ECW Weekender: Monocacy National Battlefield

Located just outside the sprawling development around Frederick, Maryland is the green space of Monocacy National Battlefield. Though the park was the site of what could be considered a small engagement in the scale of the war in the east, nobody should underestimate the effect of the battle. Fought by Major General Lew Wallace’s slapped together Eighth Corps reinforced by Brigadier General James Ricketts’s division of the battle hardened Sixth Corps against Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley on July 9, 1864, this clash slowed Early’s approach towards Washington, D.C. Though humble when compared to Antietam or Gettysburg, this park’s driving tour, walking trails, and visitor center are well worth your attention.

In addition to excellent exhibits and artifacts, the visitor center includes a small viewing platform with a nice view of the landscape.

Currently, the visitor center is open from 9AM to 5PM Thursday through Monday, but you can check the hours here. The second floor has exhibits ranging from complete uniforms to personal items and archaeological finds, including a few microhistory exhibits focused on accounts and items from a particular regiment. There’s even an electric map describing the movements during the battle! The visitor center and exhibits elsewhere on the battlefield also go beyond 1864 to interpret commemoration of the battle, the indigenous peoples who once lived along the Monocacy River, and the people who settled in the region (including the issue of slavery in the area). The visitor center is also a great place to refill water bottles before a hike and pick up some books or postcards.

The Thomas Farm as seen from along one walking trail.
The Pennsylvania Monument at Monocacy. Dedicated in 1908, it honors the 67th, 87th, and 138th Pennsylvania Infantry regiments, though the 67th was not engaged at Monocacy.

Once you’ve seen the visitor center, there are a few options for seeing the battlefield. There are six walking trails of varying lengths and difficulties. My personal favorites are the Gambrill Mill Trail, a short trail that includes a wooden boardwalk, and the the Thomas Farm Loop Trail which takes you through some of the major fighting and includes a brand new set of exhibits in the Tenant House that opened last fall. Like most battlefields, there is a driving tour. The five stops take visitors out to the major sites on the field, including three surviving farms that are preserved by the NPS and past a small number of monuments placed by veterans. If you can’t make it out in person, there are videos for a virtual tour as well as an immersive 3D tour of the Worthington House.

After several years of closure due to bridge renovation, a new and improved parking area is complete and open, finally allowing access to the 14th New Jersey Infantry’s monument. They had been stationed in the area to protect the railroad in the years prior and took heavy casualties at the battle, so they have a strong tie to the field.

Of course, once you’ve seen Monocacy you can continue your day in Frederick, Maryland. The downtown area has a great creekside park as well as ample history in the form of wayside markers and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

12 Responses to ECW Weekender: Monocacy National Battlefield

  1. A nice battlefield. Last time I was there, they were doing some road/bridge work. I hope they made it a bit safer to exit the bridge site and kiosk.

    1. If we’re thinking about the same thing, it was the bridge and parking for the 14th NJ monument which is done now!

  2. Monocacy is an utter (albeit little) gem. Great relatively-new visitor center (although I do miss the old one inside of Gambrill’s Mill), cool walking trails, several neat period buildings. Absolutely worth a visit or two!

    1. I do really like the new visitor center. Blends into the landscape and does a lot in a small footprint.

    1. Glad to help! Good variety – the short Gambrill’s Mill trail has a neat boardwalk, but there’s longer ones too.

  3. Jon, thanks for posting this … i will have to go back — it’s been many years … and i have always been fascinated with Lew Wallace and his professional redemption at Monocacy … one of those small tactical actions that had major operational implications.

  4. I paid a visit recently. The Visitor Center is excellent, enjoyed by my companion who is not a CW buff! They host many special events for those in the area.

  5. Thank you for the NPS links. It has been many years since I visited the Park; I will put it back in the rotation when in the Gettysburg, Antietam areas.

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