General Lew Wallace

Monocacy: The Battle that Saved Washington, D.C.

Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401

Phone: (410) 260-6400
Internet: mdsa.net
e-mail: archives@mdsa.net

Overview

In the spring of 1864 both the Federal army under Ulysses S. Grant and the Confederate army under Robert E. Lee continued to slug it out in Virginia, with no end in sight. When the bloodied armies settled into a long stalemate in the trenches outside of Petersburg, both sides looked for a different theater in which to gain the advantage. Both sides sent troops into the Shenandoah Valley to the west, hoping that such action would convince the other to send more reinforcements and thus weaken their army at Petersburg.

While the initial advantage in the Valley lay with the numerically superior Federals, a Confederate victory at the battle of New Market on May 15 quickly swung the pendulum back in favor of the outnumbered Confederates. Lee quickly dispatched Jubal Early's corps of 8,000 men to reinforce the 6,000 Confederates in the Valley with orders to rid the Valley of Federals and press any advantage that should present itself. Early followed his orders, driving the remaining Federals out of the Valley and scattering them before him. On July 8, Early and his army of now roughly 14,000 men crossed the Potomac and invaded Maryland. Both Baltimore and Washington had been stripped of men for the siege of Petersburg to the south, and were lightly defended.

Early's advance down the Shenandoah and into Maryland had the desired affect; even before Early crossed the Potomac, Grant dispatched 5,000 men to check his advance. Within days Grant ordered an entire Federal Corps north into Maryland as well. The cities of Baltimore and Washington were in chaos and the citizens in both cities and throughout the countryside were panicked. Union General Lew Wallace, with the help of Grant's initial reinforcements, headed west via the Baltimore & Ohio railroad with a ragtag force of 5,800 men to meet Early and buy time for the remainder of Grant's reinforcements to arrive in Washington and man the defenses encircling the city.

At 6:30 am on July 9, 1864, Early's 14,000 Confederates began skirmishing with Wallace's 5,800 Federals along the banks of the Monocacy river just south of Frederick. Despite being outnumbered almost 3-1, Wallace and his men fought tenaciously, forcing Early to deploy his entire army and engage in a time-consuming flank assault. By 4:30 pm, however, Wallace's small army had been crushed and was fleeing back toward Washington.

Early had won a clear tactical victory, but at the cost of a strategic defeat. Wallace had delayed Early's 14,000 confederates for over 24 hours, allowing Grant's remaining reinforcements to reach Washington and man its forts and entrenchments. On July 11-12 Early attacked Fort Stevens inside the District of Columbia, but was repulsed. During the battle President Abraham Lincoln was on the parapets inside the fort watching the Confederate attack, and a soldier standing next to him was killed.

Early retreated back into Virginia, and Washington had been saved. Lee was unable to gain any advantage in the trenches outside Petersburg for Grant had not weakened his army enough. Wallace was stripped of his command for the defeat at Monocacy, but soon afterwards was reinstated when it became apparent that he could not have tactically prevailed, and that his defeat in fact had saved Washington and perhaps the nation itself. While not a large battle, its consequences were staggering. Lew Wallace, speaking of his men after the battle, perhaps put it most succinctly: "These men died to save the national capitol, and they did save it."

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

Standard 2: The course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people 

Standard 2A: The student understands how the resources of the Union and Confederacy affected the course of the war.

7-12: Compare the human resources of the Union and the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War and assess the tactical advantages of each side. [Utilize visual and mathematical data] 
5-12: Identify the turning points of the war and evaluate how political, military, and diplomatic leadership affected the outcome of the conflict. [Assess the importance of the individual in history]

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION:  General Lew Wallace
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [between 1860 and 1870]
    REPRODUCTIONS:  How to obtain copies of this item
    COPYRIGHT: 
    Rights and Restrictions
    SOURCE:
     Civil War Photographs
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

  2. DESCRIPTION:  Reports of Maj. Gen. Lewis Wallace
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July-August, 1864
    COPYRIGHT:  Guidelines for Using Text and Images
    SOURCE:  United States. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I Volume XXXVII. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891. In Making of America
    REPOSITORY:  Cornell University

  3. DESCRIPTION:  General Jubal A. Early
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [between 1860 and 1870]
    REPRODUCTIONS:   How to obtain copies of this item
    COPYRIGHT:  Rights and Restrictions
    SOURCE: Civil War Photographs
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

  4. DESCRIPTION:  Report of Lieut. Gen. Jubal A. Early
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 1864
    COPYRIGHT:  Guidelines for Using Text and Images
    SOURCE:  United States. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I Volume XXXVII. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891. In Making of America
    REPOSITORY:  Cornell University 

  5. DESCRIPTION:  General John B. Gordon
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [between 1860 and 1870]
    REPRODUCTIONS:  How to obtain copies of this item
    COPYRIGHT: 
    Rights and Restrictions
    SOURCE:
     Civil War Photographs
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

  6. DESCRIPTION:  Report of Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 1864
    COPYRIGHT:  Guidelines for Using Text and Images
    SOURCE:  United States. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I Volume XXXVII. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891. In Making of America
    REPOSITORY:  Cornell University 

  7. DESCRIPTION:  Memoir of John H. Worsham, Co. F, 21st Virginia
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1912
    COPYRIGHT:  Copyright/Usage
    SOURCE:
     Documenting the American South
    REPOSITORY:  University of North Carolina
     
  8. DESCRIPTION:  The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1861-1865
    REPRODUCTIONS:  How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT:  Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:
     Washington During the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Manuscript Division
     
  9. DESCRIPTION:  Telegram to Abraham Lincoln concerning the Battle of Monocacy
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 9, 1864
    REPRODUCTIONS:  How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: 
    Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:
     Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Manuscript Division
     
  10. DESCRIPTION:  Plan of the Battle of Monocacy, Maryland, July 9th, 1864
    CARTOGRAPHER:  Robert Knox Sneden
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [1864-1865]
    REPRODUCTIONS:  How to Order Reproductions 
    COPYRIGHT: 
    Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:
     Map Collections 1500-2004
    REPOSITORY:  Virginia Historical Society
     
  11. DESCRIPTION:  Map of Monocacy, MD and Vicinity
    CARTOGRAPHER:  Robert Knox Sneden
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [1862-1865
    REPRODUCTIONS:  How to Order Reproductions 
    COPYRIGHT: 
    Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:
     Map Collections 1500-2004
    REPOSITORY:  Virginia Historical Society
     
  12. DESCRIPTION:  New York Times, July 9, 1864
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 9, 1864
    COPYRIGHT:  Copyright Disclaimer
    SOURCE:
     The Historical New York Times Project
    REPOSITORY:  Carnegie Mellon
     
  13. DESCRIPTION:  New York Times, July 10, 1864
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 10, 1864
    COPYRIGHT:  Copyright Disclaimer
    SOURCE:
     The Historical New York Times Project
    REPOSITORY:  Carnegie Mellon
     
  14. DESCRIPTION:  Monocacy R.R. Bridge
    ARTIST:  Alfred R. Waud
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [1863 ca. June-July]
    REPRODUCTIONS:  How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: 
    Copyright and Other Restrictions 
    SOURCE:
      Civil War drawing collection
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division 
     
  15. DESCRIPTION:  Destruction of the R.R. bridge, over the Monocacy River near Frederick, Md.
    ARTIST:  Alfred R. Waud
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  [1864 July 9]
    REPRODUCTIONS:  How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: 
    Copyright and Other Restrictions 
    SOURCE:
      Civil War drawing collection
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division 
     
  16. DESCRIPTION:  Jubal Early's Memoir
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1912
    C
    OPYRIGHT:  Copyright/Usage
    SOURCE:
     Documenting the American South
    REPOSITORY:  University of North Carolina
     
  17. DESCRIPTION:  John Gordon's Memoir
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1904
    OPYRIGHT:  Copyright/Usage
    SOURCE:
     Documenting the American South
    REPOSITORY:  University of North Carolina

Additional Media Resources

The Battle that Saved Washington. Brief outline of the causes, events, and impact of the battle.

Early in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the Shenandoah Valley: July-August 1864. Essay by noted Civil War historian Dr. Gary. W. Gallagher.

Lew Wallace: The Soldier. General Lew Wallace Study & Museum.

Monocacy Battlefield Acquires 280 Acres In Heart Of Battle Area. January 2002 article on continuing preservation efforts at Monocacy National Battlefield.

Additional Instructional Resources 

Resources on Incorporating Primary Sources and Historic Sites in Classroom Instruction

Secondary Resources

Cooling, B. Franklin. Monocacy: The Battle That Saved Washington. White Main Publishing Company, 1997.

Worthington, Glenn H. Fighting for Time: The Battle of Monocacy. Burd Street Press, 1994.

Password Access to Journal Articles

Some journal articles linked to this site require password access due to copyright and other restrictions. Teachers participating in the Teaching American History in Maryland program with a valid University of Maryland (UMBC) Library card can access these materials through ResearchPort.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Monocacy National Battlefield
4801 Urbana Pike
Frederick, MD 21704-07307
(301) 662-3515

Fort Stevens
3545 Williamsburg Lane, NW
Washington, DC, 2008
(202) 895-6000

 

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Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by James C. Bailey.

An Archives of Maryland Online Publication
© Copyright, Maryland State Archives, May 04, 2005