Virginia 2015: Monocacy National Battlefield


Day 2: October 5, 2015

Our last stop of the day after visiting Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry was actually a series of relatively quick stops. We managed to make it to the Monocacy National Battlefield shortly before the Visitor’s Center closed for the day. This is one of the lesser visited battlefields, with annual visitors estimated at about 17,985 – strange, I thought, for being so close to Washington, D.C. 

The Battle at Monocacy occurred on July 9, 1864, when Confederate General Jubal Early tried to cross the Monocracy River at Frederick, Maryland, in order to make an advance on a mostly unguarded Washington, D.C.  He also hoped to divert Union troops away from the Siege of Petersburg. Frederick did not have Union troops stationed there, and Union General Lew Wallace only had about 2,300 mostly unseasoned troops in Washington.

Monocacy National Battlefield

Monocacy National Battlefield

Railroad officials in nearby Harpers Ferry contacted the U.S. Army about Early’s move toward Washington and their concern about protecting the railroad bridge at Monocacy Junction. General Wallace acted without orders to station some troops at the crossing, because he understood what it meant to the defense of Washington should the Confederates get across the river there. After gathering as many troops as he could, the Union had approximately 6,800 troops, compared to estimates of the Confederate forces between 14,000 and 28,000 men.

The Union objective for the battle was to secure the road to Washington. The Union troops fought valiantly, and were able to hold Early’s men for about a day; although at a particularly high cost – 1,294 Union troops were killed, wounded or missing.  The battle and the resulting delay in the Confederate advance meant that the Union was able to get reinforcements to Washington. Early probably could have occupied Washington if he had attacked just a day earlier – the Battle of Monocacy achieved the one day delay needed to protect the capitol. So although the battle was technically a solid Confederate victory, the Union was able to thwart the attack on Washington. 

No Retreat from Destiny: The Battle that Rescued Washington is a 2006 docudrama that discusses the battle. I plan to check it out!

Monocacy National Battlefield is also known for being the spot where Robert E. Lee’s Special Order 191 was found in 1862, wrapped around three cigars.  The orders gave valuable information on Lee’s troops and their movements before the Battle of Antietam.  Unfortunately, most military historians believe that General McClellan did not utilize this information to its full advantage at and after Antietam. 

The Visitor’s Center had a store on the first floor and a nicely done exhibit upstairs, with a digital map and audio about the battle.  I’ve said it before, but I love the maps that show the lines of troop movements during a battle – I find it so much easier to understand what happened!  The upstairs also has a nice deck outside where you can survey parts of the battlefield and the nearby hill where locals tried to hide their livestock from the Confederates. 

The digital battle map at Monocacy

The digital battle map at Monocacy

We drove around to three farms that were pivotal points in the battle. The Best Farm has a farmhouse and several outbuildings.  The stone house at the site is known to have been built in the 18th century, when the farm was owned by plantation owners from Haiti.  They named their Maryland plantation L’Hermitage, and owned over 90 slaves, a large number for Maryland at the time.  They were also known to be quite cruel, as slaveholders go.  By the time of the Civil War, the farm had been sold and was leased to tenant farmers from the Best family.  The main farmhouse on the site is believed to date to the late 1700s as well, with modifications and additions done in the 1860s.   

The side of the Best farmhouse, showing the original home, and the later addition.

The side of the Best farmhouse, showing the original home, and the later addition.

The Stone House at the Best Farm - built late 1700s.

The Stone House at the Best Farm – built late 1700s.

A photo of the Best barn, through another Best barn.

A photo of the Best barn, through another Best barn.

The farmhouse at the Worthington Farm was built about 1851, and I loved the red brick and the wide front porch.  Confederate troops set up positions in the farm’s fields and front yard to assault the Thomas Farm next door.  The Worthington family took shelter in the basement of the home during the battle, and the home was also used as a hospital.  In one of the more amusing anecdotes of the war, the Worthington’s rooster would apparently crow every time one of the Confederate artillery pieces would fire!  While we were wandering around the Worthington Farm, we saw a whole herd of White-tailed deer and a beautiful sunset.

Sunset at the Worthington House

Sunset at the Worthington House

 

The interior of the Worthington house.

The interior of the Worthington house.

 

White tailed deer at Monocacy National Battlefield

White tailed deer at Monocacy National Battlefield

Our last Monocacy stop was at the Thomas Farm, whose farmhouse is believed to have been built in 1780.  The Thomas farmhouse suffered extensive damage during the battle from the Confederate artillery on the Worthington Farm – they were trying to dislodge Union sharpshooters.  The Thomas’, like their neighbors the Worthington’s, were hiding in the basement of the home.  It is a miracle that no civilians were killed!  The Thomas Farm now serves as the park headquarters. 

The farmhouse at the Thomas Farm

The farmhouse at the Thomas Farm

 

The barn at the Thomas Farm. Why would they put outhouses here to ruin my pretty picture!

The barn at the Thomas Farm. Why would they put outhouses here to ruin my pretty picture!

The structures at all three farms are in various states of preservation, but it was nice to see them protected for future generations.  The entire battlefield hasn’t had such a happy ending though, as I-270 was routed right through a portion of the battlefield.

Once the sun went down, we went off in search of dinner. We ended up at the Brewer’s Alley in downtown Frederick, where the blackened catfish dinner caught both of our eyes. I had mine with the Caesar salad and a Hefeweizen; after dinner I tried a 5 oz. Oatmeal Stout.  Jon had his catfish with a regular salad, and their Riot Rye Pale Ale.  He finished his meal off with a 5 oz. beer too – their Oakily Dokily Neighbor.  We did something rare for us that night too – dessert!  The Peach Cobbler with homemade peach ice cream sounded delicious, and it was!  It was a great meal! I would have loved to see more of downtown Frederick, but it was time to call it a day – we had done a lot! 

Driving distance for Day 2:  123 miles – Frederick, MD – Gettysburg National Military Park – Harpers Ferry National Historical Park – Monocacy National Battlefield – Frederick

Hotel for the night: Back to the Sleep Inn in Frederick Maryland for one more night.

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5 thoughts on “Virginia 2015: Monocacy National Battlefield

  1. I love Frederick, just for wandering and shopping. It’s such a cute little town. I’ve never been to Brewers Alley, so will have to try that. It’s a shame you didn’t have more time there – Francis Scott Key is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, walkable from downtown, and there are a coupe of good museums. I know…too much stuff, too little time….

    • Thank you! I’m pleased with how they turned out. I hadn’t heard of it either until I visited Gettysburg for the first time and stayed in Frederick. Admittedly, it was a pretty small battle – but important from the perspective of protecting Washington.

  2. Pingback: Ciao 2015! | Wine and History Visited

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