Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bet You Don't Know The Most Important Civil War Battle

Step aside Gettysburg you are no longer the most important battle of the Civil War. That's right, Abe Lincoln is rolling over in his grave right now, but Gettysburg has to take the backseat from now on. Now I bet your think what can top Gettysburg, it was the definitive moment that lead to the Union becoming victorious...right? Well your wrong, so prepare yourself to have your mind blown and your knowledge of the Civil War turned upside down. The battle which turned the tide of the Civil War in favor of the Union happened on a hot Maryland July day, The Battle of Monocacy.

So why and how can this little known battle be the most important battle of the Civil War? Well it is the the turning point for the Union and was the beginning of the end for the Confederates. As the Rebels were pushing North during the Valley Campaign, the Union was on their heels. The Confederates pushed closer to Washington D.C. every day and the Union lines were being spread too thin. The worst part about this for the Union was that those damn Rebels knew all about it. So they sent Lieutenant General Jubal Early of Virginia, in command of some 15,000 Rebel soldiers up to Fredrick County, Maryland. Ulysses S. Grant, hollowed be thy name, would send what he could to try to slow down the Confederate advancement, some 4,000 Union troops under the command of Brigadier General  James Ricketts. The only thing to hold back Early until the arrive of Ricketts was a few thousand "Hundred Dayers," under the command of Major General Lew Wallace or best comparable to today's weekend warrior reservists. And that is the build up to what would become the Union's key to victory, The Battle of Monocacy was about to be underway.


 Now how important is the Battle of Monocacy? Well when the dust cleared and the bullets stopped flying, the battle would be called The Battle that Saved Washington. Now why would it be called that? Well Frederick County, MD is only about an hour from the the door of the White House. The battle was preceded by several smaller skirmishes, as the Confederates tried to find the weakest points in the Union lines. But by July 9, Wallace was meet by Ricketts and his men, making a total of about 6,000 men to stop the 14,000 strong Rebel advancements. But numbers were not the only way tow in a battle and the Union leaders knew that. They had Union troops set up on higher elevated grounds, dug trenches, used fences and built breastworks, all done to give them an advantage in battle. It was at this point that the Confederates struck and they threw everything they could at the Union troops.

So the goal of the Union troops was not to win the battle and push the Rebels back to the south. However, the goal was to slow them down and allow for Ulysses S. Grant and his reinforcements to arrive and protect Washington D.C. So, knowing they were outnumbered the Union troops held their ground and stopped every Confederate advancement. They withstood artillery barrages, cavalry charges, flanking attempts, none stop waves of Rebel troops pushing forward. It was until the end of the day the Union lines began to break. At this time the signal was given to retreat back to Baltimore, the last Union stronghold before D.C. Now this battle would be the Confederates most northern victory but when reviewing it, it is truly a win for the Union. The goal was to slow the Rebel advancements, which it did, retreat successfully, which it did and protect Washington D.C., which it did. So overall the Battle of Monocacy goes in the W column for the Union both for tactical and strategical achievements.

As the next few days unwound, the Rebels sat outside D.C. but that is all they could do.  Lt. Gen. Early occupied Fort Stevens and took in the view of Washington D.C. while Grant and his Army secured the city. It was too late, Early had missed his chance. This was all in thanks to those men at Monocacy, that one day delay single handedly saved Washington D.C. and perhaps the Union. It was that 24 hour time span that allowed for D.C. to be secured and for the Rebels to see that victory was impossible. It is after the events surrounding Monocacy that signaled the end for the Confederacy. Early would lead a retreat back to Virginia which would be his biggest tactical mistake. Grant and the Union forces would push after them and force the war back into the south were it would remain until it's end.

The battle was now over and the Union pushed into the south so Monocacy was forgotten with every Union victory.  The best way to explain Monocacy would be in the words of the men who had everything to lose of gain from the battle. General Early wrote:

 "Some of the Northern papers stated that, between Saturday and Monday, I could have entered the city; but on Saturday I was fighting at Monocacy, thirty-five miles from Washington, a force which I could not leave in my rear; and after disposing of that force and moving as rapidly as it was possible for me to move, I did not arrive in front of the fortifications until after noon on Monday, and then my troops were exhausted ..."

 Notice how he conveniently left out the fact that he did not continue onto D.C. because of Grant. But wait, I also have Grants view on what happened. General Grant writes:

"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."

So the value of Monocacy was seen by both sides yet we forget it.It was been eclipsed by Gettysburg, the Emancipation Proclamation, Vicksburg and so many other events that lead to the Union's victory. But it seems that Monocacy is too important to forget, it is the reason the tide turned on the Rebels and the reason the Union was able to win. It is important that Monocacy be remembered, for it faces the same fate as many other Civil War battlefields, and that is simply being forgotten. The events that happened on that field are too important to be lost to history, as for it was on that field that the Union was saved but more importantly ensured the survival of the United States of America.

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