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Monocacy Covered Bridge

Frederick MD-10-09x Monocacy River Unk 2 Approx 250' 1830 1864
Many covered bridges were lost during the Civil War. Most of them carried the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks over waterways in central and western Maryland. They were usually burned or destroyed by the Confederate Army. In the case of Monocacy Covered Bridge, a roadway bridge at Frederick Junction just southeast of Frederick, it was burned by the Union soldiers on July 9, 1864 to keep the southern troops from advancing to Washington. The Battle of Monocacy is often referred to as "The Battle That Saved Washington."
Little is known about the construction of the Monocacy Covered Bridge. Covered Bridge Topics, in an early issue article, Volume I, Number 5, August 1943, while discussing bridge builder Lewis Wernwag, said, "During the years 1827-1830, he built the bridge across the Monocacy, near Frederick City."
Monocacy Covered Bridge
Monocacy Bridge. From The Baltimore and Ohio in The Civil War by Festus P. Summers (photo B&O Museum).

An article in the Baltimore Sun, on March 20, 1854, provided confirmation that Werwag was indeed the builder of the Monocacy roadway bridge as well as the Monocacy Railroad bridge about a quarter of a mile upstream. (See Monocacy Railroad Covered Bridge.)

The Battle That Saved Washington

The Battle of Monocacy lasted three days resulting in over 2,600 casualties. From A New Guide to The Old Line State:
On July 7, 1864, General Lew Wallace (Union Army), with 2,650 men under General E.B. Tyler took up a position at the railroad junction on the Monocacy River, planning to check the advance of General Jubal Early and a force of approximately 17,500 Confederate troops. On July 8, Wallace was joined by 3,350 men from General James Rickett's division. The bloody battle fought the next day ended in a decisive Union defeat. The Federal casualities were 1,294 men, 668 of whom were missing. The Confederates lost between 1,300-1,500 men.¹
The best description of the burning of the Monocacy bridge comes from a soldier's memoirs in the book Monocacy by Alfred S. Roe, Co. A, 9th New York Heavy Artillery:
Col. Wm. H. Seward, Jr., received orders from Gen. Wallace about 9a.m., to detach two companies of his regiment for special duty. Col. Seward immediately detached Company B by the following order: 'Lieut. Fish, order your company in line and march them down to that bridge, and hold it at all hazard.' The order was promptly executed. The Company prepared the best they could to defend the passage of the bridge. The rebels tried to shell the bridge, but with one exception it was too low for their range. As the battle raged furiously, the lines changing front, from the situation of the armies it became evident the bridge would be burned. A hole was made through the east end of the roof. When the commanding officer ordered that the bridge be burned, private Alven N. Sova went up and set fire to the roof, which was wrapped in flames at once.²
Burning of The Bridge at Monocacy. Painting by Sherry Kemp
Burning of The Bridge at Monocacy. Painting by artist Sherry Kemp.

During the battle, the Union forces valiantly defended the wooden covered bridge on the Georgetown Pike (now Urbana Pike, Route 355) and the B&O Railroad Bridge. Overpowered and outnumbered by the Confederate troops, the burning of the covered bridge prevented the Southern troops from expediently crossing the Monocacy River to continue their march to Washington. The delay allowed General Grant time to send reenforcements into Washington after his troops had been depleted in his campaign with Philip Sheridan in Virginia. Wallace had a memorial placed at the battlefield honoring the fallen Union men, which read: "These men died to save the national capitol, and they did save it." (Baltimore Sunpapers, January 20, 1997)
UPDATED: 12/06/2009. Information on Monocacy Railroad Covered Bridge removed; information on Baltimore Sun article added. Corrected County from Monocacy to Frederick.
UPDATED: 12/01/2008, for conflict/confusion about same photo shown for Monocacy bridge and Point of Rocks over Canal bridge.

¹ Earl Arnett, Robert Brugger, Edward Pappenfuse, Maryland: A New Guide to the Old Line State (The Johns Hopkins University Press; 2nd edition: March 22, 1999).

² Alfred S. Roe, Monocacy (Toomey Press, Baltimore, Maryland: 1996), p. 17.

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