150 Years Ago This Week: Battle at Monocacy

July 1864

In Charleston Harbor, S.C., the Federals renewed assaults against the city and Fort Sumter on Sunday, July 3. Landing in barges, a Union assault force from Morris Island failed in a dawn attack on Fort Johnson, and lost 140 men as Confederate prisoners.

The next day, July 4, the first session of the 38th U.S. Congress adjourned amidst tensions over the planned reconstruction of the seceded states when the war ended. Control was the issue: Would it be the Congress or the president? President Abraham Lincoln signed a number of bills on this day, including the establishment of the office of Commissioner of Immigration.

However, he did not sign the controversial Wade-Davis bill, supported by Sen. Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Congressman Henry Winter Davis of Maryland. This bill called for the reorganization of a seceded state only after a majority of the enrolled white male citizens had taken an oath of allegiance and adopted a constitution acceptable to the president and the Congress.

No one who had held any state or national office in the Confederate governments or had borne arms for the South would be able to vote or serve as a delegate to the convention, even if he had taken the oath. The bill also called for complete emancipation through Congressional action instead of a constitutional amendment, and a repudiation of all Confederate debts.

In summary, the bill provided for the Congress to control reconstruction, rather than the President, provided for extreme difficulty in reconstructing a seceded state and led to control by the Radicals in Congress. Mr. Lincoln had already instituted a much more lenient reconstruction in Arkansas and Louisiana whereby 10 percent of the previous voters could return a state to the Union. The Radicals in the Congress vehemently opposed such lenient measures.

Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederates crossed the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, W. Va. on July 5, and skirmished with Union forces on their march to the east. Fighting also intensified along the opposing lines in Georgia, and Maj. Gen. James McPherson’s Union troops edged closer to the railroad center at Atlanta.

On July 6, Gen. Early’s troops captured Hagerstown, Md. Commanding the cavalry, Brig. Gen. John McCausland demanded $20,000 from the citizens of Hagerstown in retribution for the damage done in the Shenandoah Valley by Maj. Gen. David Hunter the previous month. Such Union troops and state militia as there were near Washington were rushed to Frederick to oppose Gen. Early’s troops coming in from western Maryland.

From Petersburg and the Army of the Potomac came the Third Division of the Sixth Corps to deal with Gen. Early’s forces, and protect Washington. Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace was assigned to command this growing Union presence. On July 8, Gen. Wallace, who would go on to become the territorial governor of Montana and write the novel “Ben Hur,” gathered his 6,000 Union troops on the banks of the Monocacy River east of Frederick.

On Saturday morning, July 9, Gen. Early and 10,000 Confederates attacked the largely inexperienced and untrained Union troops on the Monocacy River southeast of Frederick, and drove the Federals back after a stubborn fight. Confederate casualties numbered about 700 while Gen. Wallace’s troops sustained some 2,000 casualties, of whom 1,200 were captured by the Southerners.

Gen. Early’s men continued their march east, but the delay of one day in the Confederate advance allowed some additional defensive measures to be instituted in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Two more divisions of the Union Sixth Corps left City Point, Va., for the defenses of Washington. There was near-panic in Baltimore, and at Frederick, Gen. McCausland demanded $200,000 of city officials.

Some 35 miles off the eastern shore of Maryland, CSS Florida under the command of John Moffatt captured four Union merchant steamers. During the night of July 9, in Georgia, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston took the Army of Tennessee across the Chattahoochee River, burning bridges and retreating this time to the very edges of the city of Atlanta.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.