By Patricia Weil Coates
Friday, July 9, 2004; Page WE28
David Reed likes to go to Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick from time to time, but he's no ordinary visitor. During his most recent visit, the Northwest Washington resident got a private tour of the newly restored porch on the Worthington House, a large farmhouse built in 1851 that's an important part of the battlefield park. Reed, a retired association executive, has a personal interest in the historic significance and preservation of the Worthington farm: It once belonged to his great-grandfather.
John T. Worthington, a prominent Frederick farmer who bought the 300-acre farm in 1862, couldn't have known that his orchards and wheat fields would become a killing ground two years later during the Battle of Monocacy, a little-known but key Civil War conflict that was fought 140 years ago Friday. The Worthington family took cover in their cellar as Confederate troops attacked the Union line between their farm and the nearby Thomas farm. Reed's grandfather, Glenn, who was 6 years old at the time, spent the day peeking out from behind boarded-up windows to watch the fighting. At one point, Rebel soldiers moved an artillery piece onto their property, and every time it was fired, one of the Worthingtons' roosters would crow loudly. All nine of the family's horses were taken by the Confederate invaders.
Reed remembers his grandfather as "a tall man with a stately gait." Glenn Worthington became a lawyer who was later appointed chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Maryland, but the little boy who witnessed a Civil War battle from his cellar window never forgot that experience. Worthington wrote the first major book on the Battle of Monocacy and was instrumental in getting Congress to create a national military park at the battlefield, which it finally did in 1934 -- the same year he died.
"I'm the last surviving grandchild [of Glenn Worthington]," says Reed, who hopes to be on hand this weekend for some of the activities surrounding the commemoration of the battle's anniversary. Through living history programs, infantry demonstrations, cannon firings and more, visitors to the national battlefield will learn why the war's only major Confederate victory on northern soil will always be remembered as the "battle that saved Washington."
July 1864 was the fourth summer of the Civil War, and the nation was weary of the bloodshed. President Abraham Lincoln's prospects for reelection in the fall did not look good. The two primary opposing armies -- Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac and Gen. Robert E. Lee's outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia -- were entrenched at Petersburg, Va., just 25 miles south of the Confederate capital at Richmond. Many of the Union troops at Petersburg had been sent there from Washington, leaving the northern capital nearly defenseless.
Lee devised a plan that he hoped would force Grant to divert troops from Petersburg. He ordered Lt. Gen. Jubal Early to take a small army of about 15,000 men, clear the Shenandoah Valley of Union troops, then invade Maryland and assault Washington from the north. If at all feasible, Early's mission was to capture, or at least threaten, the nearly undefended federal capital and deal the Union an incapacitating blow.
Lee also tasked Early with another scheme while on his northern raid: If possible, capture Point Lookout in Southern Maryland and release many thousands of Rebel soldiers being held prisoner there. The Confederate commander desperately needed more men to bolster his dwindling army.
"Old Jube," a rough-talking, tobacco-chewing West Point graduate who had served in the Virginia legislature before the war, left the Richmond area with his men on June 13 and proceeded to the Shenandoah Valley. After days of grueling marches of up to 24 miles a day in the scorching heat, the Confederates arrived in the Harpers Ferry area on July 4 and celebrated Independence Day by plundering federal supplies. On July 5, Early's army forded the Potomac River and invaded Maryland -- the third and final time the Rebels would bring the war onto northern soil.
By the evening of July 8, the Confederates had arrived on the outskirts of Frederick, within striking distance of Washington via Georgetown Pike (now Route 355). Among them were a former vice president of the United States now fighting for the South (John C. Breckinridge), a future U.S. senator and governor of Georgia (John Gordon), and tough military men like Major Gens. Robert Rodes and Stephen Ramseur, neither of whom would survive the war. Far from its supply lines, this veteran army was poised to advance the next day toward Washington, hoping to alter the course of the Civil War.
What the invaders didn't know was that a Union general in Baltimore had taken it upon himself to place all his available forces in the path of the Rebel army and was lying in wait for them along the east bank of the Monocacy River just south of Frederick.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
David Reed in front of the Worthington House at the Monocacy National Battlefield. Reed's grandfather, Glenn Worthington, witnessed the 1864 Battle of Monocacy from his cellar window.
(Mark Finkenstaedt - For The Washington Post)