As we continue our series looking at the news from the Civil War, we get today to July 10, 1864. 150 years ago today, the Union fought a desperate battle on the banks of the Monocacy River, just southeast of Frederick, Maryland. They were attempting to stop Jubal Early’s troops from crossing the river, which would set them up directly to attack either Washington or Baltimore, two prime targets. We will look today at what it was that the citizens of D.C. knew on that day.
Once again, the morning newspapers gave false hope to the citizens of the capital. Both the Chronicle and the Intelligencer had the enemy retreating. The Intelligencer also had a number of short pieces that tried to make sense of what had been happening of late, a much-needed service that none of the other newspapers bothered with. The Chronicle‘s attempt at public service was to compare current events to those that led up to the Battle of Gettysburg the previous year, and point out that it “was several days before the true nature of the rebel movement was understood.”
Even as this news was being distributed, the Battle of Monocacy was beginning. Some time in the morning of the 9th — sources vary between 6:00 AM and 9:00 AM — the rebels began their attack on the crossing of that river. The battle raged until the late afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Star and the Republican were going to press. The former’s front page continued to insist that Wallace had driven the rebels out of Frederick, the trains were all running properly, and that there were only 10,000 raiders in total. If that is where you had stopped reading, you would have felt that you were safe, that whatever the raid was for, it was over.
Inside, it was an entirely different story:
A report reached here that the rebels made their appearance last evening in front of Frederick, and after some skirmishing with Gen. Wallace, they entered and took possession of the at place, Gen. Wallace being obliged to fall back, the enemy outnumbering him at the time.
The force which entered Frederick is represented to be 15,000 strong, and composed of cavalry, infantry, and some artillery.
This information is brought by passengers from the train which left Baltimore at 10 o’clock this morning, who heard it from parties coming in from the region around Frederick.
Up to the hour of going to press we have head nothing farther confirmatory of the report.
The four o’clock update added that Wallace’s forces “now occupy a position south of the Monocacy,” which was true as far as it went. That by four, Wallace’s army would have been in retreat from that position was something nobody at the newspaper could know.
Meanwhile, it seemed that nothing in the area was safe: ”a pic-nic near Falls Church, Va, [was] surprised at the appearance of about twenty-five of Moseby’s [sic] men, who told them not to be afraid, and danced a set with the ladies, after which they went to the wagons and devoured the cream and edibles provided for the occasion. They then made off.”
Another article says: “The rebel invasion of Western Maryland continues to be the exciting topic, and each and every train that reaches this city via the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from that section of the State brings quite a number of refugees. As usual, their statements of the number of the rebels, the fights &c., vary considerably, and are all gleaned from what they heard.”
Meanwhile, a cavalryman of the 22d Pennsylvania demanded his whiskey in a restaurant at 1st and D NW, and when – quite properly – refused, he attempted to ensure cooperation by pulling out a pistol. An alert bystander knocked his hand up, and the bullet hit the ceiling harmlessly. The cavalryman was turned over to his own unit for further punishment.
The Republican‘s front page was just as dismissive as its rival two blocks over. On the front page, next to a long and maudlin poem entitled “He Died To Save The Colors” is an even longer and sarcastic article about the “Excitement in Chambersburg,” about how that Pennsylvania town became convinced that it was the focus of the invasion by some million troops, and how they whipped themselves into a frenzy about what was to come. Now, with the raid a “huge and extremely good joke” there was no need for further alarm. Inside, they added that there “can be no doubt now in any well-regulated mind that no serious invasion was intended, and that no heavy column of troops has marched toward Pennsylvania.”
Inside, the 4:00 edition added nothing to this. In fact, it was reported that General Couch had “issued an order directing that all vehicles and horses in charge of men fleeing from supposed danger … be stopped, either before they reach, or at the bridge across, the Susquehanna.” However, the Extra (no time given) announced the fact that Wallace had given up on Frederick, and retreated to Monocacy. Not only that, there were “reports, seemingly well founded, that another rebel force [had] crossed the Potomac near Edward’s Ferry, [further south along the Potomac] and [had] moved in the direction of Urbana. [south of Frederick, and on the other side of the Monocacy battlefield]”
By the end of the day, any relief felt by the citizens of the capital may have felt after reading the morning papers would have evaporated. While there was no way to know that a battle was raging, it was also clear that the raid was continuing, it was moving in this direction — and that Washington might very well be the target.
This Friday at 11:00, I will be at Fort Stevens for my own personal 150th anniversary commemoration. You are invited to join me. Or come the following day for the official one.