On our way back from Washington DC, Tom and I stopped at one more National Park: Monocacy National Battlefield. Monocacy was the closest Civil War battle to Washington DC. I mentioned it in yesterday’s post about the Civil War Defenses of Washington.
Monocacy National Battlefield commemorates the place where the Union troops left in Washington DC made their valiant delaying stand against the Confederate soldiers. The Confederates, knowing the DC defenses were understaffed, pushed into Maryland with the goal of capturing Washington DC and influencing the upcoming presidential election of 1864.
On the morning of July 9, 1864, the 15,000 Confederate troops heading toward Washington DC met 6,000 Federal troops hastily assembled at Monocacy Juntion. The Federal troops were green and inexperienced and led by General Wallace. The Confederate troops were battle-hardened, led by General Early. Fierce fighting ensued all along the Monocacy River. The Confederate troops fought to cross the river and move toward Washington DC. The Federal troops fought to hold them off long enough to allow more Federal troops to return to Washington DC. By the end of the day, the Confederates were on the DC side of the river and the Federals fell back to the defensive forts around Washington.
Even though the Confederates won the battle, they were too tired to continue to march to Washington. By they time they took care of their dead and wounded and marched on, it was too late. Washington was reinforced and the Confederate forces were easily turned away. The battle was small by Civil War standards: 900 Confederate and 1,300 Federal casualties. But because the Federal troops held off the Confederates for two days, Washington DC was saved for the Union.
We started our visit to Monocacy National Battlefield by heading to the Visitors Center. The Visitors Center is in an old barn, with a gift shop and desk downstairs and museum displays upstairs. There is no movie. But they did have a short 8 minute talk around a lighted battlefield display that showed the troop movements during the battle. This helped us to get a good idea of the logistics and envision the battle. From the second-story window we could see the two places where Confederate troops tried to cross the river.
A driving tour is also available with just five stops. Each stop has commemorative markers and some trails for walking the battlefield. But most of the farmland is still privately owned, so there are some places that are only open with a ranger-led tour on certain days. Tour stop #2 is currently closed while the railroad bridge over the river is replaced.
Although the battle at Monocacy Junction was one of the shorter in the Civil War, it was very important to the outcome of the war. Because the Federal troops delayed the Confederates for two days, it became the battle that saved Washington. And, because the capital was saved, the Union was saved.