Monday, May 11, 2009

A Quick Visit to Monocacy National Battlefield

Monocacy National Battlefield has been in the news recently because Frederick County, MD planned to build a waste to energy facility, basically an incinerator, within sight of many core areas of the battlefield. The board of supervisors recently dropped the proposal by a vote of 5-1. While this is certainly good news, we can only hope the idea never resurfaces.

I visited Monocacy briefly at the end of April. Changes in the park over the last few years are impressive and exciting. The new visitors center expands on the exhibits available in the former Gambrills Mill facility, from a more attractive display of the fiber optic map to interactive displays for younger visitors. A new tour stop now exists on the Best Farm, site of the skirmishing north of the Washington Turnpike Bridge and also of several Confederate battery positions.

With the addition of the Best Farm to the Thomas and Worthington Farms already included in the park, it now encompasses most of the corps areas of the battlefield where Early’s troops struggled against veterans of Rickett’s division of the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Sadly, with the exception of a small city park featuring several Civil War Trails markers, the Jug Bridge (northern) sector has not been preserved.

While visiting, I purchased B.Franklin Cooling’s Monocacy, The Battle that Saved Washington. Cooling’s work places the campaign in context, captures Wallace’s desperation as commander of a hastily assembled defense force, and explains the reasons for Early’s failure to seize the Washington fortifications following his victory at Monocacy. It is a serviceable account with sufficient tactical detail, though the maps are a bit lacking. I look forward to the upcoming account (2010?) by J.D. Petruzzi and Eric Wittenberg. Given their previous work, we can expect a first rate tactical account, as well as a driving/hiking tour of campaign and battle sites.

I plan to spend more time at Monocacy this summer, and will likely post on the Thomas and Worthington Farm trails, where most of the heavy fighting occurred.


Anonymous said...

Steven, another "out of the way" spot to visit at Monocacy is Reich's Ford Bridge. The area, while not 100% preserved is at least protected in a county park.

Steven Mynes said...

I'll have to check it out. I took a ride out to Sugarloaf (a small mountain SE of Frederick) the same day I visited Monocacy. Union signalmen used it during the Antietam campaign, I think, and some cavalry skirmishing also occurred nearby. The site is a privately run park. We arrived tool late to drive up to the top, but I plan to get out there again within the next few weeks.

Thanks for the tip!

dehbird said...

Steven - A few things to look for that aren't in Cooling's book or the visitor center guidebooks: If you're into witness trees, there are at least two on the battlefield. One is inaccessible from the trails, but can be viewed from the Thomas farm. It stands along the old trace of the original Georgetown pike; the extremely large tree is seen just south of the extended Thomas loop trail on an area known to be an old Indian ground. The other (accessible) tree lies just southwest of the sharp bend in Araby Church road, if you're coming from 355. It lies to the right of the Araby/Thomas lane entrance. If you look closely, you can see the medallion in the trunk which identifies it as a witness tree. While in this spot, notice the old Georgetown trace that runs parallel to the road and runs on either side of the Araby lane; this ditch served briefly as natural breastworks for the Union troops just before retreat. Finally, there is a dirt lane just southwest of the 355 Monocacy bridge. This is the original Worthington lane, which eventually connects with the modern Thomas ford loop trail (and, I'm assuming, the Worthington Ford Loop Trail, as well). I have yet to hike this, but look forward to doing so soon. Finally - and this is strictly my experience - I would save the Brooks Hill trail for late autumn/winter, when crops and canopies don't block the stunning vista. Hope you don't mind the lengthy comment - Let us know how your return trip goes! -Dylan

Steven Mynes said...

Hi Dylan,

Thanks for the info on the witness trees and Worthington Lane. I am hoping to get back to Monocacy next month.