Read Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, D.C., and Changed American History by Marc Leepson Online


The Battle of Monocacy, which took place on the blisteringly hot day of July 9, 1864, is one of the Civil War's most significant yet little-known battles. What played out that day in the corn and wheat fields four miles south of Frederick, Maryland., was a full-field engagement between some 12,000 battle-hardened Confederate troops led by the controversial Jubal Anderson EThe Battle of Monocacy, which took place on the blisteringly hot day of July 9, 1864, is one of the Civil War's most significant yet little-known battles. What played out that day in the corn and wheat fields four miles south of Frederick, Maryland., was a full-field engagement between some 12,000 battle-hardened Confederate troops led by the controversial Jubal Anderson Early, and some 5,800 Union troops, many of them untested in battle, under the mercurial Lew Wallace, the future author of Ben-Hur. When the fighting ended, some 1,300 Union troops were dead, wounded or missing or had been taken prisoner, and Early---who suffered some 800 casualties---had routed Wallace in the northernmost Confederate victory of the war.Two days later, on another brutally hot afternoon, Monday, July 11, 1864, the foul-mouthed, hard-drinking Early sat astride his horse outside the gates of Fort Stevens in the upper northwestern fringe of Washington, D.C. He was about to make one of the war's most fateful, portentous decisions: whether or not to order his men to invade the nation's capital. Early had been on the march since June 13, when Robert E. Lee ordered him to take an entire corps of men from their Richmond-area encampment and wreak havoc on Yankee troops in the Shenandoah Valley, then to move north and invade Maryland. If Early found the conditions right, Lee said, he was to take the war for the first time into President Lincoln's front yard. Also on Lee's agenda: forcing the Yankees to release a good number of troops from the stranglehold that Gen. U.S. Grant had built around Richmond.Once manned by tens of thousands of experienced troops, Washington's ring of forts and fortifications that day were in the hands of a ragtag collection of walking wounded Union soldiers, the Veteran Reserve Corps, along with what were known as hundred days' men---raw recruits who had joined the Union Army to serve as temporary, rear-echelon troops. It was with great shock, then, that the city received news of the impending rebel attack. With near panic filling the streets, Union leaders scrambled to coordinate a force of volunteers.But Early did not pull the trigger. Because his men were exhausted from the fight at Monocacy and the ensuing march, Early paused before attacking the feebly manned Fort Stevens, giving Grant just enough time to bring thousands of veteran troops up from Richmond. The men arrived at the eleventh hour, just as Early was contemplating whether or not to move into Washington. No invasion was launched, but Early did engage Union forces outside Fort Stevens. During the fighting, President Lincoln paid a visit to the fort, becoming the only sitting president in American history to come under fire in a military engagement.Historian Marc Leepson shows that had Early arrived in Washington one day earlier, the ensuing havoc easily could have brought about a different conclusion to the war. Leepson uses a vast amount of primary material, including memoirs, official records, newspaper accounts, diary entries and eyewitness reports in a reader-friendly and engaging description of the events surrounding what became known as "the Battle That Saved Washington." Praise for Flag: An American Biography"There is no story about the flag that he omits…. [We] now have a comprehensive guide to its unfolding."---The Wall Street Journal "The fascination of history is in its details, and the author of Flag: An American Biography knows how to find them and turn them into compelling reading. This book brings out the irony, humor, myth, and behind-the-scenes happenings that make our flag's 228-year history so fascinating."---The Saturday Evening Post "Flag is a valuable addition to American history, and Leepson...certainly is due a portion of authorly glory for this absorbing account of America's national icon."---Richmond Times-Dispatch "Timely and insightful."---The Dallas Morning News "To understand the USA and her citizens, it is necessary to understand the origins, the legends, and the meaning of our flag. Marc Leepson's Flag is a grand book, worthy of its grand subject."---Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys and The Keeper's Son "Flag is a very significant contribution to our history. And it is a book that everyone who cares about the United States should read."---Veteran Magazine ...

Title : Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, D.C., and Changed American History
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780312363642
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 320 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Desperate Engagement: How a Little-Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, D.C., and Changed American History Reviews

  • Steven Peterson
    2019-03-12 07:28

    The battle at Monocacy Junction in July, 1864 is not as well known as other engagements during the Civil War. But it may well have been as important, at least, as some better known battles. "Desperate Engagement" describes the context for the battle, its actual occurrence, and then the aftermath and a series of reflections. In short, Jubal Early and the 2nd Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia were sent to the Shenandoah, to clear it of Northern troops, as Generals Sigel, Hunter, and Crook had been attacking the area. And, if the opportunity arose, to advance on Washington, D. C. itself, to (perhaps) free Confederate prisoners, to force General U. S. Grant to divert soldiers from his siege in Virginia to relieve pressure on the Capitol, maybe to even occupy parts of the city. This book outlines why Early was given this assignment and how he carried it out. Incompetent generalship by Generals Sigel and Hunter allowed Early to cross the Potomac and head toward Washington in summer, 1864. The threat was real, but the Unions forces in Washington, D. C. were few in number and poor in quality. Many were recovering from wounds suffered on the battlefields of the East; others were brand new troops without any real training; others were simply subprime in one way or another. The center of government was surrounded by powerful forts--but there weren't the troops to make these forts formidable obstacles to the Confederates. General Lew Wallace had pretty much a desk job; he had been shelved as a battlefield commander after Shiloh (and one could argue that his poor response was as much due to Grant's bad staff work as to Wallace's own ineptitude on that occasion). This was long before he penned "Ben-Hur"! Seeing the danger to Washington, D. C., he pulled together a scratch force--nowhere large enough to defeat Early's oncoming troops, but, he hoped, enough to slow the Confederate forces down until Union regulars arrived from Virginia. Indeed, Grant was forwarding the 6th Corps and elements from yet another Corps to relieve the Capitol. The first division to arrive from Virginia, Ricketts' Division of the 6th Corps, was called to Monocacy Junction by Wallace. There, they fought a battle against the Confederate forces, badly outnumbered, until a flanking attack by the southern troops made his position untenable. Wallace's battered forces withdrew, leaving the road open to Washington, DC. However, by some accounts, it took so much time to defeat Wallace's troops that the Union forces of the 6th Corps arrived before Early could take advantage of the defensive weaknesses of the Capitol. There follows an engaging discussion of the differing perspectives by actors and historians about the battle at Monocacy Junction. All in all, a nice book, crisply written, on a battle worth knowing something about.

  • diane
    2019-03-16 05:24

    my great great grandfather's diary (kept throughout the civil war) was used as a reference - a REALLY interesting book especially when being from the DC area!

  • Michelle
    2019-03-02 07:35

    I have grown up in northern Virginia, where battlegrounds abound and reenactments are not uncommon. So it was interesting to read a book specifically about my area and the battles and skirmishes that happened as the Confederates made an attempt to distract Grant from his siege of Richmond in 1964. Robert E Lee ordered General Early to take back control of the Shenandoah Valley and threaten Washington. But a battle in Monocacy, Maryland created complications for the southern raid into the north.Very well informed, the book made me spout off tons of "did you know?" facts to friends and Facebook. At some points, I did get confused, but that probably has more to do with me than the book. It was an interesting and enlightening read that people interested in history or in this area would enjoy.

  • Marylou
    2019-02-25 07:25

    Fascinating reading ... however, I want to reread it and write notes as I'm going along. There are other events mentioned in it that I'd like to read also.

  • dcgreeneboy
    2019-03-18 04:13

    Very good bit of history not normally discussed in the development of DC.

  • Mark
    2019-02-28 11:19

    Was in the midst of the read when, while channel surfing, I caught the author on C-SPAN giving a tour of DC as he unfolded the story in the book. Made the book memorable for me!

  • david
    2019-03-14 08:13

    a must read for civil war buffs. Contains an interesting piece of history regarding President Lincoln.

  • Tom Darrow
    2019-02-25 08:19

    This book has some flaws, but overall its pretty good. Generally, it gets better as it goes along.FlawsAt the start, the author spends the first two chapters detailing events throughout the first three years of the war, which is rather excessive, especially for people who know a fair amount of the Civil War. Even for people with less knowledge, it seems a bit much. Furthermore, throughout the first several chapters there are several amateurish historical errors, including getting the chronological order of battles wrong, and attributing actions of one person to another. Furthermore, for every character he introduces, he includes about two paragraphs about their early life. Finally, there are issues with the pictures and maps. There are many pictures of very well known people, like Edwin Stanton, that seem unnecessary. Finally, the maps need some work. There isn't an overall map of the campaign until about 2/3 of the way through the book and there is only one, poorly scaled and detailed map of the battle of Monocacy itself. It all has the feel of a writer padding his page count. Finally, his research, though obvious, isn't very well documented within the book.PositivesOverall, it is clear that he has done a great deal of research, drawing upon contemporary sources and post-war memoirs. He is clear in pointing out that many of the memoirs were published many years after the war and are therefore suspect. His narrative style also blends together the source material and his own writing. The book gets pretty solid in its final few chapters when he assesses several claims about the Battle of Monocacy - that it saved Washington from capture - and Early's invasion of the north - that it prolonged the war.

  • Steve
    2019-02-24 08:12

    A decent book on Early's Maryland Campaign. It does a good job of telling the story of the Battle of Monocacy, in which Lew Wallace uses a quickly thrown together group of Union troops to delay Early. This delay probably kept the Confederate forces from getting into Washington, DC. The Battle of Fort Stevens is also well-covered in this book. There are a couple of small editing errors, but overall the book is a good read.

  • WC Beaver
    2019-02-20 04:08

    Many times during the great skirmish commonly known as the American Civil War was the outcome decided by lack of follow-through. More than one general used the time-worn excuse that his men were just too tired.General Jubal Early, more assertive than most Southern field commanders, used this excuse twice, both of them decisive. This entertaining account by Marc Leepson details the more recent incompletion at a location within 35 miles of Washington, DC., a place called Monocacy Junction during the summer of 1864, where Early battled the Union forces under the leadership of the more familiar Lew Wallace.The resilient Wallace, who battled the superior army of Early for several hours, slowly realized he had to capitulate to save his small band of irregulars. Early failed to pursue, thus jeopardizing his ultimate goal of dealing a severe blow to the Northern capital, and negating his chances of capturing Lincoln.But the purpose was served, Early later asserted, by forcing the massive army of General Grant in Richmond to divide in coming to the defense of Washington, DC, thereby extending the South's chances of survival. Some say his tactics only prolonged the final agony.The first time Jubal Early used this excuse was during the first day at Gettysburg, where he failed to take advantage of Union chaos by neglecting to take Culp's Hill. So what if his army had just marched 30 miles from Harrisburg?Civil War buffs, this is a must read for those of us who wish to complete our perspective of the finer nuances of the War for Southern Independence.

  • Chris
    2019-03-10 11:38

    Ran across the author on an old CSPAN episode and had to read this book. It didn't disappoint. Growing up in DC I was aware of the forts encircling DC but not too familiar with the battle or how close it was to a catastrophe for the Union. The battlefield wasn't even a site to visit when I was growing up like Gettysburg or Antietam. I'd always been amazed at how close DC was to the Confederacy yet it had not been raided. Jubal Early came close in July, 1964. So close it's scary. He basically ran out of gas. His men were exhausted from the heat and their pace. Also the forts were formidable in their design and fields of fire. Lew Wallace, soon to be author of Ben Hur and future governor of New Mexico, slowed Early's force down at the Monocacy River east of Frederick. He bought a day for Grant to shift forces from Richmond to DC. Lincoln actually visited the front lines and drew sniper fire at Fort Stevens near 16th St. Wallace was relieved of command for his failure to stop Early but later had it restored. Leepson goes into all the hindsight critics and their opinions on the consequences of Early's decision to not attack the forts. Early was aggressive and a formidable commander. I think he made the right call by withdrawing and not entering the capital. A well told account. Could have had better maps and better placement of the few maps.

  • Iain
    2019-03-11 05:24

    I tried to like this book, but the editorial gaffs ... uggh. An example, "... each passing hour was pivotal in the race to bring Grant's troops to Richmond to defend Washington." (Pg 107). The author frequently uses the same adjective several times in a paragraph. An example, "... that move would provide Wallace with desperately needed information ... It would also provide Wallace with desperately needed experienced troops..." (pg 85). Quotes are used to excess as well. It's one thing to have footnotes, quite another to have dozens of quotation marks per page which I found very jarring. The author seems to take the published statements of some sources, like Union commander Lew Wallace, as gospel while deriding the accuracy of other sources, such as confederate commander Jubal Early. I had hoped for a more balanced presentation. And the hyperbole ... I'm sorry, I'm not convinced that a raid on Washington DC in the summer of 1864 would have brought the southern confederacy recognition or assistance from England let alone France. France? Intervening on the side of the confederacy? After the Emancipation Proclamation?!I was looking for decent coverage of a remarkably obscure battle. I was disappointed.

  • Damon Lively
    2019-02-25 06:09

    Desperate Engagement was a good book and is worth reading. I struggled between a 3 vs. 4 star – simply because (although the story is little told and worth learning about) there is a feeling that it begins with “strength” but leaves (or ends) more with a whimper. Much of the compelling portions of the book deal with the lead up and certainly D.C. response to what may occur. I’m not certain I saw this as some overtly “desperate” or amazingly decisive battle. There is probably more engrained in the politics among military leaders and tactical choices that impacted how things played out. Also an interest portion of tale regarding Abraham Lincoln. Overall – you most likely will enjoy the book for what it is.

  • David
    2019-03-14 11:08

    Solid 3.5 Stars. Typical approach of a historian taking a relatively obscure event and trying to show it's importance. The focus on Lew Wallace is what originally drew me to the book. Confederate General Jubal Early threatened Washington, DC late in the war. A stand by General Lew Wallace bought enough time to transfer to bring up reinforcements. The author struggles a bit when it comes to defending his main argument as he gets too wishy-washy at the end. Did Wallace save DC or not? That is up to you I guess.

  • Terrell Baldwin
    2019-03-03 05:17

    Great book about a little known battle of the American Civil War. I have visited several historic sites mentioned in this story as a result of this well written Book.

  • Ken
    2019-03-04 09:17

    This is a good, well researched and readable account of a minor campaign that may have lengthened the Civil War in itself and if successful given the war a new direction.

  • Tim
    2019-03-08 07:30

    I love reading a book alongside a map of a place over which I just hiked.

  • Sean Chick
    2019-02-20 06:18

    I did not like the writing style.