The Monocacy National Battlefield in Maryland is a national park that memorializes the site where, in 1864, Confederate States Army under General Robert E. Lee mounted an attack in Northern Maryland in an attempt to reach the capital in Washington D.C. Although the Confederate States Army was successful in this battle, the Union’s brave fighting bought time for more federal troops to arrive to defend Washington D.C., thus the Battle of Monocacy has become known as “the battle that saved Washington.”
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The 1,650-acre battlefield spans the Monocacy River in Frederick, Maryland. Several historic properties are located on site, and can be reached by walking tours or by car. The Worthington House on the Worthington Farm was built in 1851 and purchased by John T. Worthington in 1862. During the battle, the family hid in the boarded-up basement, while the home and yard was used as a temporary hospital. The Gambrill Mill, built in 1830, was purchased by James H. Gambrill in 1855. Union forces were stationed in the mill’s yard while the building was used as a field hospital. The mill is used today as national park offices. The Best Farm was originally a 750-acre plantation, which overlaps the National Battlefield. Approximately 250 acres of the farm are open to the public as part of the park today. Archeologists uncovered the remains of a large slave village at Best Farm between 2010 and 2011. In the 1800s, the farm was home to over 90 enslaved people. The ornate Gambrill Mansion, known as Edgewood, is used today as offices for the Historic Preservation Training Center. The Thomas House on the Thomas Farm was built in the late 1700s. The farm was purchased by Christian Keefer Thomas in 1860. By June of 1863, it was being used as Union Army headquarters. The farm saw some of the heaviest fighting during the Battle of Monocacy. Both the home and outbuildings were captured several times by Union and Confederate troops. Months after the battle, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant used the home as the site for strategy meetings to plan future Civil War battles. After the Civil War, the farm returned to its pre-war success and remained in the Thomas family through 1910. Currently, the Thomas house serves as the park headquarters.
The Visitor Center Museum at the Monocacy Battlefield National Park houses an archive, a library, and artifacts from the war. Researchers may access the archives by appointment. Exhibits display the details of the battle and contain Civil War artifacts. A viewing platform on the second floor of the visitor center provides an overview of the battlefield. Monuments are located throughout the park to memorialize specific battles and infantry units.
After the Civil War, the majority of the battlefield remained under private ownership for close to 100 years. Glen Worthington, who owned a large portion of the battlefield site, was the first to petition Congress, in 1928, to designate Monocacy as a National Military Park. It wasn’t until the 1970s, close to 50 years later, that the National Parks Service had the funds needed to acquire the land. Thomas Farm was acquired and added to the park in 2001. The battlefield was bisected by Interstate 270 in the 1980s, in what was considered a great loss for area preservationists. In 2013, Preservation Maryland added the battlefield to its list of threatened historic properties.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Daily ranger programs at the National Park operate seasonally between Memorial Day in May and Columbus Day in October. Programs include ranger hikes. The free hikes walk guests through the footsteps of the soldiers involved in the battle. Three separate hikes are stacked throughout the day, allowing visitors to choose one, or all three. Each hike is less than 2 miles. While the first hike of the day meets at the visitor center, the second hike meets at Worthington Farm, and the third at Thomas Farm. A driving tour is available for those who prefer not to walk. Stops along the 4-mile auto-route are highlighted by interpretive markers placed by the National Parks Service. A 20-minute battle orientation is a ranger-led talk that takes place daily at the visitor center. Rangers occasionally demonstrate artillery drills and infantry drills. Schedules are posted online or at the visitor center.
Monocacy National Park is flanked by several other historically significant battlefield sites. To the west is Antietam National Battlefield, Gettysburg Battlefield is located to the north, while Balls Bluff Battlefield is to the south.
5201 Urbana Pike, Frederick, MD 21704, Phone: 301-662-3515