200th Anniversary of the Burning of Washington D.C.

2014, marks a year of importance in American history. First, you have the 150th commemoration of the Civil War, which I have been writing about this year as it pertains to the 1864 Confederate Raid on Washington. This year also marks the 100th commemoration of the Great War, or World War One, which began on July 28, 1914. However, I want to concentrate on the year 1814. America had been at war for two years with Britain, which had been at war with France since 1803. Although the War of 1812 occurred during the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, America’s war on Britain was not part of that war.

On June 1, 1812, President James Madison went before Congress asking for a declaration of war against England. President Madison stated that Britain had illegally boarded U.S. ships and pressed American men into British service. This was due to Britain’s war with France causing manpower on board British Naval Ships to run low. The British declared it was to find navy deserters who may have taken a job with American merchants. In 1807, the British actually fired upon an American ship and boarded it, taking three Americans and one British deserter. This became known as the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair. Another reason was for the economy. Britain forbade neutral countries to trade with European countries at war with England, and the British Navy enforced this order. Britain blockaded U.S. ports. Last but not least, tension with the Native Americans on the Western Frontier with Britain began encouraging the violence. There were other issues, but these were the four biggest, and with a 19 to13 vote, the Senate voted in favor of war on June 18, 1812.

As the war in France ended with Napoleon in 1814, the British decided to take a closer look at the war being waged against the United States. The decision was made to send more troops to America. Up until 1814, most of the fighting had taken place on the Atlantic Ocean, along the border of Canada, and the western frontier with Native Americans.  The British did control the Chesapeake Bay for almost a year, but without sufficient numbers, they were unable to launch a full scale attack. The U.S. began looking at their own defenses along the Chesapeake Bay, which resulted in some minor skirmishes.


Cartoon of the Burning of Washington

Leading up to August 1814, attempts to defend Washington were shot down by the U.S.  Congress, and the threats of the British of attacking Washington were not taken seriously. With the exception of a new military district being created and commanded by Brigadier General William H. Winder, not much went into fortifying Washington. U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong did not believe that Washington would be targeted by the British simply because it was unimportant, both commercially and strategically. If the British were to attack any city near the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore was a more likely target.

The British commanders, Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, Major General Robert Ross, and Rear Admiral George Cockburn all studied the maps of the Chesapeake Bay. Rear Admiral Cockburn was in favor of attacking Washington, whereas Ross was worried about the condition of his troops, since they had been confined on the ships for three months. But both commanders agreed, however Vice Admiral Cochrane had the final decision since he was in command of the Royal Navy American Station.

The attack on Washington was a three prong plan. While Vice Admiral Cochrane remained at Benedict, Maj. Gen. Ross would march by land, while Rear Admiral Cockburn sailed up the Patuxent River covering the British infantry’s right flank. A small squadron of the British Navy had sailed into the mouth of the Potomac River to raid Alexandria, Virginia. U.S. Commodore Joshua Barney’s flotilla, which was rumored to be in the area, needed to be found and destroyed. A diversion toward Baltimore would keep troops there rather than sending them to Washington.

On August 18, a massive British fleet had sailed into the Patuxent River.  A day later, the British had landed at Benedict, Maryland. By August 21, Ross’ troops had moved into Nottingham. Major General Ross wanted to keep marching until he reached Upper Marlboro, where he could threaten Baltimore or Washington, depending on the route he wanted to take.

On August 24, the route to Washington lay on two roads. The first would take the British by way of Woodyard, but if the bridges over the Potomac River were destroyed it could delay the British advance. The other way to Washington was to move east via Bladensburg. Major General Ross would start off south, by way of toward Woodyard, and then move to Bladensburg. The British force was estimated to about 4,500 men, three cannon, and sixty frames of the Congreve rockets.

By late morning, the American and British armies began their march to Bladensburg. The day was hot, and the temperature would max out at 100 degrees. Fatigue quickly sat in on the armies. Francis Scott Key and Brigadier General Walter Smith had arrived at Bladensburg ahead of the American army. There, they scouted out positions on a high piece of ground overlooking a ravine, Bladensburg, and the Eastern Branch.

Soon, the American army arrived and began taking up positions. They would eventually deploy into three lines as the British advanced from the south. Across the Eastern Branch laid a bridge, which no one destroyed. By the time that the American army would be fully concentrated, their numbers would be estimated at about 5,900 men, mostly militia, Marines, and Regulars.  The Americans, too, had about twenty-two pieces of artillery that would be positioned along the Washington and Georgetown Roads. President James Madison arrived to watch the impending battle.

By noon, after seeing that Bladensburg was abandoned, Rear Admiral Cockburn and Maj. Gen. Ross debated the American defenses, and Ross quickly ordered the attack. The American battle lines appeared strong although they lacked supporting distance. With two other brigades about one to two miles behind, the British Light Infantry began to cross the Eastern Branch when the American artillery opened. The British, suffering many casualties, began to deploy their lines on the other side of the bridge and used the landscape to try and conceal themselves from the American artillery.

The British brought up the Congreve rockets and placed them into action. The sound would be enough to bring fear into the first line. President Madison even got a chance to hear these famous rockets fly through the air, although, they were not very accurate in hitting their intended target. Supported by the Congreve rockets, more British soldiers poured over the Eastern Branch from Bladensburg, causing the American front line to fall apart. Brig. Gen. Winder tried desperately to reform the battle line, but the sound of the rockets was enough to cause panic in the ranks.

As even more British troops arrived on the field, and began marching over the Eastern Branch, there, they would press the American flanks. It wasn’t long before the second battle line collapsed. As the third line of defense formed and came under attack, Commodore Barney’s artillery poured deadly fire into the British ranks. The British charged several times, but the third line would not break. They kept pouring deadly fire from artillery into their ranks, as well as volley after volley of musketry. But with the other two battle lines gone, Commodore Barney and his Marines and sailors were forced to retreat once Brig. Gen. Winder gave the order.

The British army took the field of battle, but at a deadly cost. They lost 309 men killed, wounded, or captured. The American army lost 220 men killed, wounded, or missing. The British would rest their troops, then pick up the road, and march directly to Washington.

Back at Washington, civilians were already fleeing, grabbing what they could carry. First Lady Dolly Madison began packing things up that she could take with her, when at 3:00 p.m. she received a message “to quit the city.” She left the Capital by 3:30 p.m. One of the items she managed to save was a portrait of George Washington. She would have burned it if she couldn’t take it, to keep it from the British. So she ordered one of her servants to take the painting of Washington.

Major General Ross allowed his fatigued army to rest for about two hours before moving to Washington. After seeing to the wounded, Maj. Gen. Ross formed up a brigade of able bodied men, and along with Rear Admiral Cockburn, marched for the capital six miles away. Marching at dusk, under moonlight, along Maryland Avenue, the British, under a white flag entered Washington. The advance of the British army was met by a volley of musketry, with one of the shots striking Maj. Gen. Ross’ horse, the third horse of the day for Ross. After searching a nearby house, they found it emptied. The house was set on fire, as this is where the shots came from.


Drawing of the British Burning the White House

After waiting for an American official to come out to talk about the surrender of the capital, at about 8:20 p.m., Ross and Cockburn saw flames coming from the Naval Yard, which the Americans had burned. With no one to meet for the parley, as Washington, for the most part was abandoned, Ross and Cockburn discussed the next step. Rear Admiral Cockburn wanted to burn the entire city, but Maj. Gen. Ross settled for the destruction of firing the public buildings. The Capital building, Treasury Department, State Department, and the War Department were all set on fire. After eating a fine dinner in the White House, the British set fire to it. During the night, as Washington burned, a storm moved in, putting most of the fires out.

As the morning of August 25 dawned, Maj. Gen. Ross ordered the buildings to be re-fired. During the morning and early afternoon, the British took inventory of all the stores of supplies that were left behind. By late afternoon, another severe storm blew in. The storm battered the British army bivouacked on Capital Hill, causing many soldiers to run for cover in the near by houses. It poured for two hours. During the climax of the storm, the winds were strong enough to knock down buildings, lift roofs off, and move some houses off their foundation. The wind was violent, as one British officer recalled:  “that two pieces of cannon which stood upon the eminence were fairly lifted from the ground and borne several yards to the rear.” Some weather experts believe a tornado hit Washington during the British occupation.


The White House Aftermath

With rumors of a large American force marching to Washington, Maj. Gen. Ross ordered the army to begin its withdrawal. During the night, the British kept the camp fires burning bright, and quietly marched off on the road to Bladensburg. Since his army was so fatigued from being aboard the ships that brought them to America, being exhausted from marching in the heat of summer, and fighting a battle at Bladensburg, Maj. Gen. Ross didn’t want to take the chance of meeting the American army again.

The British reached Bladensburg around midnight on August 26, where Maj. Gen. Ross halted for an hour. The dead still littered the ground from the battlefield that occurred there two days prior. Major General Ross would leave the dead for the Americans to bury, and those wounded who were able to travel on carts and wagons were loaded up to move with the column. Those men who were critical would remain behind.


Burning of the Naval Yard

The British moved onward toward upper Marlboro and by 7:00 a.m., another halt was ordered. Back on the march, Upper Marlboro was reached by noon. The soldiers quickly broke ranks and rested. Some of others went about town plundering, and taking anything of value such as food that would fit into a knapsack. Doctor William Beans and some locals had placed a few British stragglers in jail when they moved through the town earlier on the march to Washington. The British learned about these arrests and went to Doctor Beans’ house, and arrested him and two others.

While the British were in Upper Marlboro, the Presidential party returned to Washington. It was important for the President to begin the rebuilding process of the town. But then an alarm was heard, cannonading coming from the direction of the Potomac River. At 6:00 p.m., a squadron of British vessels under the command of Captain James Gordon, was making its way up the Potomac River, to the community of Alexandria.

Approaching Fort Warburton (later renamed Fort Washington), the British cannons opened fire, bombarding the fort for nearly two and a half hours before a massive explosion occurred, destroying the fort. The fort however was vacant. The Americans had over 3,000 pounds of black powder in the powder magazine with trails of black powder leading from it. When one of the British bombs landed near it, a spark sat it ablaze and it blew.

The next morning, Maj. Gen. Ross marched out of Upper Marlboro, and would continue his movements until he reached Benedict at around noon on August 28, encamping there for the night. By August 30, Maj. Gen. Ross’ soldiers had boarded their ships.

Meanwhile, on August 28, the Common Council of Alexandria greeted the British vessels on the Potomac River, after sailing down the Potomac River for about six miles. Captain Gordon offered no terms to the councilmen, but stated that as long as no harm came to his ships, no harm would come to the town. Meanwhile, back at Washington and at Georgetown, panic once again set in. But if they must fall under the British flag, they will follow Alexandria’s example. After the British invasion, many communities would brand Alexandria as cowards.

By 10:00 a.m., on August 29, Alexandria was given terms of surrender by Captain Gordon. He gave the council one hour to review the terms ordering all supplies to be handed over such as armaments, merchandise and ships. After that time, Alexandria surrendered. The British took 21 vessels, 15,000 barrels of flour, 800 hogshead of tobacco, and thousands of dollars of other merchandise.

On August 31, another British vessel arrived at Alexandria with orders for Gordon to withdrawal. The British vessel came under attack at various points along the way including a makeshift battery at White House Bluffs. Gordon sent two vessels ahead to attack the battery at the White House Bluffs, with hopes of dislodging the battery. For four days, the British bombarded the position while Gordon waited for the winds to change direction to hurry down the Potomac River.

On September 5, as Gordon’s ships made their way back down the Potomac River, they attacked the American position of White House Bluffs. After slipping by with little damage, the British sailed toward Indian Head. They were again attacked, but sailed right on through with very little damage. By September 9, Gordon’s Expedition had ended right where it had started at the Chesapeake Bay. From there, the British would turn to attack Baltimore, Maryland.


Browne, Patrick. Historical Digression, “A Tornado Saves Washington during the War of 1812.” Accessed July 11, 2014. http://historicaldigression.com/2012/03/26/a-tornado-saves-washington-during-the-war-of-1812/.

Gleig, George Robert (1827), The Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans, 1814-1815, London: J. Murray,

Herrick, Carole. August 24, 1814 Washington in Flames. Falls Church, VA: Higher Education Publishing, 2005.

Ingraham, Edward D. A Sketch of the Events Which Preceded the Capture of Washington by the British on the Twenty Fourth of August, 1814. Philadelphia, PA: 1849.

Lord, Walter. The Dawn’s Early Light. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972.

Muller, Charles C. The Darkest Day. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Pitch, Anthony S. The Burning of Washington. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998.

Vogel, Steve. Through the Perilous Flight Six Weeks that Saved a Antion. New York: Random House, 2013.

The Navy Department Library, “The Defenses and Burning of Washington in 1814: Naval Documents of the War of 1812.” Accessed July 11, 2014. http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/burning_washington.html.

Wikipedia, “The Battle of Blandensburg.” Last modified June 6, 2001. Accessed July 11, 2014.    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bladensburg.

Washington’s Last Line Of Defense; The Battle of Fort Stevens

lincoln_monument_Two hundred years ago, on August 24, 1814, the battle of Bladensburg erupted as British troops under the command of Major General Robert Ross engaged the American forces. Once he drove off the American army led by Brigadier General William Winder, the road to Washington was open. That same day, Maj. Gen. Ross and the British army occupied the American capital, and began to set fire to the city. By August 26, the British army moved out of Washington. For the first time in American history, an enemy force had taken Washington. Fast forward to July of 1864, almost fifty years to the day, it looked as if another enemy force would do the same.

After a temporary delay along the banks of Monocacy River the day before, Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early led his army down the Georgetown Pike early in the morning on July 10. As Brigadier General John McCausland cleared the way for the Confederate army, he ran into resistance at Rockville, skirmishing with Union cavalry. The Confederate army had marched within four miles of Rockville in the unbearable summer heat. By the time the men laid down for the night, the temperature was still holding in the 80’s.

Meanwhile near Fort Stevens, Company K, 150th Ohio National Guard was on picket duty during the night. They watched as civilians fled for safety in the advance of the Confederate army. By dawn of July 11, the landscape became silent and empty. Washington was not prepared for what was coming, similar to the situation in 1814. Most of the Union troops that were there defending the city were sent to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia. By 9:00 a.m. civilians and quartermaster officers, along with militia were reporting for duty. The Veteran Corps was enacted and reported for duty. Soon thousands of men began preparing to meet the Confederate army. Lieutenant General Grant also sent reinforcements to Washington, which consisted of the VI Corps and a portion of the XIX Corps. They boarded steamers and headed for the capital city.

Brigadier General John Imboden’s brigade moved in the advance of the Confederate army with Major General Robert Rodes’ division taking 7th Street Road from Rockville. Major General John C. Breckenridge brought up the rear of the Confederate army. Brigadier General McCausland continued his movement down the Georgetown Pike, headed toward Fort Reno and Fort De Russy. Brigadier General William Jackson’s cavalry brigade was positioned between the 7th Street Road and Rockville Road.

04232v By noon, the main body of the Confederate army was in Silver Spring. Between the forced marches of the campaign and the summer heat, the Confederate ranks were fatigued. Lieutenant General Early sat upon his horse urging his men forward without delay. To make matters worse, the Union cavalry had formed another skirmish line across the Rockville Pike, and skirmishing continued throughout the day.

Upon seeing the first Confederate soldier in the distance, the Ohioans quickly moved to the safety of Fort Stevens, firing at the Confederates. Skirmishing quickly broke out along the rifle pits, as the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry was fully in view. The Confederate sharpshooters quickly went to work, engaging the picket line. By 1:00 p.m., portions of the 2nd District of Columbia Volunteers and the 25th New York Cavalry formed the skirmish line in front of Fort Stevens. Artillery from nearby Fort De Russy opened on the Confederate line, in support of the skirmish in front of Fort Stevens. Soon, Union reinforcements from nearby Camp Stoneman arrived and deployed in a line of battle. After a half an hour, the Confederate line began falling back. Lieutenant General Early delayed a major attack until he could see if the defenses were fully operational with Union reinforcements.

04143vBy 3:00 p.m., Maj. Gen. Rodes was ordered to take his division and advance on Fort Stevens, probing the defenses. Confederate artillery came up on his right and deployed in support of the attack. Confederate sharpshooters took up position in several of the buildings in front of Fort Stevens and Fort De Russy. The 9th Veteran Corp was ordered to relieve the dismounted skirmishers of the 25th New York Cavalry. The Union XXII Corps and the Department of Washington were among the front line of defenders during the attack. Heavy and siege artillery began to fire from the nearby ring of forts that were in range of the Confederate army.

Skirmishing was kept up during the evening and into the night. As darkness fell upon the battlefield, the fighting got intense. Flashes of musketry illuminated the ground for a second or two. While, the Confederates kept on through the night, Lt. Gen. Early decided to hold a council of war with his commanders to decide their next move, and what options they had. The Confederate army was tired, as the summer heat took a toll on the men. The decision was tabled until daylight the next morning. During the night, Lt. Gen. Early received word from Brigadier General Bradley T. Johnson, who was outside of Baltimore, about two Union corps coming to reinforce the defenses of Washington.

During the night, Fort Stevens was reinforced by civilian contractors and other troops arrived, ready to go work the next day in the defense of the city. Veteran troops who were sent up from Virginia also began taking their positions. The Confederate high command would be faced with a major decision come daylight, as to whether they should attack Fort Stevens.

As dawn lightens the battlefield on July 12, hopes of taking Washington quickly faded. For Lt. Gen. Early, realized that his army was at the high water mark of the campaign. With additional reinforcements of Union soldiers, came the realization that if the Confederate army got into a situation that turned for the worse, Lt. Gen. Early had no reinforcements of his own to come to his aid. Lieutenant General Early decided not to launch an all out assault. Instead he would maintain a defensive position and wait till nightfall to begin withdrawing from Fort Stevens. Lieutenant General Early would keep the pressure on the Union defenders with skirmishers and sharpshooters.

Major General Rodes and Major General John Gordon would deploy their divisions to cover the retreat that would later come. During the morning, the artillery at Fort Stevens and Fort De Russy opened on the Confederate skirmishers but no Confederate attack came. The morning was spent with sharpshooters and artillery.

By noon, President Lincoln, his wife, and Secretary of War Edwin Staunton took a carriage ride to Fort Stevens for observation purposes. As President Lincoln watched, a minie ball hit the parapet, and then struck surgeon Crawford standing next him. Major General Horatio Wright, commander of the Department of Washington was there and quickly ordered Lincoln off the parapet. Other men were also telling Lincoln to get to safety. Later in life, Captain Oliver Holmes claimed to have yelled “Get down you fool!” to Lincoln.

At 5:00 p.m., the Confederate left gave way when a cannonade was launched from the nearby forts in range of the Confederate army. After the thirty-sixth shot, Colonel Daniel Bidwell’s brigade of the VI Corps advanced on the Confederate line. The Confederates reinforced their line, but never regained the lost ground. By 10:00 p.m., the fighting at Fort Stevens was over.

By 7:00 p.m., those Confederates not engaged were already marching to Rockville. Major General John C. Breckinridge and his division were first, followed by the wagon train. By midnight, Maj. Gen. Rodes’ division was on the move and Major General Stephen D. Ramseur brought up the rear of the infantry. As the Confederate army retreated, Major Henry Kyd Douglas recalled Lt. Gen. Early telling him, “We hadn’t taken Washington, but we scared Abe Lincoln like hell!” Lieutenant General Early began moving toward the Potomac River, fording at midnight on July 14. The Confederate army would continue fording the Potomac River during the morning, and camp near Leesburg that night.

During the aftermath, one Union soldier recalled seeing a dead Confederate soldier, “There, behind the log, he lay on his back…The rifle and cartridge box were of English make, and the only thing about him which did not indicate extreme destitution. His feet, were wrapped in rags, had course shoes upon them, so worn and full of holes they were only held together by many pieces of thick twine. Ragged trousers, a jacket and a shirt of what used to be called “two-cloth”, a straw hat, which had lost a large portion of both crown and rim, completed his attire. His hair was a mat of dust and grime. A haversack hung from his shoulder. Its contents were a jackknife, a plug of twisted tobacco, a tin cup and two quarts of cracked corn… with perhaps an ounce of salt tied in a rag.”

Unlike, the American army on August 24, 1814 which was unable to hold the British back at the battle of Bladensburg, the Union forces in July of 1864 held back their enemy under many similar conditions. The battle of Monocacy is considered the battle that saved Washington, where the outnumbered Union forces held their ground until the very last moment, which bought the defenses of Washington the time they needed in order to prepare and meet the Confederate army. Almost fifty years to the day, history would not repeat itself.

Cooling, Benjamin Franklin, Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL, 1989.
Leepson, Marc, Desperate Engagement, St. Martun’s Press, New York, 2007.
Schilt, John W. Drums along the Monocacy, Antietam Publications, 1991.
Spaulding, Brett W. Last Chance of Victory, Jubal Early’s 1864 Maryland Campaign, Self published, 2010.
Vandiver, Frank E. Jubal’s Raid, General Early’s Famous Attack on Washington in 1864, University of Nebraska, 1988.
Wenger, Warren D., Monocacy, the Defeat that Saved Washington, Eugene Printing, Bridgeton, N.J., 1996
Worthington, Glenn H. Fighting for Time, The Battle of Monocacy, White Mane Publishing, Shippensburg, PA. 1994.
Official Records Series 1, vol 37, Part 1 (Monocacy)
Official Records Series 1, vol 37, Part 2 (Monocacy)

The Battle That Saved Washington, The Battle of Monocacy

Union Major General Lew Wallace

Union Major General Lew Wallace

As the sun began to rise on July 9, 1864, Union Major General Lew Wallace knew that there would be a major contest just south of Frederick, MD. Major General Wallace had a total force of about 6,500 men. His command of the Middle Department consisted of mostly militia, and national guardsmen, with very little veteran experience. However, he was reinforced by two veteran brigades of Major General James Ricketts’ division of the VI Corps.

Major General Wallace had established a six mile defensive line along the eastern river banks of the Monocacy River that ran northeast to Hugh’s Ford and Jug Bridge on the Baltimore Pike, to the Southwest near the Worthington Farm, with Monocacy Junction in the center. The only obstacle standing in the way of L.t Gen. Early and his Confederate army and Washington was Maj. Gen. Wallace and the Monocacy River.

Area where the Ohio National Guard was deployed looking from the Confederate main position east of Jug Bridge.

Area where the Ohio National Guard was deployed looking from the Confederate main position west of Jug Bridge.

While the Union forces waited, in Frederick city Lt. Gen. Early began moving portions of his 15,000 man army. He was under the impression that he would be up against a Union force that lacked combat experience. Lieutenant General Early ordered Major General Robert Rodes’ division to march down the Baltimore Pike to Jug Bridge, and attack the bridge in order to draw the attention of the Union troops away from Monocacy Junction.

Earlier, Major General Wallace had ordered Brigadier General Erastus Tyler to protect Jug Bridge. Brigadier General Tyler ordered the 144th and the 149th Ohio National Guard regiments to hold the bridge. By daylight, the 149th Ohio National Guard had deployed on the western side of river and waited. By 8:00 a.m., Maj. Gen. Rodes came in contact with the Ohioans under the command of Colonel Allison Brown. For several hours, Maj. Gen. Rodes’ skirmished with the Union force in his front.

At the center of the Union line, Lt. Gen. Early ordered Major General Stephen D. Ramseur’s division down the Georgetown Pike to secure the covered bridge that spanned the Monocacy River. For easy crossing of the river, the bridge needed to fall into Confederate hands. The Union defense at the junction and the bridge consisted of the 1st Potomac Home Brigade and small portion of the 10th Vermont Infantry. Across the river were Maj. Gen. Ricketts’ 3,300 veterans.

The Thomas Farm

The Best Farm

By 8:30 a.m., Maj. Gen. Ramseur’s skirmishers had advanced along the Georgetown Pike, and soon the Confederates opened fire. A half an hour later, two companies of the 9th New York Heavy Artillery, and a detachment of the 106th New York Infantry crossed the covered bridge and deployed to protect it. Within minutes, the Confederate artillery on the Best Farm, west of the river, opened fire. The fighting quickly began to die down as Maj. Gen. Ramsuer determined it to be too hazardous to take the covered bridge.

The Railroad Bridge beyond the treeline.

The Railroad Bridge beyond the treeline.

By 11:00 a.m., Maj. Gen. Ramseur launched a second attack. This time he hit the Union right flank by the block house at the junction, and the railroad bridge not far up stream from the covered bridge. First Lieutenant George Davis and his detachment of the 10th Vermont Infantry held their ground and the Confederate attack was repelled.

The area where Confederate Brigadier General John McCausland formed his brigade.

The area where Confederate Brigadier General John McCausland formed his brigade.

As Maj. Gen. Ramseur did not take the bridge, Lt. Gen. Early ordered Brigadier General John McCausland to take his cavalry brigade down the Buckeystown Road and find a ford for easy access. By 10:30 a.m., Brig. Gen. McCausland forded the Monocacy River at the Worthington-McKinney ford, where he skirmished with portions of the 8th Illinois Cavalry. The 8th Illinois Cavalry fell back in order to warn Maj. Gen. Wallace of the Confederate advance now east of the river. As Brig, Gen. McCausland forded the river, Maj. Gen. Wallace heard the firing in that direction. He then sent Maj. Gen. Ricketts to the Thomas farm to form a defensive line.

Monocacy Junction today.

Monocacy Junction today.

With Maj. Gen. Ramseur pressing the Union center, and now a flanking attempt unfolding on the Union left, this presented a major problem for Maj. Gen. Wallace. Orders came from Maj. Gen. Wallace for the Union skirmishers west of the river to fall back to the eastern bank and destroy the bridge. A detachment of the 9th New York Heavy Artillery stacked some dried hay on the roof of the covered bridge and set fire to it. Near the block house, Lt. Davis’ skirmishers were unaware of what was happening. They would be forced to retreat using the railroad bridge during Maj. Gen. Ramseur’s third and final attack, which came around 3:30 p.m.

By 11:00 a.m., Brig. Gen. McCausland’s brigade of cavalry was dismounted in the fields near the Worthington Farm. Once ready, McCausland’s men advanced. Major General Ricketts ordered his men to hold their fire until the Confederates were within one hundred twenty-five yards of their position. As the Confederates reached that point, the Union troops unleashed a volley and sent lead flying in through the air. This forced the Confederates to fall back to the Worthington Farm.

The Thomas Farm

The Thomas Farm

Major General Ricketts reformed his battle line. Giving his men time to regroup, Brig. Gen. McCausland quickly studied the area for his next attack. By 2:00 p.m., the Confederates advanced, using the Thomas house itself, as a guide. As Brigadier General McCausland’s brigade moved forward, they threatened Ricketts’ left flank. Major General Ricketts ordered his division to fall back to the Georgetown Pike and reform their lines there, while the Confederates take the Thomas Farm.

Major General Wallace had sent a courier to Maj. Gen. Ricketts suggesting that the Thomas Farm be regained by charging the Confederate force there. The courier came across Captain William Lanius of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry. As the courier relayed the message, Captain Lanius misinterpreted the message as an order to charge the Confederate position. Their brigade commander Colonel William S. Truex ordered the 10th Vermont infantry to support 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, and the 14th New Jersey Infantry as they charged across the field to the Thomas Farm.

By 3:00 p.m., the two regiments moved through the field and as they closed in on the Confederates, the fighting was very fierce. The Union troops retook the farm and within a half an hour, Brig. Gen. McCausland was forced to fall back to the Worthington Farm. Major General Ricketts quickly reestablished his lines, with his right flank situated near the river, and his left flank near Baker Valley Road.

The Worthington House

The Worthington House

Just as McCausland was falling back, Lt. Gen. Early had ordered Major General John Gordon to take his division down Buckeystown Road to reinforce McCausland’s men. After fording the river, Maj. Gen. Gordon’s 3,500 man division, and two batteries began to deploy near the Worthington Farm. As Maj. Gen. Gordon studied the area, Brig. Gen. McCausland’s brigade arrived shortly after their disastrous fight. Major General Gordon’s plan consisted of a three pronged attack. However, several obstacles were in the way. Farms, fences, and stacks of wheat would make an assault difficult. At around 3:30 p.m., Brigadier General Clement Evans was the first to march out. Using the hill near his position, he was to hit the Union left flank near Baker Valley Road. The fighting was fierce as Brig. Gen. Evans closed in and began to stall.

Around 3:45 pm, Brigadier General Zebulon York, forming the center of the Confederate line, made his attack. The Confederate line was supported by artillery, which pounded the Union line. This forced Maj. Gen. Ricketts to fall back, toward the Georgetown Road. Even though the Confederates regained the ground lost by Brig. Gen. McCausland’s brigade, they were still unable to break through Ricketts’ line.

By 4:00 p.m., Brigadier General William Terry’s brigade attacked the Union right flank, pushing the Union troops past the Thomas Farm. As he hit the Union right, the line became unstable. Major General Gordon ordered Brig. Gen. Terry to hit the line again. This attack broke the Union right, and to make matters worse, the men of Ricketts’ division were running low on ammunition.

By 4:30 p.m., Maj. Gen. Wallace realized that the battle was now lost. He ordered Maj. Gen. Ricketts to retreat toward the Baltimore Pike. However, Ricketts’ right flank was being pushed toward the Gambrill Mill. A half an hour later, Ricketts’ men were in retreat, and they were pursued nearly two miles by the Confederates. After giving up the chase, the Confederates returned to the scene of the battle.

Major General Wallace had sent an order to Colonel Brown to cover the Union retreat. Colonel Brown ordered the battle line at Jug Bridge to be strengthened. An hour after Ricketts’ men had retreated from the Monocacy, Maj. Gen. Rodes launched his attack, forcing the two Ohio National Guard units back. Confederate artillery opened on the Ohioans causing much chaos. Colonel Brown rallied his men, which stalled Rodes’ attack, but only briefly. After learning of Maj. Gen. Wallace’s retreat, Colonel Brown fell back to New Market, where he arrived by 8:00 p.m.

The 14th New Jersey Monument

The 14th New Jersey Monument

The Battle of Monocacy is the third largest Civil War battle to occur in Maryland, and was the only major victory achieved by a Confederate army during the three northern invasions. This victory came with a cost to the Confederate invaders. It took Lt. Gen. Early the entire day to fight a battle he did not want to fight. In addition, the battle of Monocacy bought the defenses of Washington time to reinforce the city with troops.

Although a defeat for Maj. Gen. Wallace militarily, it was an overall victory, as the Union defenders at Monocacy kept back a much larger force, saving Washington from capture. The battle of Monocacy cost the Union more than 1,200 casualties of killed, wounded, and captured men. The Confederate army lost less than a thousand men killed, wounded, or captured. From Frederick, the Confederate army would push southward to Washington and by July 12, Lt. Gen. Early withdrew, and forded the Potomac River.

Cooling, Benjamin Franklin, Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL, 1989.
Leepson, Marc, Desperate Engagement, St. Martun’s Press, New York, 2007.
Schilt, John W. Drums along the Monocacy, Antietam Publications, 1991.
Spaulding, Brett W. Last Chance of Victory, Jubal Early’s 1864 Maryland Campaign, Self published, 2010.
Vandiver, Frank E. Jubal’s Raid, General Early’s Famous Attack on Washington in 1864, University of Nebraska, 1988.
Wenger, Warren D., Monocacy, the Defeat that Saved Washington, Eugene Printing, Bridgeton, N.J., 1996
Worthington, Glenn H. Fighting for Time, The Battle of Monocacy, White Mane Publishing, Shippensburg, PA. 1994.
Official Records Series 1, vol 37, Part 1 (Monocacy)
Official Records Series 1, vol 37, Part 2 (Monocacy)