Tuesday, July 9, 2013

They Saved The National Capital

The Battle of Monocacy a part of the Valley Campaign of 1864 was fought July 9th 1864, and is sometimes called the Battle that saved Washington.

In reaction to Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal A Early’s movements, Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S Grant dispatched about 5,000 men of the VI Corps on July 6th 1864 under the command of Brigadier General James B Ricketts, to help the Union force in the Shenandoah Valley.  While these men were on route the only other Union soldiers standing between Early and Washington, DC was a command of Major General Lew Wallace.  He had a force of about 6,300 mostly made up by men who had enlisted for 100 days, most of whom had never been in a battle.  Wallace’s only hope was to slow down the Confederate approach toward Washington until reinforcements could reach the city.

Wallace saw Monocacy Junction as the best place to try to defend both Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC.  The Georgetown Pike and National Road as well as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad crossed the Monocacy River there, but to cover the area Wallace would have to stretch his troops over a six mile long front.  It was good news when Wallace heard that a part of the VI Corps was coming his way by rail.

On the morning of July 9th 1864 the Union troops were in position at the bridges and fords on the Monocacy River.  They held the higher elevation on the east back, and were digging in as much as they could.  Confederate Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur moving up the Georgetown Pike ran into the Union troops first near the Best Farm, while Confederate Major General Robert E Rodes clashed with Wallace’s man on the National Road.  Taking some Union prisoners, the Confederates were led to believe that the whole VI Corps was in their front.  Being cautious, Early sent cavalry off the try to find a place to outflank the Union line, which they found on Wallace’s left.  Or they thought they had found the left, but do to terrain what they had found was the point that separated Wallace’s One Hundred Day men and the men of the VI Corps.  Once it was discovered, Early sent in Confederate Major General John B Gordon division.  The confederates made a break in the Union line and were able to enfilade the line.  Wallace was unable to reinforce the line and realizing the Union position was untenable Wallace ordered a retreat towards Baltimore.  They left 1,294 men behind, dead, wounded and captured.

Early’s army lost a day’s march, but the way was open to Washington, DC.  He continued to march on getting close enough to see the Capitol Dome, but his men were played out, and more Union troops of the battle harden VI Corps were seen arriving.  After some skirmishing and artillery fire, Early withdrew back across the Potomac on July 13th 1864.

Wallace would give orders for the dead on the Monocacy Battlefield to be collected and buried.  He said there should be a monument to these men that read, “These men died to save the National Capital, and they did save it."

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