About 2300 soldiers known as “Hundred Days” men defended the railway junction at Monocacy. These men on a one hundred day enlistment came from the local population for the most part and were used to relieve the regular troops from routine and mundane duties in order for the regulars to be used at the front. They were lightly trained and most of them had never seen action. These “Hundred Days” men were under the command of Lew Wallace who would later gain fame as the author of “Ben Hur: A story of Christ.”
General Grant, upon hearing of Early’s campaign sent two brigades under Brig. General James Ricketts to assist Lew Wallace’s men in an effort to secure the junction. The junction, three miles southeast of Fredrick was a logical place to set up a defense. The Georgetown Pike and the National Road to Baltimore as well the B&O Railroad all intersected here and could serve General Early’s troops well to march on Washington D.C. or Baltimore or both. The combined forces of Wallace and Ricketts, now numbering about 5800 set up defenses along the bridges and fords of the river using the higher east banks of the river as natural breastworks. Two block houses nearby were also occupied and trenches and earthworks had been constructed in various vantage points along the fence lines of local family farms.
The Confederate encountered Wallace's Union troops on the Georgetown Pike near the Best family farm while another Confederate division clashed with the Federals on the National Road. In order to avoid a costly frontal attack, General Early sent his cavalry down Buckeystown Road to ford the river and outflank the Union line.
The Federals fought fiercely to hold position, but the superior force of about 14,000 Confederates using a fierce three pronged attack soon gained control of the field. Late afternoon saw the Federals retreating toward Baltimore leaving nearly 1300 dead wounded and captured. General Early’s force did not finish the day unscathed. Between 700 & 900 Confederates lay dead and wounded and of larger importance a day was lost in the quest to march into Washington D.C.
The next day Early marched on and by midday Monday he stood just outside of Fort Stevens inside the District of Columbia. With his troops spread far and wide behind him and with Fort Stevens casting an impressive shadow he decided to return to Virginia across the Potomac River at Whites Crossing thus ending the Confederates final bid to capture the Federal Capitol.
General Grant wrote of Early’s sortie:
"If Early had been but one day earlier, he might have entered the capital before the arrival of the reinforcements I had sent .... General Wallace contributed on this occasion by the defeat of the troops under him, a greater benefit to the cause than often falls to the lot of a commander of an equal force to render by means of a victory."
The battlefield remained in private hands until the 1970's when much of it was acquired to make the Monocacy National Battlefield. It would be a fairly long day trip from Salisbury to visit this historical site but a well planned weekend could easily take you to Harpers Ferry, Antietam, or the historical Town of Frederick as well. For more information and photos on the Monocacy National Battlefield simply click on the title of this post to be taken to their site.