"Best little battle of the war"
— Early's 1864 Washington Raid —
Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early drove Union Gen. David Hunter into West Virginia after the Battle of Lynchburg, Va., clearing the Shenandoah Valley of Federal forces. To draw Union troops from Petersburg, Early launched a raid on Washington D.C., on June 23, 1864. Union Gen. Lew Wallace delayed the Confederates at Monocacy, giving Petersburg reinforcements time to stiffen the capital's defenses. Early probed briefly on July 11-12 and withdrew to the Shenandoah Valley, where he stopped his pursuers at Cool Spring on July 17-18. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant then detached forces under Gen. Philip H. Sheridan to crush Early.
This area was farm fields in 1864. Here, a make-shift force under Union Gen. Lew Wallace blocked Confederate cavalry from occupying Frederick on July 7. Wallace had assembled the Federal force at Monocacy Junction, about three miles south, and then ordered the units here. The fight began about 4 P.M. when Gen. Jubal A. Early's army under Frederick native Bradley T. Johnson approached. It raged until darkness fell four hours later. Col. Charles Gilpin, 3rd Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, commanded the Federal defense including the 8th Illinois Cavalry and 159th Ohio Mounted Infantry. The Baltimore Light Artillery under Baltimore native Lt. Peter Leary, Jr., supported Gilpin. On the Confederate side, Johnson's force included the 1st and 2nd Maryland Cavalry and four Virginia cavalry regiments. After darkness ended the fighting, the Federals held their position until the next night and then withdrew to Monocacy Junction when the rest of Early's army approached. Wallace was pleased with his men's performance here. "Think I had the best little battle of the war," he reported. "Our men did not retreat, but held their own. The enemy were repulsed three times."
As the fight ensuded, reinforcements and ammunition were rushed to Wallace from Baltimore. On July 9, at the Battle of Monocacy, Wallace's force held for a day against Early's much larger Confederate army. Union resistance here and at the Battle of Monocacy gave Federal authorities in Washington time to reinforce the city's defenses against Early's attack.