Hidden in the Shadows

The battle of the Monocacy, also known as the Battle That Saved Washington, was fought in Frederick, MD, about 45 minutes drive from Gettysburg and 30 minutes drive from Antietam. Because of these two “Super Battles” the Monocacy is often overlooked by the common Civil War Traveller.  The Monocacy battlefield is one of the most pristine sites that I have visited. With few monuments to impede the time travel view, and the original farmhouses standing, it is a very easy site to visit and travel back to that Summer day in 1864.

I highly recommend first stopping at the visitor center, especially if you do not have a background of the battle. An electric map will briefly overview the events of that day, and a small museum provides various first hand accounts, and a map of locations to visit on the battlefield

In an attempt to reduce the pressure on Richmond and the Army of Northern Virginia, General Lee sent General Jubal Early north into the Shenandoah Valley with a force of about 15,000 men. By moving through the Shenandoah Valley toward Frederick, and eventually onto to Washington D.C., the hope was that Federal troops would need to withdraw to protect the Union Capital, which would allow Richmond to breathe and regroup.

The first action began at about 8 AM, and by 10 AM, the confederates were crossing the Monocacy River. Union troops, commanded by General James Ricketts, found good defensive ground around the Thomas Farm and were able to push back the advancing rebels to the Worthington House.

While Ricketts and his men were engaged, an attack against Lieutenant George Davis and the men under his command took place on the opposite side of a covered bridge spanning the Monocacy. To prevent the Confederates from advancing past Davis’ men and having an easy path across t

Photo Courtesy NPS

he river, General Lew Wallace ordered for the bridge to be burned, abandoning Davis and the Union troops on the far side of the river.

In mid-afternoon, the Confederates advanced in force against the Union position, pushing the Federal troops back until they reached the Georgetown Pike. Once at the Georgetown Pike, the federals  were able to use the embankment of the road as a defensive position, and slow down the rebel invaders. At around 4:30 pm, the Southern troops made a final advance against the Union right flank at about the same time that Union troops were receiving the order to retreat.

With the Union troops withdrawing in the direction of Baltimore, the Confederates and General Early could claim a victory on the field, but in the bigger picture, the Union army and General Lew Wallace succeeded in delaying the Confederate advance, giving reinforcement time to arrive for the defense of Washington, and the Southern troops returned across the Potomac.

Again, I cannot recommend enough that this battle site be visited. If planning a trip to immerse yourself at Antietam and Gettysburg, I suggest saving a day to be dedicated to Frederick, MD. After spending your desired time at Antietam, travel Interstate 70 East, and stop at the Monocacy to spend your morning. Then, travel into Downtown Frederick where you can visit the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. The museum has an amazing collection of relics on display, and is extremely informative in the Medicine of the era. Then, to close out your day, stop in at Brewery’s Alley for good food and fresh brewed beer, or catch a Frederick Key’s minor league baseball game. Then complete your Civil War vacation with your time in Gettysburg.


***Note: Between the dates of August 1 and October 31, 2012, the public may visit the Monocacy Battlefield visitor center and see the original lost Special Orders 191. Special Orders 191 is the famous document, intended to be delivered to General D. H. Hill, that was recovered by Union troops prior to the Battle of Antietam. This very well may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see in person one of the most treasured Civil War relics of all, don’t pass up this opportunity!


“The Battle of Monocacy.” NPS.gov, Monocacy National Battlefield. National Park Service United States Department of Interior, 2009. Web. 10 Mar 2012. <http://www.nps.gov/mono/historyculture/battle.htm>.


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