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War of 1812

Annapolis Defies British Seamen

The affair of the Chesapeake and the Leopard roused the whole country, and preparations for war were made at once. Maryland being called on for six thousand men, double that number volunteered. The spirit of the Marylanders is shown by an incident that occurred early in the year 1812. Three sailors escaped from a British vessel lying near Annapolis, but were seen and fired at before they reached the shore. An armed party was sent after the deserters, who, they declared, should be taken back by force if caught. The citizens of the town, however, surrounded the Englishmen, took away their arms, and sent them back to their ship, not only without the three deserters, but without a fourth man also who refused to go on board again.

The outrages of Great Britain at length became unbearable. She had captured many of our merchant vessels, had insulted our Navy, and had impressed thousands of sailors from American vessels and compelled them to serve on the English warships, where they were treated with great cruelty. The United States could no longer submit to such treatment, and declared war on June 19, 1812.

Riots in Baltimore

Many persons in the United States, especially in the Northern cities, were opposed to the war, but in Maryland the people on the whole favored it. There were, however, a number of prominent men in the State who opposed the war openly. Among these were Jacob Wagner and Alexander C. Hanson, editors of a newspaper, the Federal Republican, published at Baltimore. This paper opposed the war so fiercely that the people became enraged; and on June 20, 18 12, a mob destroyed the type, presses and building belonging to the newspaper. The editors, however, continued to publish the paper, printing it at Georgetown.

Trouble soon followed. On the twenty-seventh of July a score of men who supported the Federal Republican and who had fortified themselves in Wagner's house at Baltimore, were attacked by a mob. The Mayor of the city succeeded in persuading the garrison to surrender, under promise that they should receive no hurt, and they were taken to the jail for safety. The following night the mob attacked the jail, captured nine of the prisoners, and cruelly beat and cut them. One of the nine, General James M. Lingan, died from his injuries; and another, Henry Lee, a distinguished general of the Revolutionary War, was crippled for life.

Eight of those who were in the jail made their escape. This attack was an outrage against that freedom of thought and speech so dear to all Americans. It had such an effect on the people of the State that in the elections which took place shortly afterwards, many of the counties elected Federalist delegates, so that the Federalist Party, which was opposed to the war, had a majority in the Legislature. Nevertheless, Maryland continued to support the government in carrying on the war.

The Invasion of Canada

The Americans proposed to invade Canada; and while preparations were being made to this end, two Marylanders, Lieutenant Jesse Duncan Elliott and Captain Nathan Towson, captured two British armed brigs near Buffalo. With a small force they rowed out to the brigs in two small boats, captured them, and sailed down the Lake. Both vessels ran aground in the Niagara River within gunshot of the Canadian shore, and the British fired on them. The Americans, however, got away with their prisoners and the cargoes of the vessels, but had to destroy one of these, the Detroit. The other, the Caledonia, was saved by the efforts of Captain Towson and afterward made one of Perry's fleet.

Many Privateers Sent Out

The attempted invasion of Canada was a failure, and the result of the war thus far was favorable to the British, except at sea, where the United States were quite the equal of the enemy.

Maryland alone sent out, within four months after the war was declared, forty-two armed vessels. These with other privateers, swarmed over all the ocean, capturing British vessels and even attacking the enemy's men-of-war. More privateers sailed from Baltimore than from any other city in the United States, and a larger number of officers in the Navy came from Maryland than from any other State; forty-six out of a total of two hundred and forty. It will give some idea of the hurt done by American vessels to English commerce to know that Commodore Barney, in one short cruise in his schooner Rossie, captured ships and cargo to the value of a million and a half dollars, and took two hundred and seventeen prisoners.

Five hundred British merchant ships were captured in seven months.

Chesapeake Bay Blockaded, 1812

At the end of the year 1812 Great Britain declared Chesapeake and Delaware Bays to be in a state of blockade; and by the spring of 1813 the blockade was extended to the whole Atlantic coast except Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The effect of the blockade was disastrous to Maryland commerce. In 18 1 2 the net revenue collected in the State, in customs, was $1,780,000; in 1813 this fell to $182,000; and in 1814 the expenditures exceeded the receipts. A British fleet, under Admiral Cockburn, sailed into Chesapeake Bay and harassed the shores, plundering and burning the towns, and capturing and destroying all the small vessels they could find. The fleet sailed up the Bay and lay off the City of Baltimore. No attack was made on the city, but a number of towns at the head of the Bay were pillaged and burned. The only defenders at these places were small bands of militia, as the Federal Government refused to send aid to the State. The militia did its best, and sometimes succeeded in driving off the attacking parties; but they were usually too few to stand against the larger forces of British soldiers. When there were no more vessels, militia and stores of war material left in the upper waters of the Chesapeake, Cockburn returned to the lower part of the Bay. In spite of all this, the feeling in support of the war gained in strength throughout the State.

Battle of Caulk's Field

By the year 1814 the overthrow of Napoleon left England free to give more attention to the war with the United States. More ships and a land force were sent over. Several of these ships, commanded by Sir Peter Parker, sailed up the Chesapeake, burning and pillaging the farms on the shore. On the night of August 30, Sir Peter landed with two hundred and fifty men at a point about nine miles from Chestertown, and by a circuitous march tried to cut off the camp occupied by one hundred and seventy Maryland soldiers under Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Reed. The two little armies met on Caulk's Field, and after an hour's fight the British retreated just as the ammunition of the Americans became exhausted. In the engagement Sir Peter Parker was killed.

Battle of Bladensburg, August 24, 1814

In the meantime the remainder of the fleet had landed the British army at Benedict, whence they began to march towards Washington, Nothing whatever had been done in the way of building defenses for the capital. The British soldiers, suffering severely from the heat, at first advanced very slowly. Pretending to march directly on Washington, they turned and went rapidly on to Bladensburg. They numbered about four thousand five hundred men, while the American army, under the command of General William H. Winder, of Baltimore, numbered about seven thousand. The two armies met on August 24, the Americans in a strong position on a hill, and separated from the British by a stream over which was a single narrow bridge. This the enemy succeeded in crossing, and after some fighting drove the Americans from the field and captured half of their artillery. The only troops on the American side who fought with any bravery were a party of four hundred sailors under Joshua Barney, of Baltimore.

These manned a battery of five guns and stood by their guns bravely, even when attacked on the flanks and in the rear, until Barney was wounded and taken prisoner. Then they fell back, abandoning their guns. Commodore Barney had been in command of the Chesapeake Bay fleet of gunboats, but had been compelled to destroy his vessels to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy. It was thought useless to try to defend Washington with the army scattered in all directions, and therefore General Winder marched towards Baltimore with the few troops he could collect. The British marched on to Washington. The Capitol, the President's house, the Treasury Building, the Navy Yard, the State and War Departments, were burned and destroyed. Public property to the value of more than two million dollars, besides private property, perished.

Baltimore Threatened

The destruction of the Arsenal and naval storehouses at Washington had been one of the chief aims of the British. Having accomplished it, they now turned to the other, the destruction of Baltimore, which city they called a "nest of privateers." Warned by the threats of England, Baltimore had begun to make preparations to defend itself against the expected attack. For this purpose five hundred thousand dollars had already been spent, and now everyone in the city, even the old men and boys, went to work with pick and shovel to throw up fortifications. After a few days the enemy sailed up the Bay, and on September ii, seventy of their ships lay at anchor off North Point. Early next morning they landed their troops, an army of five thousand men, commanded by General Robert Ross, while a number of small vessels under Admiral Cockburn formed in line to bombard the city. But the news of their coming had been sent up the Bay Shore by beacon-fires and mounted messengers, so that the city was prepared. Commodore John Rodgers, with twelve hundred man-of-war's men, had charge of the batteries; Colonel George Armistead, (if Virginia, commanded Fort McHenry; while the forces of the city were in command of General Samuel Smith, of Baltimore.

The Battle of North Point, September 12, 1814

General John Stricker, with about three thousand raw militia, marched out some seven miles along the Philadelphia road to reconnoiter the enemy. When he learned, on the morning of September 12, that the enemy had landed, he sent back his baggage and formed his troops in line of battle. The British advance guard, having marched to within two miles of General Stricker's pickets, were met by a small body of Americans who had been sent forward to surprise them, but who soon returned A larger detachment, under Major Richard K. Heath, was then sent forward. After firing several volleys this detachment was slowly falling back when a musket shot killed General Ross, who had ridded to the front to see how matters were going. Colonel Brooke, who was now in command of the British, moved up cautiously until he came within a very short distance of the American lines. His troops were met by volley after volley of musketry, returned so briskly that the two armies were soon hid from each other by the smoke. On the American left the Fifty-first Regiment now broke and fled, and was followed by a part of the Thirty-ninth. Colonel Brooke tried to take advantage of this by advancing rapidly, but was received by the American artillery, whose guns had been loaded with ''grape and canister, shot, old locks and pieces of broken muskets." At the same time, all along the line volleys of muskets and rifles followed each other incessantly. The British, however, continued to advance. At length General Stricker ordered his small remaining force to retreat, which they did in good order and without being pursued by the enemy. It must be remembered that the Americans engaged in this action were raw militia, while the British troops were all regulars, many of whom had fought in the wars against Napoleon; and that General Stricker had gone out only to skirmish, and not to attempt to defeat the whole British army.

On the next day the enemy resumed their march on Baltimore, and in the evening came in sight of the American army of about twelve thousand men strongly entrenched on a ridge of hills. Colonel Brooke was afraid to attack this strong position with his own army exposed. He therefore decided to wait for darkness to give battle, hoping the English vessels would by that time be ready to help him. But no news came from the fleet until at midnight it was heard to begin the bombardment. After two or three hours' waiting. Colonel Brooke received word that the fleet could not come up as the channel was too shallow for any but the smallest vessels, and besides was blocked by sunken ships. He therefore ordered a retreat, and the attack on Baltimore was abandoned.

Bombardment of Fort McHenry

The fleet turned back, and stopping at a distance of two miles from Fort McHenry, for twenty-four hours threw showers of bombs into the fort, which could make no reply with its guns at that long range. But their flag was kept flying, and it was the sight of this flag which inspired Francis Scott Key to write his patriotic song, "The Star Spangled Banner." Key had gone to the British fleet on business connected with prisoners. He was kindly treated there, but was told he could not leave the fleet until after the attack on Baltimore. From the deck of the ship where he was detained he watched all night the bombardment of the fort, with no means of knowing whether it had surrendered or not; but with the first glimpse of dawn he saw that the Stars and Stripes were still flying.

To the right of Fort McHenry redoubts had been built to prevent attacks in the rear on the fort and Baltimore City. At one of these, Fort Covington, a sharp engagement took place on September 13. Twelve hundred of the enemy, heavily armed with muskets and small cannon, and provided with scaling ladders, attempted to land in the darkness. Sailing-master John A. Webster, whose duty it was to patrol the shore that night, heard the noise of the approaching boats, and immediately gave the alarm. At the same time a rocket fired from the foremost boat showed plainly the enemy near the shore. The guns of the battery were all loaded, and in a few moments a firing began which lasted incessantly for two hours.

The attacking party had expected no resistance, and after the foremost boats had been disabled the remainder put back to the fleet. The American force numbered less than one hundred and fifty, of whom thirteen were wounded in the engagement. None were killed. Had the British succeeded in landing, they would have attacked Fort McHenry in the rear, and might have captured not only the fort but Baltimore as well.

Francis Scott Key

There was joy throughout the whole country when it was known that the British had retreated from Baltimore, and in that city itself the joy was unbounded. Battle Monument was built a year later to commemorate the event; the twelfth of September was made a holiday; and year after year on that day the "old defenders" were publicly honored by the city, until the last of their number died in 1898.

The war lasted only a short time longer, a treaty of peace being signed at Ghent on December 24, 1814. Curiously enough this treaty said nothing in regard to the right of search on American vessels, which had been the chief cause of the war. But Great Britain tacitly gave up the right of search, and no trouble has ever arisen since on the question.

Maryland AHGP


Source: History of Maryland, by L. Magruder Passano, Wm. J.C. Dulany Company, 1901.


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