Monocacy battlefield dedication recalls the sacrifice that saved Washington


As Civil War battles go, it was small but important.

On July 9, 1864, at the Battle of Monocacy -- the one they say saved Washington, D.C. -- Union forces delayed advancing Confederate troops. Yesterday, the battlefield site near Frederick was dedicated and opened to the public.

"We're a little late, but better late than never," said U.S. Representative Beverly Byron, D-6th. "I never really thought that the Battle of Monocacy received the attention it deserved."

Union forces lost their battle with Confederate troops that Saturday, said Rich Rambur, a superintendent for the National Park Service. But the battle delayed advancing Confederate soldiers, led by Gen. Jubal Early, which gave Union forces time to send reinforcements to defend the nation's capital.

"It was the [Confederate] troops' intent to move down and take Washington," Mr. Rambur said. Defending Monocacy was left up to 5,800 Union soldiers who fought nearly 18,000 Confederate troops. "It was a short, one-day skirmish," Mr. Rambur said.

The Union forces, led by Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace and Gen. James B. Ricketts, had more than 1,600 soldiers killed, wounded or captured. The Confederates, who had 1,300 killed or wounded, marched on to Washington, arriving two days later.

By then, though, the forces of Ulysses S. Grant were in place, and General Early and his men retreated into Virginia.

"In terms of size and length, this was not a major battle. But it was a crucial one," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md. "It slowed Early down. While [General Wallace] lost the battle, he succeeded in his purpose. It was a fight worth fighting."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer joined Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan Jr. in dedicating the nearly 1,658 acres.

Monocacy battlefield is one of 25 Civil War sites that are part of Mr. Lujan's American Battlefield Protection Program.

The focus of the public-private partnership is to identify and preserve Civil War battlefields threatened by development, Mr. Lujan said.

A Civil War sword, a camp chair and other items used during the battle are on display at a renovated visitors center on the battlefield.

"The opening of a battlefield is rare," said Robert Lyons, who belongs to a group that stages war re-enactments. "This is a once-in-a-life

time thing."

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