The 14th New Jersey Infantry at the Battle of Monocacy
In the summer of 1864, as the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia were engaged in the battles of the Overland Campaign followed by the Siege of Petersburg, General Robert E. Lee ordered General Jubal Early’s Confederate 2nd Corps to march west to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and then north into Maryland. In need of immediate reinforcements, General Ulysses S. Grant had removed many of the troops in the Washington D.C. defenses and sent them to the front in Virginia. Early was to threaten Washington, a move that Lee hoped would force Grant to send troops back to defend the city, thereby easing the pressure on his army around Petersburg.
Major General Lew Wallace, the department commander for the area, cobbled together whatever troops he could to set up a defense against the advancing
Rebels to the west of Washington and Baltimore, while awaiting reinforcements. Wallace chose to make his stand at Monocacy Junction, a railroad junction with a railroad bridge and a covered road bridge over the Monocacy River, outside of Frederick, Maryland.
Grant sent two brigades from Brigadier General James B. Ricketts’ 3rd Division of the Union 6th Corps from Petersburg north to Monocacy Junction to meet the Confederate threat. They arrived
at Monocacy late on July 8th, while Early was occupying nearby Frederick. One of the regiments in the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Division was the 14th New Jersey Infantry.
The 14th New Jersey knew the Monocacy Junction area very well. The regiment was organized in August of 1862 and assigned to the 8th Corps, and deployed to the Frederick and Monocacy area to guard the rail junction and bridges. The 14th spent most of its time in this area from September 1862 until July of 1863, when the regiment was reassigned to the 3rd Corps and participated in the Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns in the fall of that year. “At Monocacy the regiment lay nine months. These months passed pleasantly, and will ever be remembered as the best part of our three years’ service” recalled regimental historian J. Newton Terrill, a sergeant in Company K. In March of 1864, the 14th was reassigned to the 6th Corps, and participated in the Overland Campaign before returning to Monocacy to battle Early.
In addition to the 14th New Jersey, the 1st Brigade included the 106th and 151st New York, 87th Pennsylvania, and 10th Vermont Infantry regiments. Colonel William S. Truex, a former commander of the 14th New Jersey, commanded the brigade, and Lt. Col. Caldwell K. Hall succeeded Truex as commander of the 14th.
Even with the arrival of Ricketts’ division, U.S. forces were still very much outnumbered, but Wallace was determined to put up the best defense he could to delay the Confederates. The fighting began about 8:30 in the morning of July 9th, when Confederates of Major General Stephen Ramseur’s Division, advancing down the Georgetown Pike out of Frederick, engaged Union skirmishers at the junction; this developed into an exchange of artillery and infantry fire that kept Ramseur from capturing the position. Rebel cavalry under Brigadier General John McCausland located a ford that crossed the Monocacy River near the Worthington Farm about a mile downriver and west of the junction bridges. Wallace deployed Ricketts’ two brigades to counter the threat to his flank. Colonel Matthew R. McClennan’s 2nd Brigade formed on the right, extending to the river, while Ricketts was on the left of the line. The Federals found whatever cover they could and waited for McCausland’s cavalrymen.
McCausland’s cavalrymen had dismounted at the Worthington Farm and were advancing east on foot across a cornfield towards a wooded fencerow separating the Worthington Farm from the C. Keefer Thomas Farm. They expected little resistance. But as they closed in, Rickett’s troops fired a deadly volley into their ranks, and the shocked cavalrymen quickly pulled back to the river to regroup.
Around 2 p.m., McCausland’s men, with reinforcements, recrossed the river and attacked a second time. This time, the Rebels advanced further and occupied the Thomas farmhouse. But a counterattack by the 1st Brigade drove the Confederates out a few minutes later. The “Fourteenth New Jersey Volunteers attracted the attention of the enemy by a brisk fire” in this attack, as noted in the brigade’s after action report.
It had become obvious to Early that he had underestimated the strength of his opponent, so he ordered Major General John B. Gordon’s Division to cross at the ford, drive the Union force out, and crush the Union left flank. Gordon’s three brigades advanced across the Worthington farm to the Thomas farm, where much of the fighting was centered in this attack. Gordon’s men advanced in two lines, with an additional skirmish line leading the way. Most of these outnumbered Federal forces consisted of the 14th New Jersey and the other 1st Brigade regiments of Rickett’s division in a single battle line with no reserve. The two sides slugged it out all afternoon, with the much larger Confederate force slowly turning the tide. Rickett’s men fell back to form a second line along the Georgetown Pike.
By midafternoon, General Wallace concluded that his command had done all it could to delay the Confederate advance. The covered wooden bridge over the Monocacy had been burned, the artillery was out of ammunition, and the infantry was suffering heavy casualties. At about 4:00 p.m., Wallace ordered a general withdrawal and the Union troops made their way east towards Baltimore. “The boys from the 14th fought nobly”, wrote Sgt. Terrill, “but with regret saw that they must retreat…the order was given to fall back, which was done in order, the men disputing every inch of ground.” The 14th put up a brief delaying action at a grist mill at the river, but was driven from that position and continued to retreat.
The fighting had been costly for the 14th New Jersey. Most of the officers had been killed or wounded, including Lt. Col. Hall, who had been shot in the arm. Total casualties for the 14th New Jersey at the Battle of Monocacy were 24 killed, 87 wounded, and 29 missing out of a total strength of 350. But Wallace’s delaying action at Monocacy slowed down Early’s advance long enough for reinforcements from the 6th and 19th Corps to reach Washington and reoccupy the city’s extensive fortifications. There was skirmishing on the outskirts of Washington, but Early concluded the city was too well fortified to be captured.
The 14th New Jersey remained in service throughout the rest of the war, fighting in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia before returning to Petersburg. A monument to the regiment is at Monocacy National Battlefield, where the 14th New Jersey spent its best days well as one of its worst in the Civil War.
A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick H. Dyer
“The Battle of Monocacy” by J.C. Patterson. The National Tribune, October 27th, 1898
Campaign of the Fourteenth Regiment New Jersey Volunteers by J. Newton Terrill
Monocacy: The Battle That Saved Washington by B. Franklin Cooling
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 37, Part 1
Regimental Strengths and Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865 by William F. Fox
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