Battle of Baltimore
|Battle of Baltimore|
|Part of the War of 1812|
Bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British. Engraved by John Bower
|United States||United Kingdom|
|Commanders and leaders|
Robert Ross †|
20 artillery pieces
150 artillery pieces
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Baltimore was a sea/land battle fought between British invaders and American defenders 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 and Americans first met at the Battle of North Point. Though the Americans retreated, the battle was a successful delaying action that inflicted heavy casualties on the British, halted their advance and, consequently, allowed the defenders at Baltimore to properly prepare for an attack.
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.
Future President James Buchanan served as a private in the defense of Baltimore.
Until April 1814, Great Britain was at war with Napoleonic France, which limited British war aims in America. During this time the British primarily used a defensive strategy and repelled American invasions of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. However, the Americans gained naval control over Lake Erie in 1813, and seized parts of western Ontario. In the Southwest, General Andrew Jackson destroyed the military strength of the Creek nation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814.
Although Great Britain was unwilling to draw military forces from the war with France, it still enjoyed a naval superiority on the ocean, and vessels of the North America and West Indies Squadron, based at Bermuda, blockaded American ports on the Atlantic throughout the war, strangling the American economy (initially, the north-eastern ports were spared this blockade as public sentiments in New York and New England were against the war). The Royal Navy and Royal Marines also occupied American coastal islands and landed military forces for raids along the coast, especially around the Chesapeake Bay, encouraging enslaved blacks to defect to the Crown and recruiting them into the Corps of Colonial Marines.
Following the defeat of Napoleon in the spring of 1814, the British adopted a more aggressive strategy, intended to compel the United States to negotiate a peace that restored the pre-war status quo. Thousands of seasoned British soldiers were deployed to British North America. Most went to the Canadas to re-enforce the defenders (the British Army, Canadian militias, and their First Nations allies drove the American invaders back into the United States, but without naval control of the Great Lakes they were unable to receive supplies, resulting in the failure to capture Plattsburgh in the Second Battle of Lake Champlain and the withdrawal from US territory), but a brigade under the command of Major General Robert Ross was sent in early July with several naval vessels to join the forces already operating from Bermuda. The combined forces were to be used for diversionary raids along the Atlantic coast, intended to force the Americans to withdraw forces from Canada. They were under orders not to carry out any extended operations and were restricted to targets on the coast.
An ambitious raid was planned as the result of a letter sent to Bermuda on 2 June by Sir George Prévost, Governor General of The Canadas, who called for a retaliation in response to the "wanton destruction of private property along the north shores of Lake Erie" by American forces under Colonel John Campbell in May 1814, the most notable being the Raid on Port Dover. Prévost argued that,
... in consequence of the late disgraceful conduct of the American troops in the wanton destruction of private property on the north shores of Lake Erie, in order that if the war with the United States continues you may, should you judge it advisable, assist in inflicting that measure of retaliation which shall deter the enemy from a repetition of similar outrages.
The letter was considered by Ross and Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane (who had replaced Sir John Borlase Warren earlier that year as the Commander-in-Chief of the North America and West Indies Station of the Royal Navy, headquartered at Admiralty House in Bermuda) in planning how to use their forces. Cochrane's junior, Rear Admiral George Cockburn, had been commanding ships of the squadron in the operations on the Chesapeake Bay since the previous year. On 25 June he wrote to Cochrane stressing that the defenses there were weak, and he felt that several major cities were vulnerable to attack. Cochrane suggested attacking Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia. On 17 July, Cockburn recommended Washington as the target, because of the comparative ease of attacking the national capital and "the greater political effect likely to result".
On 18 July, Cochrane ordered Cockburn that to "deter the enemy from a repetition of similar outrages ..." You are hereby required and directed to "destroy and lay waste such towns and districts as you may find assailable". Cochrane instructed, "You will spare merely the lives of the unarmed inhabitants of the United States".
In August, the vessels in Bermuda sailed from the Royal Naval Dockyard and St. George's to join those already operating along the American Atlantic coast. After defeating a US Navy gunboat flotilla, a military force totaling 4,370 (composed of British Army, Royal Marines, and Royal Navy detachments for shore service) under Ross was landed in Virginia. After beating off an American force of 1,200 on the 23rd, on the 24th they attacked the prepared defenses of the main American force of roughly 6,400 (US Army soldiers, militiamen, US Marines, and US Navy sailors) in the Battle of Bladensburg. Despite the considerable disadvantage in numbers (standard military logic dictates that a three-to-one advantage is needed in carrying out an attack on prepared defences) and sustaining heavy casualties, the British force routed the American defenders and cleared the path into the capital (President James Madison and the entire government fled the city, and went North, to the town of Brookeville, Maryland). The Burning of Washington took place that night before the force returned to the ships.
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 powerful 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.
10th Military District
- Brigadier General William Winder, U.S. Army
|Division||Brigade||Regiments and other|
|First Brigade (Harford and Cecil Counties)
|Third Brigade (Baltimore city)
|Eleventh Brigade (Baltimore County)
|1st Regiment of Artillery
|5th Regiment of Cavalry
Harbor defenses of Baltimore
|Hampstead Hill defenses||US Navy
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- North America and West Indies Station: Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane
- Rear-Admiral Poultney Malcolm
- Rear-Admiral Edward Codrington - Captain of the Fleet
|Naval forces||Bombardment squadron||Ship|
|Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, RN||Bomb vessels|
|Maj. Gen. Sir Robert Ross (KIA, 9/12)
||First (Light) Brigade
|Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn||Naval Brigade|
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, who would be killed in the second shift of the American defense by an American sharpshooter (It has been suggested that either Daniel Wells or Henry McComas of Captain Aisquith's rifle company, of the 5th Maryland Militia regiment, were responsible, and both killed shortly afterwards). With Ross's death the British army came under the command of Colonel Arthur Brooke. However, the Americans had already begun to form an organized retreat back to the main defenses of Baltimore, where they awaited a British assault.
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 cannons 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 3:00 a.m. 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 ft × 42 ft (9.1 m × 12.8 m) oversized American flag, which had been made a year earlier 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 2,000 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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Colonel Brooke's troops withdrew, and Admiral Cochrane's fleet sailed off to regroup before his next (and final) assault on the United States, at 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 Army National Guard's 175th Infantry Regiment.
The battle is commemorated in the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.
Star Spangled Banner
An American lawyer and amateur 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. Key's poem was originally named "Defence on Fort McHenry" was printed on pamphlets by the Baltimore American.
Key's poem was later set to the tune of a British song called "To Anacreon in Heaven", the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen's club of amateur musicians in London. The song eventually became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner". Congress made it the United States national anthem in 1931.
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- The Visitor Center
- Maryland in the War of 1812
- In the defenses at Hampstead Hill.
- Attached to 3rd Brigade, present at Battle of North Point.
- Attached from 9th Brigade, Maryland Militia.
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