Other July 09, 1864 Outcome: Confederate Victory

Called “The Battle That Saved Washington,” Monocacy was a Confederate victory, but it delayed the Confederates' advance towards Washington, D.C. - a delay that proved critical.

Jubal Early

While not fought in the Shenandoah Valley, the Battle of Monocacy was directly connected with actions in the Valley during the Summer of 1864.

After being defeated by Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early at Lynchburg on June 17-18, 1864, Union Gen. David Hunter withdrew west into the mountains of West Virginia – leaving the Shenandoah Valley virtually undefended. Early pursued Hunter for two days, but then returned to the Valley and started his troops north towards the Potomac River.

Early reached Winchester by July 2. Union Gen. Franz Sigel (the losing commander at New Market), who was in command of a Federal reserve division, withdrew to Maryland Heights at Harpers Ferry, offering little resistance. On July 4, Early confronted Sigel but then determined to turn the position by crossing the Potomac at Shepherdstown (July 5-6) and moving over South Mountain towards Frederick, Maryland and the Union capital beyond.

Lew Wallace

On July 9, 1864, a makeshift Union force under Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace (who would earn fame after the war as the author of Ben Hur) attempted to arrest Early’s invading Confederate divisions along the Monocacy River, just east of Frederick. Wallace, joined by Ricketts’s Division of the VI Corps (ordered to hurry north from the Petersburg lines by Union commander Gen. Ulysses S. Grant), was outflanked by Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon’s Division and defeated after putting up a stiff resistance.


“As one of the rebels fell, it seems as if ten rose up. Of course we fled. There were within ten rods [165 feet] of us, firing like a sheet of flame.” – a Union soldier describing the Confederate flanking attack at Monocacy

Wallace retreated toward Baltimore, leaving open the road to Washington, but his defeat had bought valuable time. Hearing of Early’s incursion into Maryland, Grant had embarked the rest of the VI Corps on transports at City Point, sending it with all dispatch to Washington. On the afternoon of July 11, Early’s command, numbering no more than 12,000 infantry, demonstrated before the Washington fortifications, which were weakly manned by garrison troops. But the veteran Union reinforcements (VI and XIX Corps) diverted from Grant’s army began arriving at mid-day, and by July 12, fully manned the Washington entrenchments. After a brief demonstration at Fort Stevens (during which Abraham Lincoln became the only sitting President to come under enemy fire), Early called off an attack on the capital.

“Get down, you damn fool, before you get shot.” – Union Col. (and future Supreme Court justice) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., shouting at a civilian standing atop the parapet of Fort Stevens – before realizing it was the President

The Confederate army withdrew that night, and crossed back into Virginia on July 14 – pursed by Federals under Gen. Horatio Wright. The last major Confederate excursion north of the Potomac had ended.

“We haven’t taken Washington, but we scared Abe Lincoln like hell.” – Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early


5800 Forces Engaged
14000 Forces Engaged
1294 Casualties
800 Casualties