Battle of Caulk's Field
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|Battle of Caulk’s Field|
|Part of the War of 1812|
|British Empire||United States|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Sir Peter Parker †||Philip Reed|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Caulk’s Field occurred during the War of 1812. Similar to the Battle of Craney Island a year earlier, American militia units were able to repulse a British landing attempt along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
As part of the British attacks on Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Sir Peter Parker, captain of the frigate HMS Menelaus, was ordered to sail into the upper Chesapeake Bay in order to keep Eastern Shore militia units from crossing the bay to aid Baltimore.
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Royal Navy units landed late on August 30; the battle was sometime after midnight in the early morning of August 31. The site, in Kent County on Maryland's Eastern Shore, is commemorated with a granite marker. The battle occurred east of the hamlet of Georgetown and south of Fairlee (then called Belle Air). "Georgetown Crossroads" is sometimes referred to, but that location is miles away and is now known as Galena.
On September 12, 1814, the Boston Independent Chronicle trumpeted the good news. After the humiliating burning of Washington, it was a relief:
“We do not recollect ever to have read of a more brilliant and decisive exploit by a handful of militia hastily rallied by a partizan officer, than that described in the following extract of a letter, on the correctness of which the fullest reliance may be placed :-- Nat. Int.
“Chester Town Md., Sept. 1.
“On or about the 20th … the British frigate Menelaus, rating 38, carrying 49, and pierced for 54 guns, commanded by Sir Peter Parker, Bt. made her appearance in view of Rock Hall, upon which Lieut. Col. Reed called out the 21st regiment of the Maryland militia.
“On Sunday the 28th, the enemy came on shore at the farm of Mr. Henry Waller, being on the Chesapeake Bay about seven miles above Rock Hall, and burnt his dwelling houses, barns, all other outhouses, wheat in the granary and stack, and in short destroyed every thing by fire that they possibly could – his loss is estimated at 8 or 10 thousand dollars.
“On Tuesday the 30th they went to the farm of Richard Frisby, Esq. adjoining Waller’s … and committed the same disgraceful and degrading acts; his loss is supposed to be about the amount of Waller’s. At each of the aforesaid places they set fire to the property and made their escape to the frigate, before the militia could get down to attack them.
“On Tuesday morning also they landed and went to the house of James Frisby it is supposed for the purpose of burning him out. However Mrs. Frisby prevailed upon them to spare the property. They took with them some poultry and said they intended that day to attack and defeat Col. Reed and his militia near Bell Air, and then to go and get supper at Chester town. –
“True in part to their promise, about half past 11 o’clock that night they landed, between 200 and 300 men, headed by Sir Peter Parker; having a few days before taken 4 of Richard Frisby’s negroes, they made one of said negroes pilot them to the American encampment about two and a half miles from the bay shore. Though very recently made, our videtts observed their movements, and gave information thereof to the Colonel, who prepared the action and did fight them with from 150 to 160 militia men, not one of whom except himself had ever been in an engagement; the action lasted a half an hour or upwards. On the American side there were three privates wounded, not supposed dangerously, and one taken prisoner. On the British one Master’s Mate, one Midshipman, 3 privates killed, and 5 wounded left on the field of battle, two of them died of their wounds yesterday, one deserted – Sir Peter received two wounds, the last of which was in the head, and killed him instantaneously; he fought in front of the marines (such bravery merited a better cause.) One of the prisoners, the captain of the foretop, who received only a flesh wound in the thigh, says he fought by the side of Sir Peter when he was killed. On their retreat they called at a house some distance from the field of battle, and got a blanket and sheet, it is supposed to wrap Sir Peter in.
Reed attributed Parkers fatal wound to "a buck-shot." In 1902, Justice Robert Calder, whose father reportedly fought in the battle, maintained that the fatal shot was fired by Pvt.Henry Urie, a militiaman from Rock Hall, who was "strategically located...on the over-hanging limb on a huge willow tree...his blunder-buss loaded to the muzzle with all the hardware,bolts,nuts,nails,etc.,in his barnyard."
A shoe was found the morning after the battle with the following written on the lining, viz, No. 20169 Parker, Capt. Sir Peter, Bt.
Yesterday 1st Lieut. Creose [sic; actually Crease] of the Menelaus sent a flag on shore by Capt. Evans, last master of an American trading schr. from N. York, who was paroled on honor for eight hours with a written communication to the Colonel proposing an exchange of prisoners, that is the private they took prisoner, Capt. Evans and others for an equal number of the Menelaus’s men ….
Col. Reed sent three officers to the bay shore to confer with British officers concerning said exchange; from the above we doubt not Sir Peter is killed.
We are informed by the prisoners that a great many of the wounded were carried off the field of battle by the enemy, and we presume some of the dead with Sir Peter.
After the retreat of the enemy, the militia found muskets, cutlasses, boarding pikes, one grenade and one rocket and some poles, &c. supposed to have been brought to be used in discharging the grenade rocket.”
It was embarrassing for an upper-class officer like Parker to be killed in such a small fight. It is understandable that the British report of the battle differs.
Lt. Henry Crease, RN, reported to Adm. Cochrane: “An intelligent black man gave us information of two hundred militia being encamped behind a woods, distant a half mile from the beach… One hundred and four (infantry) with twenty pikes were landed at eleven o’clock at night.”
Lt. Crease and Lt. Pearce led the two divisions. “After a march of between four or five miles in the country, we found the enemy posted on a plain surrounded by woods.”
Crease said the attack put the militia into full retreat; that Lt. Pearce “routed the enemy” and that his men “gained and passed the camp… Finding it impossible to close on the enemy from the rapidity of their retreat, having pressed them upwards of a mile, I deemed it prudent to retire, taking with us from the field twenty-five of our wounded … From three prisoners (cavalry) taken by us we learnt their force amounted to five hundred militia, a troop of horse and five pieces of artillery, and … I am led to believe their numbers much greater. Repelling a force of such magnitude with so small a body as we opposed to them will, I trust, speak for itself, and although our loss has been severe I hope the lustre acquired to our arms will compensate for it.”
American militia units had won a victory with only 3 wounded. The British lost at least 25 killed, wounded and missing.
References and further reading
- George, Christopher T., Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay, Shippensburg, Pa., White Mane, 2001, ISBN 1-57249-276-7
- Marine, William M. (1913). The British invasion of Maryland, 1812-1815. Baltimore: Society of the War of 1812 in Maryland, pp. 117-129
- 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
- Battle Of Caulk's Field - Delmarva Heritage Series