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Groundbreaking ends 60-year struggle for permanent visitors center at Monocacy

March 26, 2006|By DAVID DISHNEAU

FREDERICK, Md.

The "battle that saved Washington" lasted just one day, but it took 60 years for Congress to fund a permanent visitor center for the Civil War site.

The National Park Service and elected officials broke ground Friday for the structure at the Monocacy National Battlefield, 1,647 hallowed acres bisected by Interstate 270 and surrounded by commercial and residential development. The barn-shaped building, slated to open next spring, will offer a wealth of information about the clash on July 19, 1864, that marked the Confederacy's last campaign to carry the war into the North.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., said the ceremony "sets the stage for people from all over the country and indeed all over the world to see firsthand one of the small but pivotal battle sites of the Civil War."

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Exhibits at the $3.5 million center will focus on phases of the battle that occurred when 6,000 Federal troops led by Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace engaged about 15,000 Confederate troops intent on capturing Washington, about 40 miles away. The Confederates were led by Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early.

The battle bought a 24-hour delay of the Confederate advance at a cost of 1,436 combined casualties. The Union dead numbered 123, with 603 wounded. The Confederates suffered as many as 275 dead, with 435 wounded.

The Confederates won the battle but it slowed and weakened Early's forces enough to prevent them from capturing the capital city a day later.

Congress authorized the national park in 1934 but it took another 32 years before any funds were appropriated for land acquisition.

The park opened to the public in 1991, with exhibits housed in a temporary visitor center in the Gambrill Mill, a 160-year-old building in the river's 100-year flood plain.

Congress appropriated funds for the new visitor center in 2004.

Former U.S. Rep. Beverly Byron, a Maryland Democrat, fought alongside Sarbanes to get money for the park that her father-in-law, William D. Byron, helped establish during his congressional tenure.

"It's been a long time coming," she said.

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