|A photo taken in 1906 of the 1832 Frederick, MD, B&O|
station; photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
In the summer of 1864, John W. Garrett, President of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, came to see General Lew Wallace. Mr. Garrett expressed concern for the safety of
Washington (as well as his railroad). His personnel were reporting detachments of Confederate troops in the Shenandoah Valley and, according to him, such appearances
were precursors of trouble. General Wallace decided to go to the western limit
of his command, the Monocacy River, southwest of .
Upon his arrival at the blockhouse guarding the rail junction (Monocacy
Junction) he found the country alive with rumor. A Confederate army, reported
to be between 5,000 and 35,000 men strong, was thought to have crossed the Frederick, Maryland Potomac River on the 2nd or 3rd of July.
Its exact whereabouts and destination were both unknown. The civilians that
General Wallace sent to gather information were turned back by rebel cavalry at
every pass in the mountains west of Frederick.
General Wallace believed this cavalry was screening a larger army.
Two miles north of the junction, a stone bridge called the
crossed the Monocacy, carrying the National
Road that led to Baltimore. At the junction there was an iron railroad
bridge and, a few hundred yards southwest of it, the wooden covered bridge of the
Georgetown Pike, the road to Washington.
Any invading army intent on Washington or Baltimore would have to come this
way. After brief consideration, General Wallace believed that Washington was the objective. He began
putting men in place.
On July 9, 1864, 6,500 troops under the command of General Wallace met 14,000 battle–hardened veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Jubal Early, on the farm fields near Monocacy Junction. Confederate troops held the field at day’s end, but Wallace and his men had delayed them long enough that reinforcements ultimately sent by Union General-in-Chief U.S. Grant would reach the lightly-defended
U.S. capital just in time. Early’s
plans to capture Washington
were quashed. The battle of Monocacy is now known as the “battle that saved Washington.”
General Grant later wrote that Wallace had done more for the cause by losing this battle than many generals had accomplished by winning.
As the Battle of Monocacy loomed, the city of
panicked. One of the men in
Wallace’s small army was Colonel William Seward, son of Washington ’s Secretary of State, William Henry
Seward, and the commander of the hard-fighting Ninth New York Heavy Artillery.
Seward’s regiment was in the middle of the Monocacy battle and according to
Wallace’s official report the Ninth New York had 102 killed and wounded with 99
missing for a total of 201 casualties. Seward’s family, in Lincoln , received continuing reports from
the battlefield and was well aware of Wallace’s valiant defense but ultimate
|William Henry Seward, Jr.|
The Secretary of State stayed at the War Department reading telegrams coming in from the battle until almost midnight. He had just returned home when Secretary of War Edwin Stanton arrived at the Seward residence to tell the family that there were reports that young William was wounded and taken prisoner. Colonel Seward’s brother, Augustus, left early the next day to go to
in an effort to
ascertain the truth of the rumors. Based on reports he could gather, Augustus determined
that his brother had been wounded, but not captured—although his whereabouts
were unknown in the panic and chaos that was gripping both Washington and
By that evening there was a telegram at the Seward home from General Wallace: “I have the pleasure of contradicting my statement of last night. Colonel Seward is not a prisoner, and I am now told he is unhurt. He behaved with rare gallantry.” While Colonel Seward was reported safe on July 10,
was not—Jubal Early’s veterans were marching on the city. On July 11, Early’s
army arrived in front of Washington Ft. Stevens, the northernmost fort in ’s defensive chain. Early could
see the flag flying on the dome of the U.S. Capitol. Washington
The city was in real jeopardy--Grant’s reinforcements had not yet arrived--but luck was on the Union side because Early delayed his attack. Grant’s reinforcements arrived on the night of the 11th and battled with Early’s men on July 12. During this fighting, President
arrived at and insisted on watching the
action from the ramparts. He was thus exposed to Confederate
sharpshooters, who killed an officer standing nearby, whereupon the
President was convinced to move off the walls. Ft. Stevens
As it turned out, Wallace’s information relayed to the Seward family was still not correct. Colonel Seward had in fact been injured. He suffered a slight wound to his arm and broke his leg when his horse was shot and fell on him during the battle. Seward was unable to walk off the battlefield and only escaped capture when he found a mule and, using his silk handkerchief as a bridle, was able to ride off the field ahead of the Confederates. Within eight weeks Seward was promoted to brigadier general and served throughout the remainder of the war. A banker before the war, General Seward returned to a successful career in banking after his time in the military. He followed politics, supported charitable causes, served as a director for a number of corporations, and was involved in historical and patriotic societies until his death in 1920, over 50 years after Lew Wallace’s battle that saved
—a battle that
directly affected the outcome of the Civil War and likely changed the history
of the nation. Washington
Many years later General Wallace encountered one of the Confederate commanders, J. B. Gordon, at a White House reception. Gordon told Wallace he was the only Yankee who ever whipped him. Wallace replied that, in the end, his men ran from the field. “In that sense you are right,” Gordon countered, “but you snatched
Washington out of our hands.”
Sources: Shadow of Shiloh, Gail Stephens,
Society Press, 2010 Indiana
Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, Walter Stahr, Simon & Schuster, 2012
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