Battle of Monocacy project

As Eric posted recently on his blog, the two of us have formally decided to tackle the July 9, 1864 Battle of Monocacy with our trademark brand of detailed narrative and driving tour.  The format of this work will mirror our book on Stuart’s Ride to Gettysburg and the soon-to-be-released book of the Gettysburg Retreat.

Last summer, after attending a Gettysburg event, Eric and I drove to the Monocacy Battlefield since we had previously discussed the idea of doing a work on it.  Marc Leepson’s book on the battle, Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, DC and Changed American History had just been released.  I hadn’t yet read it, but picked up a copy at the Monocacy Visitor Center – which had just been built and completed.

I had only visited the battlefield once previously – back when I was a teenager.  When it came out in the mid-90s, I picked up Ben Cooling’s book on the fight, Jubal Early’s Raid on WashingtonOld Jubilee has long been a favorite character of mine, and I was decently familiar with the battle and its place in the war, but 20-odd years between battlefield visits makes the recent visit seem brand-new.  It indeed was.  As I mentioned, the new Park Service Visitor Center was beautiful and impressive, and Eric and I had a great time driving around the field and then spending a couple hours walking much of it.  We also spent considerable time orienting ourselves to the maps of the fight, plotting out Federal and Confederate attack movements for ourselves.  The day was pretty hot, as I recall, and we worked up quite a sweat out there.

We continued to talk more about doing a book on Early’s advance, the battle, and also about Fort Stevens.  Since Leepson’s book had just appeared, that was a consideration for us.  When we got back to the Visitor Center, we spoke to the Rangers there about the possibility of doing such a work – and they were actually quite receptive, Leepson’s book notwithstanding.  We learned that one of the Rangers was also doing some research and preparing some sort of manuscript of his own, but no one was sure of its scope.  Or if it were ever going to be published.  Eric was later able to have an email exchange with this Ranger, but it didn’t appear that any type of book was imminent.

Over the couple months after my return home I was able to read Leepson’s book.  I was duly impressed – he’s a terrific writer, the book was well-organized, and the story is well-told and the context of Early’s raid in the events of 1864 is well-done.  I recommend the book to anyone interested in this battle.

Those familiar with the work that Eric and I do, or more specifically, the way we treat a battle/campaign in our writings, know that we really enjoy going into our research head-first.  Beyond Cooling’s work, or Leepson’s book, and the several other treatments done on the battle or segments of it, Eric and I knew that there was still a wealth of primary source that no one had used yet.  Especially when it came to the resulting events at Fort Stevens on July 12.  We have been finding a truckload of primary material on Fort Stevens, and there hasn’t been a single modern treatment of it yet. 

Like our other two books, we enjoy plotting out and including a driving/walking tour that allows the reader to become a student of the terrain and see all there is to see for himself/herself. 

After we recently began compiling a ponderous amount of material of Early’s advance, Eric contacted our publisher, Ted Savas, about our doing this as our next narrative project.  Ted agreed to have us proceed.  We recognize that the door is still wide open to fully tell the story of this infinitely interesting little fight outside Washington with some of the most interesting figures of the war – Early, Lew Wallace, John B. Gordon, and… oh yeah, there’s a bit of cavalry involved, too.

Lots of work to do.  Watch for this one, hopefully, sometime next year.

Published in: on January 16, 2008 at 11:29 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. J. D.,

    As you know, I have long been interested in Monocacy. I made my first visit there in 1992, when there was no interpretation on the field at all, and ended up researching it just to understand what happened. That led to an article in an early issue of America’s Civil War, only my second published piece on the Civil War, but I’ve remained fascinated with it since.

    I agree with your assessment of Leepson’s book, which is a good read. However, it’s clear that he’s not a military or tactics guy, and that shows. It also takes away from the telling of the story.

    This one needs our touch. I’m energized and excited about tackling the project.


  2. And tactics is what the study needs. With the material we always dig up, that drives our tactical analysis – as it did with Stuart’s ride and the Gettysburg retreat.

    I’m excited about how this project will evolve as we get into it – as our projects always do 🙂 We never set out to change interpretation, but our research paths always seem to put a twist on it. This one will be enjoyable, and we have such great personalities to work with.


  3. JD,
    In addition to his campaign study you mentioned, Cooling also wrote a tactical history of the battle, “Monocacy: The Battle That Saved Washington”. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks good on the face of it.


  4. Drew,

    It is good, probably the best treatment of the battle yet written.

    I mulled over the issue of whether to do my own for a long time after reading Ben’s study. I ultimately decided that I wanted to throw my hat into the ring, as I don’t agree completely with Ben’s interpretation.


  5. J.D.,

    As a native and resident of Frederick County, Md., a life-long student of history, a Civil War “enthusiast,” and loyal fan of you and Eric, I don’t know which is more exciting news — the upcoming publication of your book about the retreat from Gettysburg or the promise of a new work on the battle of Monocacy.

    Both have been overlooked by historians and overshadowed by the nearby attractions of Antietam, Washington, DC, and Gettysburg itself. Yet both deserve to be more than just footnotes to the Confederacy’s highwater mark and assault on the Federal capital.

    I’m thrilled you and Eric will be applying your unique brand of tactical analysis and tour guide to this small but significant struggle along our muddy little river. Your book will offer the perfect complement to the battlefield’s new visitors center, hiking trails and interpretive work. An in-depth treatment focusing on the battle is long overdue.

    Marc Leepson’s book is fine as a brief, readable summary of the campaign for a general audience, and there’s nothing wrong with that as far as it goes. His book has helped spark a popular interest in the battle, but adds little more new information about it than Frank Vandiver’s short work of 50 years ago, “Jubal’s Raid,” or B. Franklin Cooling’s similarly entitled “Jubal Early’s Raid, 1864,” from 1989.

    However, I think Cooling’s 1996 book, “Monocacy: The Battle that Saved Washington,” is so far the most-detailed study of the battle, as well as its prelude and aftermath. It provides me with the best picture of the action as I tramp around the fields and travel about the back roads. Ed Bearss documented report for the NPS a few years ago is a good resource for maps and names. And of course there’s “Fighting for Time: The Battle of Monocacy”, the account by Glenn Worthington, who as a six-year-old witnessed the action from the cellar window of his family’s farmhouse and was later instrumental in having Congress designate the site as a national military park.

    I’ve enjoyed your collaborative study of Stuart’s ride as well as Eric’s books — my favorites still remaining “Glory Enough for All” and “The Union Cavalry Comes of Age.” As a horseman with an interest in the cavalry, I appreciate your blogs and web sites devoted to that subject, including your original “Buford’s Boys.” (It’d be a real treat to saddle my Tennessee Walker with my M1904 McClellan and take a real battlefield “staff ride” with you some day if you’d ever consider giving guided tours from horseback! Unfortunately, unlike Gettysburg, Antietam, or Manassas, Monocacy doesn’t permit equestrian activities.)

    I apologize for my verbosity, but again, I’m elated to learn of your latest endeavor. And you’re welcome to stop by our home in Frederick County for some adult beverages for refreshment after a hard day’s research — if you don’t mind the ongoing renovations of a 213-year-old home and the grumblings of an old dachshund named Oscar.

    Good luck and best wishes for your continued success.

    Mike Clem

  6. MIke,

    Thank you very much for the vote of confidence, which I greatly appreciate. We will definitely take you up on the invite.


  7. J.D.

    I’m happy to hear that you guys are undertaking this project. Monocacy is a very small but very important and compelling story. The kind of thing a kid can recreate on a bedroom floor with plastic soldiers, and walk away with some understanding of the bigger picture.

    I look forward to the finished product.

    Don’t forget to visit Fort Stevens.


  8. Confederate troop strength @ Monocacy has always been debated, I donated to Monocacy NPS a letter written by CS General Jubal Early written from Drummondville, Ontario, Canada on June 18th 1868. He had 8,000 infantry, 1200 or 1500 calvary ( or rather mounted infantry badly armed and mounted) about 40 pieces light field artillery, but only 1 division (Gordons) of infantry, 2000 men, one brigade of cavalry 4 or 500 men dismounted, and some 12-15 pieces of artillery were actually used in the fight. I also donated several northern newspapers describing the battle for source material @ the visitor center. good luck & looking forward to your book!

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