Civil War Battles
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The Battle of Monocacy was also known as the Battle of Monocacy Junction. The battle was part of Early's Raid through the Shenandoah Valley and into Maryland, attempting to divert Union forces away from Gen. Robert E. Lee's army under siege at Petersburg, Virginia. Reacting to Early's raid, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant dispatched a 5,000-man division under Brig. Gen. James B. Ricketts on July 6, and a few days later sent a full corps under Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright. Until those troops arrived, however, the only Union army between Early and Washington, D.C. was Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace's men. At the time, Wallace was headquartered at Baltimore. Most of his men had never seen any combat.
On July 5-6, after marching north through the Shenandoah Valley from Lynchburg, Early's army side-stepped the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry and crossed the Potomac River at Shepherdstown into Maryland. Wallace learned that a large Confederate force was advancing. Uncertain whether Baltimore or Washington, D.C. was the Confederate's objective, he knew he had to delay their approach until reinforcements could reach either city.
At Frederick, Early demanded, and received, $200,000 ransom to forestall his destruction of the city. Frederick Junction, also called Monocacy Junction, 3 miles southeast of Frederick, was the logical point of defense for both cities. The Georgetown Pike to Washington and the National Road to Baltimore both crossed the Monocacy River there as did the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. If Wallace could stretch his little army over 6 miles of riverfront to protect both turnpike bridges, the railroad bridge, and several fords, he could make Early disclose the strength and objective of the Confederate force and delay him as long as possible.
Wallace's prospects brightened with word that the first contingent of Grant's Veterans, the troops commanded by Ricketts, had reached Baltimore and were rushing by rail to join Wallace at the Monocacy.
On July 9, Wallace's army attempted to stop Early's invading Confederate divisions along the Monocacy River, just east of Frederick. Wallace had mainly Home Guards and militia, but was joined by Ricketts's Division of the VI Corps that had been rushed from the Petersburg lines. He had two areas to defend: the coastal Maryland cities which had strong Confederate sympathies, and Washington D.C. He knew he wasn't likely to beat Early's veterans, nor could he pull back and defend one target, because Early would simply move on the other. He bravely moved west and made sure he would delay, if not defeat, Early.
The combined forces of Wallace and Ricketts were positioned at the bridges and fords of the river. The higher elevation of the Monocacy River's east bank formed a natural breastwork for some of the soldiers. Others occupied 2-block houses, the trenches they had dug with a few available tools, or took what cover they could among the fences and crops of once peaceful farms.
The Union line brought the Confederate advance guard under enough fire that it had to deploy; then a second division had to deploy and turn Wallace's flank.
Maj. Gen. Dodson Ramseur's division encountered Wallace's troops on the Georgetown Pike near the Best Farm; Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes's division clashed with the Federals on the National Road. Believing that a frontal attack across the Monocacy would be too costly, Early sent Col. John McCausland's cavalry down Buckeystown Road to find a ford and outflank the Union line. Confederates penetrated the Monocacy defenses below the McKinney-Worthington Ford and attacked Wallace's left flank.
Some of the heaviest fighting took place where they confronted Ricketts's veterans at a fence separating the Worthington Farm and the Thomas Farm. The Federals fought fiercely to hold position, but it was only a matter of time before the superior Confederate force gained control. A 3-pronged attack of Confederate's from Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon's division pushed Ricketts back toward the National Road where he was joined by the beleaguered troops who had fought Ramseur and Rodes all day. Wallace had to pull back or face the annihilation of his army.
Early didn't pursue, though he might have been able to destroy Wallace's force. Instead he kept his eye on the main prize, and moved his men on the Washington road. Hearing of Early's incursion into Maryland, Grant embarked the rest of the VI Corps on transports at City Point, sending it with all dispatch to Washington D.C.
By late afternoon, the Federals were retreating toward Baltimore. Later, Wallace gave orders to collect the bodies of the dead in a burial ground on the battlefield. His defeat at Monocacy bought time for the veterans to arrive to bolster the defenses of Washington. Monocacy was called the "Battle that Saved Washington."
The way lay open to Washington, D.C. for the Confederate army.
On July 10, the Confederates marched on, and by midday Monday, Early stood inside the District of Columbia at the earthworks of Fort Stevens, which he assaulted unsuccessfully on July 11.
Monocacy cost Early a day's march and his chance to capture Washington, D.C. Thwarted in the attempt to take the capital, the Confederates turned back to Virginia, ending their last campaign to carry the war into the North.
Grant assessed Wallace's delaying tactics at Monocacy: "If Early had been but one day earlier, he might have entered the capital before the arrival of the reinforcements I had sent .... General Wallace contributed on this occasion by the defeat of the troops under him, a greater benefit to the cause than often falls to the lot of a commander of an equal force to render by means of a victory."