Investigating the Battle of Monocacy

by Sarah Webb. 0 Comments

After it was discovered John Trout had not deserted, a note recorded his capture on July 4,1864 at Sharpsburg:

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Courtesy of fold3.com

Later, it was again changed to “captured at Monocacy on July 9.” I wondered if “Monocacy” was written as a generalization because the skirmishes in early July led to the cataclysmic clash on July 9.

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Courtesy of fold3.com

I kept this idea in mind as I continued investigating the events leading up to the Battle of Monocacy.

John W. Garrett, President of the B&O Railroad and a confederate sympathizer, decided early in the war to protect his business interests over his personal ones. He was alarmed that his railroad investments would be damaged with the 1864 invasion and rallied Union support to protect his railway lines. He turned to Lew Wallace, commander of the Middle Department, whose territory included the area from Baltimore up to the east side Monocacy River.

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General Lew Wallace, Library of Congress

Wallace shrewdly ascertained the situation and without time for superiors to approve his plan – or barely enough troops to hold a defensive position - he acted on his own volition and set up a defense at Monocacy Junction after Garrett had sounded the alarm about Confederate troop movements.

My first order of business was to hike more of the Monocacy trails. I had not yet seen the Worthington or Thomas farms. I wanted to make sure I understood the timing of the battle and order of events.

I’m not going to recap the entire Battle of Monocacy since experts more versed in it than I have undertaken that study. In general, the battle happened in three stages on July 9. In truth, the fighting overlapped in each of these locations throughout the day, but approximately:

  1. 8:30-10:30am - an initial skirmish along the Georgetown Pike (now 355) at the Best Farm approaching the Monocacy River – the Confederates were on the north side of the Monocacy and the Union forces on the south and east sides; Wallace wanted the bridge held at all costs.
  2. 10:30am -2:30pm – downriver to the west, Confederates forded the Monocacy near Bush Creek to try and outflank the Union forces at the Worthington farm; the Union line rallied and beat back the rebels.
  3. 2:30-5:00pm – still south of the Monocacy rebels pushed in a final attack from the Worthington farm towards the Thomas farm. Union forces retreated in defeat towards Baltimore.

As I am apt to do with mystery or suspense books, I…ahem…read about the end of the battle first. It seemed fitting then to start hiking on the Thomas farm trail.

What a delightful hike it is!

Walking the farmland and forests allowed me to feel how the land undulates; it showed me how the landscape forms natural barriers and defensive positions. What appears from a distance as a slight terrain elevation up close becomes a walk of exertion. It illustrated to me that slight inclines could become monumental in the face of fatigue, battle equipment, or under a barrage of shots and artillery.

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A sunset view of the Thomas farm

Nowadays the Thomas farm is a peaceful refuge. During my walk a “pod” of deer bounded through waves of green wheat fields like dolphins. I could only see their heads above the sea of grain curiously turning towards me with each jump like synchronized swimmers. It was so comical I giggled out loud, and I barely got my camera out in time to capture a shot. They disappeared as quickly as they came, a moving wisp of battlefield sentries.

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A view of the Thomas farm

The peaceful scene belies the violence hidden in the ground. At one point – during the heaviest part of fighting near the end of the day- so many soldiers lay bleeding in a stream on the Thomas farm that blood trickled down the river bed for a hundred yards. Now, interstate 270 bisects the Thomas and Worthington farms. Cars speed indifferently through this angry spot every day. Where commuters see “Exit 31 Harry Grove Stadium” is where hundreds of soldiers once lost their lives.

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A view of 270 exit 31 from the Thomas Farm

Back home, I scoured sources for the record of regiments. I could find no reference to troops or commanders from Cole’s battalions in the records.

As I discovered earlier, the separation of Cole’s regiment – some battalions were stuck with Hunter in the Kanawha Valley while some were with Mulligan’s Brigade in northern Virginia and Maryland – helped me hazard a guess as to why Cole’s Cavalry is not listed as fighting at the Battle of Monocacy. It seems to me under normal circumstances the entire regiment would have been involved given their role in protecting the Potomac River Valley. As it was, only the newest battalions traveling with Colonel Mulligan were available to help form a defense with Lew Wallace. From what I can determine, Cole’s newest recruits– and John Trout – were forced to face the Confederate invasion without many of their veteran comrades. They are listed only in official Monocacy battle records as “a detachment of mixed Cavalry.”

Given that information I tried to piece together where the detachment of Cole’s Cavalry - and John Trout - may have been during the battle.

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