Battle of Baltimore
|Battle of Baltimore|
|Part of the War of 1812|
|United States||Great Britain|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Samuel Smith
| Robert Ross †
20 artillery pieces
150 artillery pieces
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Baltimore was a combined sea/land battle fought between British and American forces in the War of 1812. American forces repulsed sea and land invasions off the busy port city of Baltimore, Maryland, and killed the commander of the invading British forces. The British defeated an American force at North Point, however they made no further progress and later withdrew. The resistance of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during bombardment by the Royal Navy inspired Francis Scott Key to compose the poem "Defence of Fort McHenry" which later became the lyrics for "The Star-Spangled Banner," the national anthem of the United States of America.
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Tied down in Europe until 1814, the British at first used defensive strategy, repelling multiple American invasions of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. However, the Americans gained control over Lake Erie in 1813, seized parts of western Ontario, and ended the prospect of an Indian confederacy and an independent Indian state in the Midwest under British sponsorship. In the Southwest, General Andrew Jackson destroyed the military strength of the Creek nation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 on April 6, the British adopted a more aggressive strategy, sending in three large invasion armies. The British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814 allowed them to capture and burn Washington, D.C. American victories in September 1814 and January 1815 repulsed all three British invasions in New York, Baltimore and New Orleans. With the recent defeat of Napoleon the previous year, thousands of British troops along with many seasoned officers, including Major General Robert Ross, were deployed to America to undertake a major campaign on America's East Coast. In August, 1814, British forces sailed from the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda to attack the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C. On August 24, the British Army had overrun confused American defenders at the Battle of Bladensburg and marched into Washington, which had been abandoned by the military . After burning and looting the White House, Capitol, Treasury, War Department and other public buildings and forcing the destruction of the Washington Navy Yard, the British carted public and private possessions back to their ships. President James Madison and the entire government fled the city, and went North, to the town of Brookeville, Maryland. The British also sent a fleet up the Potomac to cut off Washington's water access and threaten the prosperous ports of Alexandria, just downstream of Washington, and Georgetown, just upstream. The mere appearance of the fleet cowed American defenders into fleeing from Fort Warburton without firing a shot, and undefended Alexandria surrendered. The British spent several days looting hundreds of tons of merchandise from city merchants, then turned their attention north to Baltimore, where they hoped to strike a knockout blow against the demoralized Americans. Baltimore was a busy port and was thought by the British to harbor many of the privateers who were raiding British shipping. The British planned a combined operation, with Ross launching a land attack at North Point, and Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane laying siege to Fort McHenry, which was the point defensive installation in Baltimore Harbor.
The British landed a force of 5,000 troops who marched toward Baltimore and first met heavy resistance at the Battle of North Point which was fought about 5 miles (8 km) from the city. The city’s defense was under the overall command of Major General Samuel Smith, an officer of the Maryland Militia. He dispatched roughly 3,000 men under the command of General John Stricker to meet the British in a forward engagement. General Stricker was to stall the British invasion force in order to delay the British advance long enough for Major General Smith to complete the defenses in Baltimore. The land invasion force for the British was led by Ross, and would be killed in the second shift of the American defense by an American sharpshooter whose name has been lost to history. However, Daniel Wells, age 19, and Henry McComas, age 18, of Captain Aisquith's rifle company of the 5th Maryland Militia regiment have been attributed by Baltimore legend to have been responsible for his death, which was immediately followed by their own. With Ross's death the British army came under the command of the less competent Colonel Arthur Brooke. However, the British succeeded in driving the American militia back.
Rodgers Bastion, also known as Sheppard's Bastion, located on Hampstead Hill (now part of Patterson Park), was the centerpiece of a 3-mile-wide earthworks from the outer harbor in Canton, north to Belair Road, dug to defend the eastern approach to Baltimore against the British. The redoubt was assembled and commanded by U.S. Navy Commodore John Rodgers, with General Smith in command of the overall line. At dawn on September 13, 1814, the day after the Battle of North Point, some 4,300 British troops advanced north on North Point Road, then west along the Philadelphia Road (now Maryland Route 7) toward Baltimore, forcing the U.S. troops to retreat to the main defensive line around the city. British commander Col. Arthur Brooke established his new headquarters at the Sterret House on Surrey Farm (today called Armistead Gardens), about two miles east-northeast of Hampstead Hill.
When the British began probing actions on Baltimore's inner defenses, the American line was defended by 100 cannon and more than 10,000 regular troops, including two shadowing infantry regiments commanded by general officers Stricker and Winder as well as a few thousand local militia and irregulars. The defenses were far stronger than the British anticipated. The U.S. defenders at Fort McHenry successfully stopped British naval forces but a few ships were still able to provide artillery support. Once the British had taken the outer defences, the inner defences became the priority. The British infantry had not anticipated how well defended they would be so the first attack was a failure; however, Brooke's forces did manage to outflank and overrun American positions to the right. After a discussion with lower ranking officers, Brooke decided that the British should bombard the fort instead of risk a frontal assault and, at 3 AM on September 14, 1814, ordered the British troops to return to the ships.
At Fort McHenry, some 1,000 soldiers under the command of Major George Armistead awaited the British naval bombardment. Their defense was augmented by the sinking of a line of American merchant ships at the adjacent entrance to Baltimore Harbor in order to further thwart the passage of British ships.
The attack began on September 13, as the British fleet of some nineteen ships began pounding the fort with Congreve rockets (from rocket vessel HMS Erebus) and mortar shells (from bomb vessels Terror, Volcano, Meteor, Devastation, and Aetna). After an initial exchange of fire, the British fleet withdrew to just beyond the range of Fort McHenry’s cannons and continued to bombard the American redoubts for the next 25 hours. Although 1,500 to 1,800 cannonballs were launched at the fort, damage was light due to recent fortification that had been completed prior to the battle.
After nightfall, Cochrane ordered a landing to be made by small boats to the shore just west of the fort, away from the harbor opening on which the fort’s defense was concentrated. He hoped that the landing party might slip past Fort McHenry and draw Smith’s army away from the main British land assault on the city’s eastern border. This gave the British a good diversion for half an hour, allowing them to fire again and again. On the morning of September 14, the 30 × 42 ft (9.1 × 13 m) oversized American flag, which had been made a few months before by local flagmaker Mary Pickersgill and her 13-year-old daughter, was raised over Fort McHenry (replacing the tattered storm flag which had flown during battle). It was responded to by a small encampment of British rifleman on the right flank, who fired a round each at the sky and taunted the Americans just before they too returned to the shore line.
Originally, historians said the oversized Star Spangled Banner Flag was raised to taunt the British. However, that is not the case. The oversized flag was used every morning for reveille, as was the case on the morning of September 14.
Brooke had been instructed not to attack the American positions around Baltimore unless he was certain that there were less than 2000 men in the fort. Because of his orders, Brooke had to withdraw from his positions and returned to the fleet which would set sail for New Orleans.
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An American lawyer and poet, Francis Scott Key, was on a mercy mission for the release of Dr. William Beanes, a prisoner of the British. Key showed the British letters from wounded British officers praising the care they received from Dr. Beanes. The British agreed to release Beanes, but Key and Beanes were forced to stay with the British until the attack on Baltimore was over. Key watched the proceedings from a truce ship in the Patapsco River. On the morning of the 14th, Key saw the American flag waving above Fort McHenry. Inspired, he began jotting down verses on the back of a letter he was carrying. He composed the words to the tune of an old British drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven". When Key reached Baltimore, his poem was printed on pamphlets by the Baltimore American. His poem was originally called "Defense of Ft. McHenry". The song eventually became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner". Congress made it the national anthem in 1931.
Colonel Brooke’s troops withdrew, and Admiral Cochrane’s fleet sailed off to regroup before his next assault on the United States, the Battle of New Orleans. Armistead was soon promoted to lieutenant colonel. Much weakened by the arduous preparations for the battle, he died at age 38, only three years after the battle.
Three active battalions of the Regular Army (1-4 Inf, 2-4 Inf and 3-4 Inf) perpetuate the lineages of the old 36th and 38th Infantry Regiments, both of which were at Fort McHenry during the bombardment. The lineage of the 5th Maryland Infantry Regiment, which played a major role in the Battle of North Point, is perpetuated by the Maryland National Guard's 175th Infantry Regiment.
The battle is commemorated in the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.
- Borneman, p. 245
- Crawford, p273, quoting a memo from Rear Admiral Codrington to Respective Captains dated 11 Sept 1814. The warships present were Tonnant (80), Albion (74), Madagascar (74), Ramillies (74), Royal Oak (74), Severn (50), Diomede (50), Havannah (42), Weser (44), Brune (38), Melpomene (38), Seahorse (38), Surprise (38), Trave (38), Thames (32), Rover (18), & Wolverine (18). Also present were the troopships Diadem, Dictator & Regulus.
- Borneman, p. 246
- Liston, Where Are the British Soldiers Killed in the Battle of North Point Buried?
- James, p. 513
- James, p. 521
- James, p. 325
- James, p. 321
- "Attack on Baltimore launched from Bermuda in 'War of 1812'". Atlas Communications. 2005.
- Pitch, Anthony, The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814. Bluejacket Books, 2000. p. 99.
- Scenes In The War Of 1812, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 28, March 1864, page 433-449
- The Battle of Baltimore, Kevin Young, Ft. Meade Soundoff, 9/1/05
- 1812 Overtures, Brennen Jensen, Baltimore City Paper, 9/22/99
- "The Battle of Baltimore". The Patriots of Fort McHenry, Incorporated. Archived from the original on 2007-06-08.
- Borneman, p. 247
References and further reading
- Borneman, Walter R. (2004). 1812: The War That Forged a Nation. New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 978-0-06-053112-6.
- Crawford, Michael J. (Ed) (2002). The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, Vol. 3. Washington: United States Department of Defense. ISBN 9780160512247
- George, Christopher T., Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay, Shippensburg, Pa., White Mane, 2001, ISBN 1-57249-276-7
- James, William (1818). A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of the Late War Between Great Britain and the United States of America. Volume II. London: Published for the Author. ISBN 0-665-35743-5.
- Liston, Kathy Lee Erlandson (2006). "Where Are the British Soldiers Killed in the Battle of North Point Buried?". Fort Howard, MD: Myedgemere.com, LLC. Retrieved 2010-02-06.
- Lord, Walter (1972). The Dawn's Early Light. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-05452-7.
- Pitch, Anthony S.The Burning of Washington, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000. ISBN 1-55750-425-3
- Whitehorne, Joseph A., The Battle for Baltimore 1814, Baltimore: Nautical & Aviation Publishing, 1997, ISBN 1-877853-23-2
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