of the Confederate soldiers, led by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early.
When John Garrett, president of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, heard that there were Confederate soldiers making their way down the tracks, and Union officers dismissed warning bells, he broke command to tell Wallace and asked him what he was going to do about it.
Wallace, one of the few generals who didn’t go to military school, was born to an Indianan politician, so he established many connections. He grew up dabbling in writing and drawing. He is also now known for the American bestseller Ben-Hur, which he wrote after the war. At the time, though, many thought he was “just another politically appointed general,” according to Quint.
There was also the belief that Wallace had previously gotten lost on the way to the battle of Shiloh in 1862. Quint said that wasn’t true, but it hurt Wallace’s credibility during the war. Wallace was sent to Baltimore to stay out of the way, since most believed that Washington would be safe from Confederate attacks. The battle of Monocacy became one of Wallace’s chances to help redeem his tainted record.
Early, also known as Robert E. Lee’s “bad, old man,” was well seasoned. Quint said he had been in nearly all of the Confederates’ major battles in the East.
The battle of Monocacy took place on July 9, 1864, an election year, and Abraham Lincoln was up for re-election. Confederate soldiers drooled with the thought of raising their flag above the Federal capital, causing political instability and a loss of faith in the president.
Fewer than 6,000 Union soldiers defended Washington, and Early saw his time to strike. With 15,000 men, he headed toward the capital, but Wallace and a patched-together force of 5,800 men intercepted them outside Frederick, Maryland, along the Monocacy River. Wallace gave the rest of the Union army time to scramble and mobilize to defend Washington.
“Monocacy shouldn’t have really been as close as it was,” he said. “There were warning bells in Washington for days.”
Quint said he appreciated all of the collaborative efforts from the people who helped him research the battle. “There are some really neat things. I would give Hal Jesperson chicken scratches, and he came back with these awesome maps,” Quint said.
He also found a photograph of James Van Valkenburg who was a major in the 61st Georgia Infantry. The picture shows Van Valkenburg in uniform. “He wasn’t wearing a regulation Confederate uniform,” Quit explained. “It looks like a pre-war Georgian militia uniform. It was really neat because it put a face to the battle of Monocacy.”
The end of the battle is not the end of Quint’s book. Instead, he takes his readers to the battle of Fort Stevens, which began July 11, 1864. “It’s not really well-known. It’s a small blip. If you drive by and blink, you’ll miss it,” he said.
Quint takes special interest in smaller battles. He said Abraham Lincoln was at Fort Stevens during the battle and Confederates shot at him. Quint said Monocacy and Fort Stevens were a lot more significant than people know. He said that some might not think much about a 150-year-old battle, but back then, it was a big deal. Quint said the government was in danger.
“Monocacy is a battlefield that is only starting to get the recognition it deserves,” Quint said. “It’s 45 minutes south of Gettysburg, and it’s right in the historic triangle. People don’t have a reason not to go there.”