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York's hometown heroes helped save Washington

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Saturday, June 28, 2014, 4:48 p.m.
 

As Confederate Gen. Jubal Early approached the green Monocacy River on the road to Washington in the hot, dry summer of 1864, he wasn't expecting much of a fight.

But instead of green militia at the river bridges, Early's army ran into 10 seasoned Union regiments — including the 87th Pennsylvania, York County men who would face their fiercest fight of the Civil War this day.

And 150 years later, Jeremy Murphy, chief ranger at the Monocacy National Battlefield, doesn't quite know what to expect this week when commemorations begin for the battle credited with saving the national capital 150 years ago. Certainly not the tens of thousands who descended on Gettysburg last year for its anniversary. But for a park that counts its busy summer days in hundreds of visitors, it could be quite a spectacle, replete with historians, a full battery of artillery and dashing Southern horsemen.

“We just don't know,” Murphy says matter-of-factly.

But like the soldiers 150 years ago, the National Park Service is doing what it can to get ready. Staffers, park volunteers and youth conservation corps members have been clearing brush, ripping up non-historic fence and readying exhibits for home tours and other special programs related to the 150th.

July 9 marks the anniversary of the battle, fought just south of Frederick. There will be a reading of the names of the casualties at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick — including the 96 York County men of the 87th killed, wounded or captured at Monocacy, barely 70 miles from home.

Heavily outnumbered, the Union positions at Monocacy finally crumbled, leaving about 1,200 casualties, killed wounded and captured, behind. The Confederates, who lost somewhere between 800 and 1,000 men, could claim their first and only victory on “Union” soil.

Still, the defeat bought the Union a precious day to reinforce Washington, and while Early pressed his forces forward to the capital, he got no further than the ring of forts defending the District of Columbia.

The anniversary of the Battle of Monocacy is July 9, but the National Park Service is sponsoring a number of events, tours and living-history demonstrations beginning this weekend.

Events begin Saturday morning with a 9 a.m. orientation on how the battle was fought and won. Events the first weekend focus on the battle, while those of July 12-13 concentrate on the stories of slavery, civilians and a historic home tour.

The July 9 anniversary events include an opening ceremony in the morning, “real-time” battlefield hikes and an evening “Remembrance of the Fallen.”

On July 11, a bus tour will travel from Monocacy to Fort Stevens in the District of Columbia, where the Confederate attack on Washington faltered and President Lincoln came under enemy fire. Registration is required for this $50 tour.

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