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The Battle of Monocacy, The Union Loss That Saved Washington, D.C.

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 28, 2023 3:02 am

The Battle of Monocacy, The Union Loss That Saved Washington, D.C.

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 28, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, on July 9, 1864, the Union army suffered a loss... that just so happened to save the United States and help solidify Lincoln's re-election.

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iHeart Radio app, Apple podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, including yours.

Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. They're some of our favorites. Previously on our show, Mark Leipsohn told the story of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of our national anthem. Today, Mark's back to tell the story of the Battle of Monocacy, the Civil War battle that was a Union loss and saved Washington DC. The July 9th, 1864 Battle of Monocacy is one of the most important little-known battles of the Civil War. Mainly because it's known as the battle that saved Washington DC, because after which, the Confederates attacked the nation's capital for the first and only time during the Civil War. It took place four miles south of Fort Worth, Washington, D.C.

It took place four miles south of Frederick, Maryland, about 45 miles west of Washington, D.C. This was a time when Lee was surrounded at Richmond and Petersburg by Grant following the bloodiest six weeks of the Civil War. Grant's Wilderness Campaign, aka the Overland Campaign, the last three huge battles of the Civil War, the Battles of Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Cold Harbor.

These were mammoth battles that hundreds of thousands of troops took part in, Wilderness, May 5th through the 7th. This is over 101,000 Union troops alone, 61,000 Confederates, 25,400 casualties killed, wounded, and taken prisoner, followed by Spotsylvania Courthouse coming east toward Fredericksburg. Again, 100,000 Union troops, over 50,000 Confederate troops, 30,000 combined casualties.

I mean, these were slaughters, as was the Battle of Cold Harbor right near Richmond that dragged on for two weeks, May 31st to June 12th, about 17,000 casualties. And the other thing to keep in mind about this whole thing is hovering over it is the 1864 presidential election, the only presidential election ever held in a country during a fighting Civil War, a democratic national election held during a fighting Civil War. And of course, Lincoln was running for reelection, and he was going against the Democrat General McClellan, the disgraced Union general. It was not a great time for Lincoln. They didn't have Gallup polls then, but everybody knew it was going to be a really uphill stretch. It was going to be a really uphill struggle to get that victory in November.

In fact, he almost didn't get the Republican nomination. He had to choose a Democrat, that would be Andrew Johnson, Senator of Tennessee, a Southern Democrat at that, to be his running mate, because his Republican Party was divided. You know, War Republicans and Peace Republicans were at odds. Lincoln was trying to navigate that.

The Democrats, they were slightly divided, but they were united in their opposition to Lincoln. In the midst of all this, Robert E. Lee comes up with his bold four-part plan to thwart Grant's plan to end the war. Part one, to drive Union forces from out of the Shenandoah Valley. The Union had Shenandoah Valley, the Confederates' breadbasket. They were desperately needing food.

They were desperately needing supplies to get through. Second, free the Confederate prisoners at Point Lookout POW camp, which was on the southern, it's still there today, it's a museum, on the southern tip of southern Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C. as the crow flies. Probably 12,000 Confederate prisoners held there. If they had been freed, that would have been the equivalent of a core of troops for Robert E. Lee desperately needed.

Third, to threaten Washington, D.C. if possible. And fourth, and most important in Lee's mind, was to force Grant to move those troops away from Richmond and Petersburg so that Lee could have some breathing room. So who did Robert E. Lee choose on this dangerous and important mission? His Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early, who was one of the most colorful and controversial characters in the Civil War. He was a Virginian from Rocky Mount, Virginia. He went to West Point. He wasn't a great student, graduated at the bottom of his class just about, served briefly in the Seminole War, although nothing was going on when he got down to Florida. He served in the Mexican War, same thing.

Fighting was over by the time he got out there. He went back to Virginia, practiced law. He was a member of the Virginia Secession Convention, actually voted against secession at first. But when the tide turned, he voted for secession. And he was one of the most tired confederates during the war and afterward.

He was wounded at the Battle of Williamsburg in 62. He fought in every battle in the Eastern Theater. He was an aggressive general, although he did not judge terrain well. He did not judge, wasn't a great tactician. He had a love hate relationship with the men. He was very abrasive, didn't get along very well with the other officers. Robert E. Lee called him my bad old man, even though Lee was older than Early. Early had contracted arthritis and he was hunched over and he had a scraggly beard. He was just a kind of a mean, cantankerous, you know, misogynistic, racist guy.

But he was aggressive, which is probably why Lee chose him, although he, you know, he didn't have much choice at that point in the war with what generals were availed. So on the early morning hours of June 13th, Early marched 8,000 Confederate troops away from Richmond and Petersburg. They snuck out. The Union troops did not have a clue that this happened. They marched 70 miles due west to Charlottesville.

They got on rickety trains on June 17th. And on June 19th came the Battle of Lynchburg, which is even less well known because there wasn't much of a battle because when the Union generals heard that Early was there with the corps of troops, they fled. And you're listening to Mark Leipsohn tell the story of the Battle of Monocacy. And it's the battle that saved Washington, D.C. More of the story here on Our American Stories. Here at Our American Stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith and love. Stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told, but we can't do it without you.

Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love our stories in America like we do, please go to OurAmericanStories.com and click the donate button. Give a little. Give a lot. Help us keep the great American stories coming.

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Visit Bose.com forward slash I heart to save big on holiday cheer and shop sound that's more than just a present. Hi, I'm Dr. John White, WebMD's chief medical officer and host of the Health Discovered podcast where we bring you fascinating stories and unique perspectives like our recent episode where we break down the myths to uncover the facts of type 1 diabetes. A lot of people very well-meaning people who cared about me just thought that it was caused by diet or can be cured by diet and exercise especially right after I was diagnosed people saying what what was it that you ate or are you going to have to change your diet to get rid of this there's still a lot of you know people see me pick up some kind of dessert and they're like oh should you really be eating that or thinking you know if they give sugar-free things to people that's helpful.

Listen to Health Discovered on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. And we're back with Mark Leapsen here on Our American Stories and the story of the Battle of Monocacy, the little-known battle that saved Washington DC. When we last left off Union troops were fleeing north from Confederate General Jubal Early in June of 1864. They went west they went over the mountain into what is now West Virginia that was led by General David Hunter aka Black Dave Hunter who was not one of the top Union generals he had just finished what was known as Hunter's Raid up and down the valley the Shenandoah Valley, Stanton, Lexington, Natural Bridge that area, Lynchburg and he had you know was living off the land which meant confiscating people's farm animals and crops and just up to general no good and so he fled and with him one of Lee's goals was accomplished the Union troops had left Shenandoah Valley not to come back so then the Confederate troops they started their march up north which we call going down the valley because how the Shenandoah flows so in other words when you go north you're going down the valley because of the way the Shenandoah flows. The last Union general in their way was General Franz Siegel who again was not one of the great Union generals in fact he was probably one of the worst he had he was a political general he was German he came here with no battlefield experience Lincoln was trying to influence German Americans and Germans to come on the on the Union side and that was the reason Siegel got this command and you know his low point came during the battle of New Market earlier that spring when his superior forces were routed by Confederate troops there in the Shenandoah Valley aided by cadets from Virginia Military Institute some as young as 15 years old so Siegel fled he went way up into Maryland to the Maryland Heights over at Harper's Ferry West Virginia right across the river early and his men you know marched you know it was very hot that summer about a third of the men did not have shoes but they kept going and when early got to cross the Potomac River this was the third time that the Confederates had if you want to call it that way invaded the north the first time being for the battle of Antietam in 62 and the second time in 63 for Gettysburg everybody heard of that but not very many people know about this third move into the north and they camped for two days outside Antietam which is not far from Harper's Ferry where they rested also that's when early got the order from Rob Lee Robert E. Lee's son they sent him on horseback they didn't want to put this order out on the telegraph they sent him on horseback up from Richmond and he delivered this important crucial order to go after those imprisoned Confederates at point lookout if they could they could so let's back up just a quick minute and talk about Washington DC at this point in the war you know what you think about it Washington is just you know across the Potomac River from Virginia it was 90 miles it is 90 miles from Richmond the capital of Confederacy so especially after the first battle of Manassas in the summer of 61 people were worried about a Confederate invasion of the national capital so soon after that the Union Army went around went and built the what was known as the defenses of Washington when they finished which was this time in the Civil War there were something like 68 forts surrounding Washington DC and of course they went into Virginia because the Union took over northern Virginia soon after the war started now these were defensive forts they weren't extensive but they they did bristle with artillery they were out facing and the forts were basically all tied together by a series of berms and embankments there's only one fort left today that you can see and that's Fort Stevens which is if you think of Washington DC as shaped like a diamond it's at the very tip of the diamond near Silver Spring Maryland and it's a national park now I mean the fort has been rebuilt but you can see what they were like if you go there they had cannons facing out of course inside it was like a horseshoe and the forts were designed to be manned by about 50 to 60,000 troops but at this point in the war there weren't a lot of spare able-bodied Union troops I mean Washington DC was kind of like a hospital during the war hospital you know schools government buildings were turned into hospitals men recovering from these vicious battles that had kept accumulating and so we don't know how many people were defending Washington at this time but we think it was maybe around 10,000 if that and not only that but most of them were members of what was known as the veteran reserve corps now the veteran reserve corps had recently changed its name in 1864 it had been known as the invalid corps the invalid corps were men who were recuperating from their wounds but well enough to you know walk and man the barricades so we had about 10,000 invalids defending Washington DC at this point in the war and we had juba early on the march so they crossed the Potomac like I said on July 5th this was actually the first time union intelligence realized that Lee had just sent an entire corps of troops away from Richmond they started moving toward Washington DC now word is getting back to Washington now that Lee has sent the corps of troops out there and the union intelligence which was not great in general during the war was not good here either at first the reports said it was general ewell who was in the hospital at the time it was actually early and they kept getting the numbers wrong you know 20,000 was mentioned 25,000 was mentioned grant heard about it he saw the these dispatches and he figured out what Lee was up to and he decided he wasn't going to send any troops he had his plan in place and that's what he was going to do but one union army general did figure it out and did take action and that is Lou Wallace another colorful character who later became famous as a novelist you know he wrote the second best-selling novel of the 19th century Ben Hur he wasn't a military man although he did form a local militia unit but it was a zouave unit those were the zouaves were guys who dressed up in these interesting uniforms that with pantaloons and vests and mostly did close order drill they were very popular but they certainly didn't have any battlefield experience so Lou Wallace started his own regiment when the war started he quickly rose in the ranks as he had success in an early battle in Romney West Virginia when the union press was looking for heroes and they played him up and then he also fought very well in February 62 at the battles of Fort Henry and Hyman and Donaldson out there in Tennessee and he was promoted to major general at 34 one of the youngest union generals his low point came at the battle of Shiloh April 6 7 1862 when he managed to get his men lost in the woods before the first they missed the first day Grant was commanding as was general Halleck and Henry Halleck and they both were not very happy with Wallace and they relieved him of his command he was out of the war for two years he begged to get back in he finally was but he got a terrible assignment he was in March of 64 he was appointed commander of the 8th army corps of the middle department basically he was military governor of Baltimore which was kind of a hotbed of a confederate sentiment but it wasn't anything like what he wanted he was itching to get back in the fight so without orders on his own on July 3rd Wallace started gathering up troops to send down to Monocacy Junction which is four miles south of Frederick Maryland and he arrived on July 5th at the end of the day July 6th all the troops he could muster who were mostly hundred days men who hadn't had any experience in battle one gun one piece of artillery and he had about 1,500 men and you're listening to Mark Leapsen tell the story of the battle of Monocacy and by the way picture in your mind Richmond being the capital Montgomery also a capital in the confederacy and Richmond and DC two capitals of opposing armies within about a two hours drive if you know that area of the country so they're right next to each other these two capitals and here is lee trying to strike at our current nation's capital Washington DC the story of the battle of Monocacy continues here on our American stories it's hard to narrow it down to just a few things to love about the holidays want to know a little secret the Home Depot has the holidays covered and that includes bigger and bolder holiday decor at amazing prices from a perfectly lit tree to a wonderfully designed fireplace to some of the most fun decor ever yard inflatables like the Home Depot's nine foot Grinch stealing Christmas inflatable yes nine feet of amazing how amazing you ask people will be driving by your house really slowly just to take a picture that's how amazing while a nine foot Grinch inflatable is stealing Christmas you'll be stealing the show in your neighborhood and all for an amazing price so get to the Home Depot this holiday season your go-to place to get holiday ready tis the season of making the perfect wish list and the perfect playlist level up you're listening and gift more than just a headphone this holiday with bows quiet comfort ultra earbuds and headphones breakthrough bows immersive audio uses rich spatialized sound to bring your fave holiday classics to life world-class noise cancellation straps you in for a not so typical silent night and custom tune technology analyzes your ear shape adapting the audio performance so each whistle note hits higher and each sleigh bell rings even brighter than the last it's everything everything music should make you feel taken to new holiday highs it's more than just a present and it gifts like a party so turn your ordinary moments into epic memories with the gift of sound visit bows.com forward slash iheart to say big on holiday cheer and shop sound that's more than just a present hi i'm dr john white webmd's chief medical officer and host of the health discovered podcast where we bring you fascinating stories and unique perspectives like our recent episode where we break down the myths to uncover the facts of type 1 diabetes a lot of people very well-meaning people who cared about me just thought that it was caused by diet or can be cured by diet and exercise especially right after i was diagnosed people saying what what was it that you ate or are you going to have to change your diet to get rid of this there's still a lot of you know people see me pick up some kind of dessert and they're like oh should you really be eating that or thinking you know if they give sugar-free things to people if that's helpful listen to health discovered on the iheart radio app or wherever you get your podcasts and we're back with the final portion of mark leapsons retelling of the 1864 battle of monocacy here on our american stories it's also known as the battle to save washington dc we return to mark leapson and the union general lou wallace at the end of the day july 6th all the troops he could muster who were mostly hundred days men who hadn't had any experience in battle one gun one piece of artillery and he had about 1,500 men meanwhile early had picked up more troops he's got about 14,000 men and he's bearing down on monocacy so finally grant finally relents when he hears when all this word gets to him and he releases the sixth corps from city point outside of richmond they get on they wake him up early in the morning they get on ships they go down the james river out into the chesapeake and up up up to baltimore they get on trains at the old camden station and they arrive there on early afternoon july 7th trains left at four o'clock they arrived the next dawn the next day at frederick junction and now wallace has about 6,500 troops again he's over two to one outmanned but he at least has 6,500 he has one gun the confederates have something like 24 guns so so it's inevitable that the confederates are going to win this but wallace puts up a full day fight one of the confederate commanders was john brown gordon who you know had fought in every battle in the eastern theater was wounded five times at antietam he said that later that monocracy was the sharpest fight he was in the first shots were fired at 6 a.m saturday july 9th those three artillery battalions really uh won the day for the southerners and wallace was forced to retreat at about four o'clock in the afternoon so this little-known battle no it wasn't antietam and it wasn't wilderness but we did have about 1300 union casualties killed wounded taken prisoner and about 800 confederates so some people call this a skirmish but you know it was a battle the river ran red with blood and i know that people say about other battles but in this case it was true because a lot of the fighting took place right on both sides of the river the confederates won when hallock and grant found out what happened they relieved wallace of his command although he was soon reinstated early and the troops spent the night on the battlefield at july 9th and then the next morning they marched east toward washington dc he sent his cavalry north toward baltimore for two reasons one a faint to make people believe that he was going to baltimore rather than washington and two to cut the railroad and telegraph lines which he did so washington was in communicata last day they heard early was either on his way to baltimore or washington probably washington and there was panic in the streets the navy secretary gideon wells wrote in his diary the rebels are upon us they readied a ship they provisioned a ship in the potomac to spirit lincoln out of town if this invasion of the city should take place and be successful and lincoln did not know about it when he found out about it he was angry but still it wouldn't have helped lincoln very much in his election campaign if he had had to flee washington dc there was also the u.s treasury to be raided desperately needed confederate supplies to be looted possibly burning washington if those confederate troops got loose in the streets and it certainly would have had an impact on the election so what happened there a call went out for all able-bodied men to get to the barricades and so we had civilians government workers on the battle you know came up to the those forts those defensive forts and to to help the invalid corps defend washington against all these seasoned troops again finally uh at the last minute grant relented down in petersburg and he sent the rest of the sixth corps up to washington and again they did the same thing they got on ships they went down the james river but this time they came up the potomac they landed at the docks downtown washington dc about noontime on july 11th and they went up to fort stevens uh which was the northernmost part of washington dc the citizens were gleeful they greeted them with ice cream and sandwiches so on july 11th early was one of those generals who was on his horse with the men right out in front of the troops and they arrived outside fort stevens and you know from from his horse with his binoculars he could see the capital dome he had it in his sights you know the south's one the south's most aggressive generals had the capital dome in his sights and he could have given the order to attack but he didn't and for several reasons one he didn't have very many troops he had to leave troops back on the battlefield to take care of the wounded and the prisoners and the men were all strung out you know between frederick and washington he only had the lead elements of his troops and also it was really really hot and they had been on the march now it's july 11th since june 13th and you know there were wool uniforms it they had to have been exhausted now the men wanted to go but early decided not to however being jubal early and he had his artillery there was skirmishing there was artillery going back and forth and that night early took his generals for a council of war into silver spring at the glare mansion owned by the prominent blair family the blairs had had fled they had gone to pennsylvania and early and his generals had this council of war they raided the blair's wine cellar and they decided that they would decide what they would do the next morning on july 12th so early goes back early in the morning of july 12th he looks up in front of him and he sees six core troops on the parapet on at fort stevens they had a distinctive uh cross as their regimental or as their core cross and so he knew he was facing experienced troops he had thought he might be facing these you know invalids and so again there was skirmishing and fighting and you know famously abraham lincoln and some of the citizens of washington came out lincoln came out was standing on the parapet at fort stevens all six feet five of them in a stovepipe hat when a union surgeon standing next to him was shot and wounded by a confederate sharpshooter in the trees pretty far away at which point lincoln was urged to get down from the barricade so there's two days of skirmishing about 300 union dead and wounded we don't know how many confederates but it was probably in that ballpark it never made the official records of the civil war july 13th early snuck out of washington retreated back through montgomery county silver spring to poolsville maryland and then crossed the potomac river at white's ferry and came back into virginia so did monocacy save washington dc you know i think it did grant writes in his memoirs that had lou alice not held up early for most of one decade but he did it for the rest of his life had lou alice not held up early for most of one day and you know probably two days because they rested on the battlefield the next day that he grant would not have had time to get the sixth corps up to washington dc what impact did it have on the 64 presidential election well we know that lincoln won we also know that he was at a very very very low point you know he wrote a letter to his cabinet said not to be unsealed until after the election and the letter said please cooperate with the new administration he didn't think he was going to win but he did and one of the reasons had to have been that washington dc escaped the confederate attack there were other factors believe me there were certainly what happened at monocacy had a strong impact on the presidential election and a special thanks to robbie davis for the production on that piece and the storytelling and also a special thanks to mark leaps in his book desperate engagement how a little-known civil war battle saved washington dc and changed american history and there is no doubt if washington dc had been sacked it would have been a death blow to the lincoln presidency and that's what indeed gettysburg was all about getting that big victory to harm lincoln's chances of getting re-elected in 1864 and the union calling it quits in the greatest war of our country's history actually perhaps more consequential even than the american revolution the story of the battle of monocracy here on our american story tis the season of making the perfect wish list and the perfect playlist with bows quiet comfort ultra earbuds and headphones breakthrough immersive audio uses specialized sound to bring your fave holiday classics to life and world-class noise cancellation ensures a not so typical silent night and an epic holiday party of warmth it's everything music should make you feel taken to new holiday highs visit bows.com forward slash iheart this holiday season and shop sound that's more than just a present congratulations to the city of bellevue washington first place award winner for innovation in community at the 2023 unconventional awards presented by t-mobile for business the city of bellevue has revolutionized public safety as a leader in technological innovation to decrease road-related fatalities and injuries in collaboration with t-mobile 5g solutions bellevue has improved the vision zero program increasing real-time communications between cars pedestrians cyclists and traffic infrastructure to provide early warnings on dangerous road interactions t-mobile for business congratulates the city of bellevue for their innovation and unconventional thinking this is jana kramer from windown with jana kramer imagine a simple and powerful act at the time 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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-28 04:50:40 / 2023-11-28 05:03:51 / 13

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