Early’s Rebels Arrive before Washington

July 11, 1864 (Monday)

Washington was ringed to the north by a dozen or more forts, linked by embrasures, batteries, and trenches. These covered the approaches along the Georgetown Pike, running northwest out of the city toward Rockville, the Seventh Street Road, running north toward Silver Spring, and the Bladensburg Road, running northeast in the direction of Baltimore.


The Confederates under General Jubal Early had been held back by Lew Wallace’s small force at Monocacy Creek, but through the day previous, the Rebels marched, encamping near Rockville. On the morning of this date, he divided his forces. His infantry, fronted by cavalry, turned off the Georgetown Pike for Silver Springs, while cavalry alone remained near Rockville.

They were off by he break of day, with the cavalry under John McCausland holding to the Georgetown Pike. “This day was an exceedingly hot one, and there was no air stirring,” recalled Early. “While marching, the men were enveloped in a suffocating cloud of dust, and many of them fell by the way from exhaustion. Our progress was therefore very much impeded, but I pushed on as rapidly as possible, hoping to get to the fortifications around Washington before they could be manned.”

The cavalry to his front along the Seventh Street Pike were driving back their Federal counterparts back into the main works before dismounting to play upon the enemy as skirmishers. By noon, Early himself could see Fort Stevens, then hardly manned at all. In fact, at this point, only a bit more than 200 men held the fort. He sent word back to his lead division, commanded by Robert Rodes, to hurry into line and advance into the vacant Federal works.

General Grant had dispatched portions of the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps from the siege at Petersburg, placing them under the banner of Horatio Wright. They were taken by steamer from City Point, near Richmond, up the Potomac to Washington, where they arrived around noon – just as Early was looking upon Fort Stevens. Through the streets marched the veterans, until they left the city and tramped their way to the line of forts.

In the meantime, the Federal skirmishers now exchanging fire with the Rebels were those of Alexander McCook’s Cavalry. He had established his headquarters a little south of Fort Stevens. His men held several miles of ground, unsure where exactly the Rebels would strike.

Commanding the bulk of the Washington garrison troops was General Christopher Augur. The entire capital, in fact, was his department, his men being the Twenty-Second Corps. Within that structure was a so-called “Emergency Division,” commanded by Montgomery Meigs, the Army’s Quartermaster General. This hastily assembled body was made up of Federal employees with no experience in battle. But they too came.


“Before Rodes’ division could be brought up, we saw a cloud of dust in the rear of the works towards Washington,” wrote Early after the war, “and a soon a column of the enemy filed into them on the right and left, and skirmishers were thrown out in front, while an artillery fire was opened on us from a number of batteries. This defeated our hopes of getting possession of the works by surprise, and it became necessary to reconnoiter.”

Rodes deployed his skirmishers, who drove back the Federals. This gave Early a better look at what was before him. “They were found to be exceedingly strong,” he continued, “and consisted of what appeared to be enclosed forts fro heavy artillery, with a tier of lower works in front of each pierced for an immense number of guns, the whole being connected by curtains with ditches in front, and strengthened by palisades and abattis. The timber had been felled within cannon range all around and left on the ground, making a formidable obstacle, and every possible approach was raked by artillery.”

As far as he could see, from left to right, the entire mass was impregnable. “This reconnaissance consumed the balance of the day.” Thinking of his men, Early concluded that due the the battle at the Monocacy, strenuous marches, and pure exhaustion, only about a third of his force – perhaps as few as 3,000 men – could be taken into battle. His artillery was no match at all for the heavy garrison guns.

To his right, along the Georgetown Pike, McCausland reported much the same. He could move neither right or left without being spotted from the Federal signal station. “Under the circumstances,” he concluded, “to have rushed my men blindly against the fortifications, without understanding the state of things, would have been worse than folly.”


Making matters even worse, Early had tried to communicate with cavalry under John Mosby, to see if he knew anything about the true Federal numbers now in Washington, but he was of little help. From a Northern newspaper, he learned that another column of enemy infantry, under David Hunter, was now moving close to Harpers Ferry in his rear. This was all looking incredibly bad.

On the other side of the defenses, Fort Stevens was paid a visit by President Lincoln. According to one witness, David Homer Bates of the telegraph office, the President “carefully observed the whole situation of affairs” from Fort Stevens. And according to another, Francis Carpenter, Lincoln was accompanied by the First Lady. “While at Fort Stevens on Monday, both were imprudently exposed, – rifle-balls coming, in several instances, alarmingly near!” Lincoln would return the following day.

When darkness finally fell, Jubal Early called together his officers, telling him all he know of “the danger of remaining where we were, and the necessity of doing something immediately, as the probability was that the passes of the South Mountain and the fords of the upper Potomac would seen be closed against us.”

The officers exchaned ideas and all were hesitant to leave without some sort of victory. Early couldn’t agree more. “I determined to make an assault on the enemy’s works at daylight next morning, unless some information should be received before that time showing its impracticability.”

But late that night, word came in from cavalry commander Bradley Johnson, who was still en route to Point Lookout to free the Confederate prisoners held within. He had heard from a reliable source that Grant had dispatched two corps of infantry and that the rest of the Army of the Potomac had abandoned Petersburg to track him down. This wasn’t anywhere near true, but Early had nothing else to go on.

“This caused me to delay the attack until I could examine the works again.” This could not be done until daylight.1

Fort Stevens north of Washington, D.C., 1864

Fort Stevens north of Washington, D.C., 1864

  1. Sources: A Memoir of the Last Year of the War For Independence by Jubal A. Early; Six Months at the White House by Francis Bicknell Carpenter; Lincoln in the Telegraph Office by David Homer Bates; Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington by Benjamin Franklin Cooling. []

Washington Prepares for a Southern Visitor

July 10, 1864 (Sunday)

Halleck is pretty much ready.

Halleck is pretty much ready.

As Lew Wallace’s Federals retreated from the battlefield along the Monocacy River, President Lincoln ordered him to fall back not to Washington, but toward Baltimore. It was still mostly unknown whether the Rebels under Jubal Early would strike for Washington, now to their southeast, or would move, instead, upon Baltimore.

General Early had certainly expected some resistance, but after the previous day’s battle, he must have felt at least some surprise to learn that among his prisoners were soldiers from the Sixth Corps, who were supposed to have been along the Petersburg front, far to the south. This gave him pause, though not for long.

With news of Wallace’s defeat, General Grant offered to come personally to Washington to command its defenses. He also ordered the rest of the Sixth Corps to the city. He also gave a bit of strategic advice: “All other force, it looks to me, should be collected in rear of enemy about Edwards Ferry and follow him and cut off retreat if possible.” If Early’s force comprised roughly a third of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. If they were cut off from Petersburg, it would leave Lee with hardly enough men to hold the defenses.

“Gen. Halleck says we have absolutely no force here fit to go to the field,” came Lincoln’s reply. “He thinks that with the hundred day-men, and invalids we have here, we can defend Washington, and scarcely Baltimore.”


He also tallied the other troops in the area. There was Albion Howe, who took over for Franz Sigel, in Harpers Ferry with 8,000. Also, David Hunter’s army had finally been located, and after traversing West Virginia, they were now moving on Harpers Ferry from Cumberland, Maryland, though very slowly. There was some chance of getting militia from Pennsylvania and New York, but it, in Lincoln’s mind, would be hardly worth counting.

“Now what I think is that you should provide to retain your hold where you are certainly, and bring the rest with you personally,” closed Lincoln, “and make a vigorous effort to destroy the enemie’s force in this vicinity. I think there is really a fair chance to do this if the movement is prompt.”

Chief of Staff Henry Halleck echoed Lincoln’s sentiments, agreeing with Grant’s idea to get into Early’s rear – except “we have no forces here for the field.” All that was available to them were “militia, invalids, convalescents from the hospitals, a few dismounted batteries, and the dismounted and disorganized cavalry sent up from James River.”

He agreed with Lincoln that they should be able to defend Washington, but could do nothing more until Hunter arrived in Harpers Ferry. Only then, and after the rest of the Sixth Corps showed up, could anything be thrown on the offensive.

Grant's message to Washington.

Grant’s message to Washington.

Two days earlier, Grant had sent a message to General Lee concerning the exchange of prisoners. He had yet to hear back from him, and was wondering where he might be. “I begin to believe it possible that [Lee] may have gone on the Maryland campaign, taking with him considerable re-enforcements from the army in your front,” he wrote to George Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, before urging him to make a reconnaissance to see if this were true.

Later that night, Grant replied to Lincoln, informing him that he had just dispatched an entire corps from the army around Petersburg. “They will probably reach Washington tomorrow night.” Grant placed Horatio Wright in charge. Grant hoped for Write to join with Hunter to bring their number to 10,000.

“I have great faith that the enemy will never be able to get back with much of his force.”1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 37, Part 2, p155-157; Vol. 40, Part 3, p74-75; Henry Halleck’s War by Curt Anders; Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington by Benjamin Franklin Cooling. []

‘The Firing Became an Unbroken Roll’ – The Battle of Monocacy

July 9, 1864 (Saturday)

The railroad bridge over the Monocacy.

The railroad bridge over the Monocacy.

Jubal Early, commanding the Rebel column that had marched down the Shenandoah Valley and crossed the Potomac River into Maryland was about to make its move on Washington. The Georgetown Pike, leading to the northern capital, crossed the Monocacy River just south of Frederick. Six miles upriver, the National Road crossed, winding its way to Baltimore.

General Lew Wallace, later of Ben-Hur fame, and his small band of 2,500 troops had been all that stood between the Confederates and the limits of either city. He did not know which route, if any, Early would take, and so hedged his bets, trying to cover both.

Previously, General Grant, commanding in Petersburg, had sent north two divisions of the Sixth Corps and helmed by James Ricketts. They had been ordered to pass Wallace’s command by and move to protect Harpers Ferry, but with Early’s Confederates in such proxcimity, Wallace was easily able to convince Ricketts to join him. This brought the Federal numbers to just under 6,000. The Rebels had more than twice their number.

In this way, both Ricketts and Wallace were able to cover the Georgetown Pike, the National Road, as well as the B & O Railroad bridge and a few fords along the Monocacy, though the bulk of their number was posted nearest to the pike and railroad.

And it was there where General Early found them, and deployed a division of infantry under Stephen Ramseur. His own skirmishers threw back those of the Federals, and he was able to establish his batteries on good ground.


To Ramseur’s left, and along the National Road to Baltimore, Robert Rodes’ Division was deployed. But the more he peered across the river, the less settled he was on victory. “The enemy’s position was too storng,” wrote Early after the war, “and the difficulties of crossing the Monocacy under fire too great, to attack in front without greater loss than I was willing to incur.”

Early then began to think of outflanking his enemies, and examined the ground for himself to see where his troops might best cross the river. When he arrived on his right, he saw John McCausland’s Cavalry Brigade splashing across the water in an attempt to do just that.

On the opposite shore, Lew Wallace saw it too. “A line of skirmishers is advancing from the south beyond the cornfield at your left,” he wrote to Ricketts. “I suggest you change front in that direction, and advance to the cornfield fence, concealing your men behind it. They will be enfiladed, but that can’t be helped.”

In ten minutes, two of Ricketts’ brigades were in place, with Wallace watching closely. The Rebel skirmishers gave way to a solid gray line, seemingly unaware of the Federals crouched behind the wall before them. The crept closer, but not a Yankee fired. They waited. And when the Rebels drew near, they rose up as one and fired into them.

“I saw the gleaming of the burnished gun-barrels as they were laid upon the upper rails,” wrote Wallace after the war. “The aim taken was with deadliest intent – never more coolly.” The Southern line went down, almost to a man, but soon regained much of its stature and the firing began anew.

The Rebels came close to doing some real damage, but in time, Rickett’s men drove them back. Though beaten, Early now knew where to cross. He called upon John Breckinridge’s Division, as well as John Gordon’s, to follow up the failed assault. Both were ordered to fall upon the Union left and force it north of the river crossings.

The Confederates began to cross and Wallace was not ignorant of their presence. He once more sent word to Rickett’s, suggesting he face his entire force to join the two brigades at the cornfield. Seeing Rickett’s men on the move, Wallace rode to the wooden covered bridge carrying the Georgetown Pike across the Monocacy. This, he had to burn to prevent the Confederates from crossing and falling onto the rear of Rickett’s troops.

Burning of the railroad bridge. Drawn by Alfred Waud on this date.

Burning of the railroad bridge. Drawn by Alfred Waud on this date.

The sound Rebel flank attack rose with the smoke. “The firing became an unbroken roll,” remembered Wallace. “I could hear no sound else. Both sides were working under a repression too intense for cheering, and repression in which there could be but one intent – load, load, and fire, meaning kill, the more the better. Battle has no other philosophy.”

Seeing a slight advantage, Wallace called for a charge, and when it came, the Rebels retreated. It was not over, but a lull fell across the field. It was in the lull when Wallace saw two columns of dust rising. The first from Frederick, the other even farther on his left.

He immediately shot off a message to Grant, explaining that he had done his best, but that the enemy was clearly making for Washington. He then called Ricketts to his side. Pointing out the Confederate reinforcemens, Ricketts determined there to be at least a division. “God knows there were enough of them already,” he was to have said. Wallace suggested that there was still time enough for an orderly retreat.

“A while longer,” he replied, speaking deliberately, “and Early can’t move before morning; and, if what I am told is true, that the ford is very rocky, it will be noon before he can get his artillery across the river.” This meant that if the Federals could hold off the Rebels for another hour or so, Early would have no choice but to wait an extra day to attack Washington. In that time, more reinforcements from Grant would arrive. It was 3:30pm, and they had to remain.

After another half hour, the Rebels attacked again, this time in much more strength. The new line would overlap Ricketts’ enough though he did his best to extend it, stretching it thin like thread. They held for a time, but from beyond the engaged line of Rebels was seen another line. And then another. There was now no other choice. There was no holding, no waiting. There was only retreat.

Wallace called upon Ricketts to retreat and soon the lines fell back and soon were upon the National Road to Baltimore. The rest of the army pulled out slowly, delaying the Confederates until nightfall. This could hardly have been considered a victory, but delaying Early’s forces for another day would have its definite advantages.


((Sources: Autobiography by Lew Wallace; Memoirs by Jubal Early; Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington by Benjamin Franklin Cooling.))

We Must Have More Forces Here

July 7, 1864 (Thursday)

Lt. Col. David Clendenin left Frederick, Maryland with the sunrise. Leading a column of 230 mounted men, and accompanied by two pieces of artillery, they rode northwest toward Middleton, along the National Road. The day previous, rumors held that Confederate cavalry had occupied the town. Clendenin had been sent by General Lew Wallace, who had been commanding in Baltimore, but was now headquartered at Monocacy Junction, south of Frederick.

David Clendenin!

David Clendenin!

Tales had abounded of as many as 30,000 Confederates storming north under Jubal Early, but the details were much less clear. Wallace believed that the Rebel cavalry was a raiding party that might attempt to cross the border into Pennsylvania. Clendenin was to sort it all out.

Before he even arrived at Middletown, he met a contingient of Rebels, close in number to his own. Spurred on, he drove them back, but they were soon heavily reinforced. There was nothing he could do but retire to Braddock Heights on the south spur of Catoctin Mountain. He had followed the old road over it before meeting the Rebels, and was now compelled to use the small pass as a defense.

Clendenin placed his two pieces of artillery on the ridge and was able “to shell the enemy skirmish line with effect.” But soon the Confederates replied with their own guns, two of which were of much longer ranger than Clendenin’s own. Had he not a superior position, he would have had abandon the line.

“After five hours’ skirmishing,” reported Clendenin, “the enemy being heavily re-enforced and flanking me, I was compelled to fall back on Frederick.” For three of those hours, he had been fighting what he perceived to be 1,000 men. This was a figure close enough to reality, as he was been up against the brigade under Bradley Johnson, a Confederate general native to Freckerick.

Today's map, taken from a drawing made by Wallace.

Today’s map, taken from a drawing made by Wallace.

Johnson had called for even more reinforcements, and when they began to arrive, Clendenin could see them in the distance. As Johnson’s men pressed forward, the Federals retreated to Frederick. There, Clendenin found another piece of artillery and more ammunition. Rather than fall back to Wallace’s headquarters, he decided to defend the road.

“Placing the guns rapidly in position,” he recalled, “I cleared the road of cavalry and opened on the head of the approaching column, which fell back and deployed on our left bringing up artillery, which was posted south of the Hagerstown pike in a commanding position.”

It was then that an additional Federal regiment of cavalry arrived, deploying behind Clendenin’s position. By the time the two regiments were side-by-side, it was 4pm, and the Rebels began to pound the new line with artillery. This continued until, as one, the Federals charged, pushing the Confederates back onto Braddock Heights, and bringing the battle to a close.

But the day was not to be defined by two Union cavalry regiments. Washington was now scrambling to figure out just how many Rebels were northwest of the capital and how to stop them from taking the city.

Today's incredibly approximate map.

Today’s incredibly approximate map.

Chief of Staff Henry Halleck wrote General Grant at Petersburg, explaining the crisis. “Until more forces arrive we have nothing to meet that number in the field, and the militia is not reliable even to hold the fortifications of Washington and Baltimore. It is the impression that one-third of Lee’s entire force is with Early and Breckinridge, and that [Robert] Ransom has some 3,000 or 4,000 cavalry.”

Grant had offered to send troops earlier, but Halleck waved them off, asking for only cavalry. This cavalry, however, had not yet arrived. To make matters worse, the Federal army under General David Hunter that was to be defending the Shenandoah Valley against such a thrust as Early’s had been driven back to the Ohio River, all the way across West Virginia.

“If you propose to cut off this raid and not merely to secure our depots,” continued Halleck to Grant, “we must have more forces here. Indeed, if the enemy’s strength is as great as represented, it is doubtful if the militia can hold all of our defenses. I do not think we can expect much from Hunter. He is too far off and moves too slowly. I think, therefore, that very considerable re-enforcements should be sent directly to this place.”


Q: How did Lew Wallace get to Monocacy so fast? A: He’d Ben-Hurrying all day!

Fortunately for Halleck, Grant mostly ignored the suggestion not to send troops. 9,000 Federals, mostly dismounted cavalry, were now on their way to Washington. He suggested relieving Franz Sigel, who had been mostly ineffective against Early while near Harpers Ferry, and to replace him.

This, Halleck did almost immediately. Sigel was dismissed and replaced by Albion Howe. But still, Halleck confessed that though they knew that Early and John Breckinridge were personally accompanying the raid, “their special object is not yet developed.”

Early’s “special object” was Washington, and was preparing for a full thrust the following day.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 37, Part 1, p194, 219-220; Memoir of the Last Year of the War For Independence by Jubal A. Early; Henry Halleck’s War by Curt Anders; Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington by Benjamin Franklin Cooling. []

Jubal Early’s Raid Splinters into Absurdity

July 6, 1864 (Wednesday)

The easily-distracted Jubal Early.

The easily-distracted Jubal Early.

Jubal Early had given up the idea that he could capture Harpers Ferry, and had begun to file troops across the Potomac River into Maryland. Using the crossing at Shepherdstown and a pontoon bridge at Antietam Ford, three full divisions, save one brigade, were across by the end of this day. That lone brigade, under William Lewis, held back, sending forward only skirmishers into the town. This drew away the Federal eyes from Early’s other endeavors.

The first division to cross onto Northern soil had been John Gordon’s, which spanned the river the day previous. Early’s initial directive was to put a scare on Washington. For this he needed speed and stealth. At this point, the Federals were still trying to figure out just how many Rebels were before them, so stealth was certainly covered. Speed would now have been useful. Rather than continue into Maryland, Early wished for the Federals atop Maryland Heights, overlooking Harpers Ferry, to be pried from their defenses. Gordon’s skirmishers moved forward, advancing on Union left, but there came no attack. Though the Federal numbers were small, their defenses and artillery were formidable.

More concerned was Early with the destruction of the C & O Canal, it seemed. He personally oversaw the dismantling of locks and burning of boats until a strange message arrived from General Robert E. Lee concerning Point Lookout Prison.

Point Lookout was established in 1862 to hold Confederate prisoners of war. By this time, as exchanges broke down, the 10,000-man capacity was grossly exceeded and the conditions had worsened while the suffering increased.

Jubal Early called his commanders to him. Turning to General Bradley Johnson, a Marylander, he explained that General Lee had selected him and his cavalry brigade to leave at dawn the following morning, move north of Frederick and watch Early’s left flank while the rest of the army engaged the Federals in battle nearly Washington.

No problem.

No problem.

Once the battle was underway, Johnson was to “strike off across the country” towards Baltimore, destroying the B & O Railroad as they went. They were to bypass Baltimore on the Washington side, still preying upon the railroad. From there, they would turn south, paralleling the Potomac and fall upon Point Lookout Prison. He would there be met by a Confederate Naval fleet, which would aid him in the attack. After the prisoners were liberated, Johnson was to march them to Bladensburg, northeast of Washington, where they would join Early’s Army.

Johnson was floored. There was no possibility that this could succeed. Early assured him that he had been personally selected by Lee as the only man who could do this. But Johnson countered that it was “utterly impossible for man or horse to accomplish.” There would be almost 300 miles to cover in four days. How was he supposed to ride that distance while destroyed railroads and meet up with some Navy vessels at an appointed time at Point Lookout?

Early would hear none of it and told him to simply do his best. Johnson had no choice but to agree. And so Johnson had a date with the Navy at 3am on July 12th. They would leave before dawn on July 9th.

Today's approximate map.

Today’s approximate map.

Meanwhile, General Franz Sigel, commanding the Federal troops on Maryland Heights above Harpers Ferry, was in regular communication with Washington. By the afternoon, the capital was aware that as many as 30,000 Rebels were crossing the Potomac. “My troops are preparing for action,” wrote Sigel, ignoring the very idea that they might be once more raiding into Pennsylvania or have Washington on their minds.

In his next dispatch, Sigel completely ignored any Confederate troops that were not in his immediate sight. There were some in the town and others nearer to him. He expected an assault by the following day, though he admitted his troops were “not very reliable.”

Later, around noon, Sigel once more mentioned that it was Early’s entire corps, but again forced on the troops before him. He sent a cavalry detachment toward the Rebels to suss it all out. He would not report on these matters again for another twenty-four hours.

Lew "I'm already there anyway" Wallace

Lew “I’m already there anyway” Wallace

That Sigel had missed this lost the Federals at least two days. On the day previous, General Grant had offered to send a corps to Washington, but Chief of Staff Henry Halleck waved it off, believing that it was merely a raid.

But then there was General Lew Wallace, commanding a few thousand troops in the Baltimore area. On July 5th he received an erroneous message stating that a column of Confederate cavalry was moving east through the southern tier of Pennsylvania. Wallace, had no reason to distrust the accuracy of this claim.

“In this situation,” he wrote in his report, “I felt it my duty to concentrate that portion of my scanty command available for field operations at some point on the Monocacy River, the western limit of the Middle Department [his jurisdiction].” He felt confident that though his force was small, he could repel this Rebel cavalry column should they make the plunge towards Washington.

Wallace moved quickly as word of Middletown, near Frederick, Maryland, had fallen. This was true, but lacked the details of the larger picture. By the evening of this date, he had arrived on the Monocacy, south of Frederick with 2,500 men, all told.

That night, he ordered a regiment of cavalry under David Clendenin to move through Frederick and continue on to Middletown, following the pike until he met the enemy.

The enemy, a brigade of cavalry commanded by Bradley Johnson, was encamped at Middletown. This strange prelude to something larger would begin at dawn. 1


  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 37, Part 1, p177-178, 182, 193-194; A Memoir of the Last Year of the War For Independence by Jubal A. Early; The Confederacy’s Last Northern Offensive by Steven Bernstein; Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington by Benjamin Franklin Cooling; Henry Halleck’s War by Curt Anders. []