This week marks the 150th anniversary of the battle that saved Washington, D.C.
Gen. Lew Wallace was responsible
Sunday, July 06, 2014 10:00 PM
Wednesday marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Monocacy.
Crawfordsville's own Lew Wallace was instrumental in this battle that ultimately saved Washington, D.C.,from Confederate attack.
At the time, Wallace was commander of the 8th Army Corps of
Baltimore. Because of heavy Union losses in Central Virginia, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered reinforcements
from the defenses of Washington and Wallace's Middle Department.
Wallace lost virtually all of his veteran men to Grant and was left with untried militia. Robert E. Lee learned about Washington's weakened defenses and decided to act.
On June 13, he sent a quarter of his entire army north to threaten Washington, D.C. Led by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, this army of 16,000 men slipped unnoticed from the lines around Richmond and moved through Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland over the next month.
Agents along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad picked up word of the Confederate movement and passed it to their president, John W. Garrett.
He warned officials in Washington and Lew Wallace in Baltimore.
Underestimating the threat Early presented, Grant and his superior, Henry Halleck, ignored Garrett's reports. Wallace, recognizing the risks, began moving his 3,200 men to Monocacy Junction.
Wallace surmised the poorly-defended Washington was Early's goal.
Monocacy Junction provided Wallace an excellent defensive position with a river in his front and bluffs on the
south side of the river. Though he expected to lose the battle, Wallace believed he could hold the Confederates
in place long enough for Grant to reinforce Washington.
With Ricketts' men, Wallace had a total force of about 6,500 men-but only six pieces of artillery.
By early evening, the Confederates were moving in from the west and Wallace consolidated his troops at Monocacy Junction. Wallace sent a message to Halleck: Confederate troops were within a day's march of Washington.
A panicked Halleck immediately requested reinforcements.
Grant ordered 11,000 Army of the Potomac soldiers to be sent by steamboat to Washington.
The race was on.
Wallace's strong position allowed his men to hold off Early's men and 36 pieces of artillery until 4 p.m. when the Union artillery ran out of ammunition and a group of Confederates gained high ground. Wallace and his men were forced to retreat toward Baltimore leaving the road to Washington open.
Early's men moved toward Washington, a city in panic, on July 10 but the time spent fighting the battle cost them a day of marching and allowed Grant's reinforcements to arrive.
In the face of veteran troops, Early gave up home of capturing Washington and retreated.
Because of Wallace's efforts to delay the Confederates, the Battle of Monocacy became known as "The Battle that Saved Washington, D.C."
If you are interested in learning more about this battle, the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum's 2014 annual exhibit, "Vindication: Lew Wallace in 1864," focuses on the Battle of Monocacy as well as other important events
The General Lew Wallace & Museum is located on Wallace's
home site, a National Historic Landmark. It is online at www.ben-hur.com.