ATTACK ON BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, (12–15 September 1814)

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The caption reads “A VIEW of the BOMBARDMENT of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, by the British fleet taken from the Observatory under the Command of Admirals Cochrane & Cockburn on the morning of the 13th of Sept 1814 which lasted 24 hours & thrown from 1500 to 1800 shells in the Night attempted to land by forcing a passage up the ferry branch but were repulsed with great loss.”

Although an attack on Baltimore had been under discussion
since the beginning of Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane’s Chesapeake Bay
campaign (April–September 1814), Cochrane waited for nearly two weeks after the
burning of Washington (24–25 August) before committing to the expedition.

The British were unaware that their reception at Baltimore
would differ greatly from what they had seen at their capture and occupation of
Hampton, Virginia (25–26 June 1813); at Washington; or at Alexandria, Virginia,
during Captain James Gordon’s raid on the Potomac River (17 August–6 September
1814). From the spring of 1813, Major General Samuel Smith of the Maryland
Militia had been in command of preparations with the full support of the city,
state, and federal governments.

The city lay at the base of the harbor, which was on the
Northwest Branch of the Patapsco. The entrance to this narrow inlet was blocked
by a boom, sunken hulks, and up to 11 barges (two guns each) of Captain Joshua
Barney’s flotilla with about 350 USN personnel. On the west point of the
entrance stood Fort McHenry, which held 36 French 42-pdr long guns (lg) and a
garrison of nearly 1,000 men (Corps of Artillery; Twelfth, Thirty-sixth, and
Thirty-eighth U.S. Regiments of Infantry; Maryland Militia; and some Sea
Fencibles) under Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead, while to the east was the
Lazaretto Battery with three guns manned by men from Barney’s flotilla. To
prevent a landing west of Fort McHenry via the Ferry Branch (the south branch
of the river), there was Fort Babcock (six 18-pdr lg), Fort Covington (up to 10
heavy guns), and Fort Lookout (seven guns) and one more small battery. The
first three were held by seamen from Barney’s flotilla and the USS Guerriere,
and some Virginia Militia held the fourth. Just before the arrival of the
British, the command of this part of the city, except for the naval parties,
was given to Brigadier General William Winder, who was greatly dissatisfied
with having to serve under Smith; Commodore John Rodgers commanded all naval

In the days immediately before the British arrived, a
massive military and civilian force (including a proportion of slave labor) had
fortified Hempstead Hill on the city’s east side. This consisted of nearly a
mile and a half of trenches on the ridge joining eight batteries, which held 62
guns. These were manned by seamen and U.S. Marines from the Guerriere and a
regiment of Maryland Militia artillery. Infantry support came from elements of
two brigades of Maryland Militia, a battalion of Pennsylvania Militia, and some
U.S. Marines. Tentative plans had even been made to fortify buildings in the
city if necessary.

General Smith used Baltimore’s “City Brigade,” the Third
Maryland Brigade (about 3,200 men in five regiments of infantry and smaller
units of cavalry, rifles, and artillery), as his advance. On 11 September,
Brigadier General John Stricker, its commander, took up a position about four
miles east of Hempstead Hill at a narrow point on Patapsco Neck. He placed his
infantry here and sent part of his cavalry and rifles forward to watch the

After arriving at the Patapsco River on 10 September with a
fleet of about 50 warships, the British began landing about 4:00 A.M. on 12
September at North Point, near the tip of Patapsco Neck. Led by Major General
Robert Ross, with Rear Admiral George Cockburn in attendance, the 1/85th
Regiment of Foot and the light companies of the 1/4th, 1/21st, and 1/44th
Regiments of Foot followed in time by the rest of these latter units and detachments
of the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the Royal Sappers and Miners; they
totaled about 2,500 men. About 1,350 men also landed from the 2nd and 3rd
Battalions of Royal Marines, the Royal Marine Artillery (and presumably men of
the Rocket Corps and the Rocket Troop) and RN officers and seamen. To provide a
diversion to the land force, Cochrane sent some of the smaller warships up the
river toward Baltimore.

While the landing was still under way, Ross advanced
westward with the light infantry around 8:00 A.M., covering about four miles
before halting; the heat and humidity were oppressive and took its toll on the
troops. About 10:00, the column advanced, and shortly thereafter the opposing
light infantry began skirmishing. About 2:00 P.M., with a guard of about 50
men, Ross and Cockburn rode up to inspect the action, and Ross was hit by a
rifle bullet and soon died. Command now devolved on Colonel Arthur Brooke (44th
Foot), who hurried to the scene and pushed the column forward where it engaged
more infantry and artillery sent forward by Stricker.

Stricker succeeded in enticing the British to his position.
With one of his units in reserve, he formed a line of his entire force behind a
fence just inside Godley Wood, spanning the width of Patapsco Neck. Before them
lay an old field about 500 yards wide, and here Brooke arrived and deployed his
skirmishers and main line under American artillery fire, which he returned with
guns and rockets. Brooke sent the 4th Foot to flank Stricker’s left, for which
Stricker made adjustments. With part of the remaining units in line and some
behind, waiting to deploy as they reached the field, Brooke ordered a slow
advance about 3:50.

Stricker’s left had difficulty deploying, and under their
first fire a portion of the units broke and ran. The rest of the line delivered
volleys and independent fire, but Brooke ordered a quickened advance, and as
the British rushed forward, Stricker’s line withered and broke. Brooke declared
that the action, which became known as the battle of North Point (or the battle
of Godley Wood among some authorities), lasted about 15 minutes. Some of the
British referred to it as a second “Bladensburg Races.” It had been a bloody
affair, however; the British reported 38 dead, 251 wounded, and 50 missing,
while Stricker claimed 24 dead, 139 wounded, and 50 captured.

Stricker was able to congregate his units and withdraw
toward Hampstead Hill, where Smith positioned him to the left, and outside, of
the fortifications; Smith also ordered Winder to this place with part of his
brigade of regulars and militia. Brooke camped on the battlefield, where his
men suffered without cover during a night of rain.

On 13 September, Brooke advanced and came within sight of
Hampstead Hill around 11:00 A.M. He was surprised at the strength of the
American position and soon heard rumors that 20,000 men stood ready to repel

Meanwhile, the famous naval bombardment of Fort McHenry had
begun that morning around 8:00. Sixteen of Cochrane’s shallower draft warships
were within five miles of the city by late on 12 September. By the next
morning, five bomb vessels and the rocket ship Erebus moved to within two miles
of Fort McHenry and opened fire. The Americans returned this, and Cochrane
pulled his vessels back just out of range and resumed a tremendous bombardment
with mortars, guns, and rockets that lasted until early the next morning. It is
said the British fired between 1,500 and 1,800 rounds of mortars alone and that
400 of them fell on Fort McHenry, although surprisingly few casualties were
reported. It was during this remarkably explosive display that Francis Scott
Key formed the idea for his famous “Star Spangled Banner.” Around 3:00 A.M. on
14 September, Cochrane ordered a 1,200-man boat assault on the shore west of McHenry,
but this never made shore because of the fire of the auxiliary forts.

While the bombardment was going on, Brooke was retreating.
Cochrane had sent Cockburn a note questioning the value of attacking Hampstead
Hill. Cockburn showed it to Brooke, who called a council of war from which
Cockburn excused himself, not wanting, presumably, to “encourage” Brooke into
action as it was suggested he had done with Ross during the march to
Washington. After exchanging prisoners and wounded with the Americans, the British
marched back to North Point and were all embarked by mid-afternoon on 15

The defense of Baltimore was unprecedented. It reestablished
American confidence and was used as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations.
The attack was a black eye for Cochrane and the military, although Brooke’s
decision to withdraw in the face of such formidable fortifications was probably
the right one.


The new year of 1814 dawned with a fresh possibility for an
end to the war. After refusing to allow Russia to mediate matters, the British
offered to begin direct negotiations late in 1813, and in January, Madison
nominated Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell to form a five-man commission with
Adams, Bayard, and Gallatin at Gothenburg, Sweden; they arrived there in April.

Little action was taken in Washington during the winter to
plan new campaigns. Recruitment continued in new and old regiments, and there
were some changes made in their organization. Armstrong ordered Wilkinson to
break up his camp at French Mills, sending part of it to Sackets Harbor under
now–Major General Jacob Brown of the U.S. Army and the rest to Plattsburgh.
From there, Wilkinson made a halfhearted attempt to invade LC in March, but
this came to grief in a battle at La-colle, LC, on 30 March. By that time,
Armstrong had already recalled the erratic general to face an inquiry into his
St. Lawrence River campaign; Major General George Izard was given command of
the Right Division of the northern army at Plattsburgh, while Brown commanded
the Left Division. Secretary Jones gave Chauncey permission to construct four
new ships at Sackets Harbor and allowed Macdonough to build a warship and
gunboats at Vergennes, Vermont. Jones also divided Chauncey’s command by putting
Captain Arthur Sinclair in charge of Perry’s former squadron at Erie.

The British were building two frigates and a 100-gun ship at
Kingston and debating plans for regaining control of the upper lakes. Drummond
and Yeo proposed an ambitious attack on Sackets, but Prevost vetoed this,
making it known that he was expecting an armistice to be called shortly.

Nothing of the kind was to happen because, on 6 April,
Napoleon abdicated his authority, bringing an end (temporarily) to the great
European struggle. The British government now resolved to send some of its best
regiments and officers to America to settle the matter with force; these
numbers were added to reinforcements already on their way, eventually raising
British military strength to nearly 50,000 on all fronts.

Meanwhile, Drummond and Yeo modified their plans and
launched, on 5–6 May, an amphibious attack on Oswego, Chauncey’s key
transshipment point for heavy materiel sent from New York City. At the cost of
heavy casualties, the assault netted some guns, ammunition, rigging, and
stores, and Yeo followed it up by blockading the Lake Ontario shore between
Oswego and Sackets. Chauncey’s building had started late and an early thaw left
his supply trains bogged down in mud across New York, so the assault and
blockade worsened his dilemma. However, on 30 May, a small number of naval,
military, and native personnel guarding a supply convoy of bateaux headed from
Oswego lured nearly 200 seamen and marines from Yeo’s squadron into an ambush,
and captured or killed them all. Yeo soon lifted his blockade and returned to
Kingston with his larger ships after deploying four of his small vessels to
supply Drummond’s army on the Niagara Peninsula.

The Americans had started a campaign on the peninsula almost
by accident. Madison’s cabinet did not set its campaign goals until the first
week of June, and by that time Armstrong had sent Brown conflicting orders
until the general ended up at Buffalo preparing for an invasion of UC. This
scheme was pared down when the cabinet committed Sinclair’s squadron and a
military contingent for an expedition on the upper lakes instead of to support
Brown. “To give immediate occupation to your troops,” Armstrong suggested to
Brown, instead, why not capture Fort Erie?

Chippewa, Upper Canada, 5 July 1814. The British commander watched the advancing American line contemptuously, for its men wore the rough gray coats issued those untrained levies he had easily whipped before. As the ranks advanced steadily through murderous grapeshot he realized his mistake: “Those are regulars, by God!” It was Winfield Scott’s brigade of infantry, drilled through the previous winter into a crack outfit. It drove the British from the battlefield; better still, after two years of seemingly endless failures, it renewed the American soldier’s faith in himself.

Brown’s army, numbering about 5,000 men in the early phase,
captured Fort Erie on 3 July and then beat the British army under Major General
Phineas Riall at Chippawa on 5 July; Brigadier General Winfield Scott’s brigade
played a key role in this unprecedented American victory. Brown then advanced
to the vicinity of Fort George, where, he had been led to believe, Chauncey would
arrive with siege weapons and support. Chauncey’s squadron did not sail until
late in the month, and Brown ended up withdrawing to Chippawa and then engaging
Drummond in the bloody battle of Lundy’s Lane on 25 July.

The Americans withdrew to Fort Erie, which they enlarged and
improved, and Drummond soon followed to lay a siege. This period saw the most
intense fighting of the war on the Niagara Peninsula with the failed assault on
the fort on 15 August followed by weeks of skirmishing and sniping and culminating
in the face-to-face combat in a rainstorm during Brown’s sortie on 17
September. Drummond was lifting his siege at this point and fell back to
Chippawa, where Izard soon arrived, having been sent with his division from
Plattsburgh by Armstrong. Apart from a skirmish at Cook’s Mills, Izard
accomplished no more than Brown could, and when he retreated to Buffalo after
blowing up Fort Erie on 5 November, the last shots had been fired in anger on
the shores of the Niagara.

Had Madison’s cabinet kept its first intentions, Sinclair
would have transported Brown’s army to the Grand River, where the army would
have gone overland to attack the British at Burlington Heights. But
Michilimackinac continued to distract Madison and his advisers even though their
victory at Moraviantown had broken the back of Tecumseh’s native resistance so
that only a few of the “Western Indians” remained with the British, while many
of their people had gone home and would sign a treaty with Harrison in July.

Probably more interested in securing the fur trade than
native alliances, the administration sent Sinclair with 750 regulars and
militia volunteers to recapture the fur fort and destroy an RN dockyard rumored
to be under development in Georgian Bay. After numerous delays, the force
entered Lake Huron on 14 July, burned the abandoned British posts at St. Joseph
Island and at St. Mary, destroyed one merchantman and captured another, and
arrived off Michilimackinac on 26 July. The attack was made on 4 August and
ended in failure. Sinclair sent some of his vessels back to Lake Erie with
casualties and proceeded into Georgian Bay, but there was no dockyard to be
found. He had to content himself with destroying another merchantman before
heading for home, after leaving two schooners to intercept the British supply
route to Michilimackinac. Soon after his return to Erie, Sinclair was dismayed
to hear that a small band of RN seamen, infantry, natives, and traders had
captured both his schooners, giving the British a stronger upper hand on Lake
Huron and beyond.

While Sinclair pursued his mission, the American army on the
Detroit River made no effort to establish an American presence throughout
southwestern UC other then deploying several raiding parties into the Thames
River valley. These resulted in minor actions with British militia and
regulars, such as the skirmish at McCrea’s Farm (15 December 1813) and the
violent clash at the Longwoods (4 March 1814). Brigadier General Duncan
McArthur began a raid near the end of October with 1,000 men in support of
Brown’s army on the Niagara Peninsula, but he got no further than the
rain-swollen Grand River, burned some barns and homes, and routed the local
militia at Malcolm’s Mills (6 November 1814) before returning to Detroit. The
British did not try to reclaim this territory, choosing instead to patrol the
area and keep a reserve at Burlington.

For the first time since the Fort Dearborn massacre in
August 1812, action occurred west of the lakes. At St. Louis, Governor William
Clark of Missouri Territory (Meriwether Lewis’s partner in exploration) feared
a British invasion down the Mississippi from their fur-trade post at Prairie du
Chien in modern-day Wisconsin. In a preemptive strike, Clark captured the
village on 2 June 1814 with a company each of militia and regulars. He left a
detachment behind to build Fort Shelby and returned to St. Louis. News of the
occupation reached Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDouall at Michilimackinac, and
he quickly sent a force of regulars, fur traders, and natives to retake the
place, which they accomplished after a brief siege (17–20 July). The next day,
a relief force from St. Louis was attacked by Fox, Kickapoo, and Sac warriors
at the Rock Island rapids 100 miles south of Prairie du Chien. This prompted
Clark to send a second relief force, but it came to grief at the same place on
5 September. The village and the renamed Fort McKay remained in British hands.

The eastern flank of the northern border saw its major
action in 1814. Having launched and fitted out his new warship by early May,
Commander Pring attempted to interrupt Macdonough’s shipbuilding at Vergennes,
Vermont, but was repelled in the skirmish at Otter Creek (14 May). The
Americans sailed two weeks later with a stronger squadron, forcing Pring to withdraw
to Isle-aux-Noix. There was skirmishing along the border through the spring and
summer, but General Izard did not use his division to invade Canada. Instead,
Armstrong sent him in August to join Brown, leaving Brigadier General Alexander
Macomb in charge of about 3,500 regulars (many of whom were ill) at

The regiments from Europe began arriving at Quebec early in
the summer, and with them came orders for Prevost to make an incursion into the
United States in coordination with other operations in Maine and Chesapeake
Bay. To this end, he formed an 8,100-man army in three infantry brigades, plus
dragoons, artillery, and natives. Prevost’s intention was to capture
Plattsburgh and, perhaps, advance farther south, but his scheme rested on the
RN squadron at Isle-aux-Noix defeating Macdonough. This was impractical since
the vessels were not fitted out fully, especially the newly launched frigate
Confiance, and were manned mainly with soldiers. Prevost arrived at Plattsburgh
on 6 September and impatiently called for the navy to join him. Under Captain
George Downie, the squadron sailed before it was properly prepared and suffered
an ignominious defeat at Macdonough’s hands on 11 September. Prevost had just
started his land attack (later than planned) when he heard of Downie’s defeat
and promptly called off the attack. The next day, the army returned to LC,
where Prevost was roundly criticized and eventually summoned home to face
charges brought against him by Commodore Yeo, who claimed he had goaded Downie
into action. The American victory was complete, and Macdonough and Macomb
became heroes.

Nearly 300 miles due east, the British had enjoyed much
greater success after a nearly bloodless campaign to occupy the easternmost
portion of Maine. Because the boundary between the territory and Canada had
long been disputed, the British government ordered Lieutenant General Sir John
Sherbrooke to seize the territory from the Penobscot River to New Brunswick as
part of its escalation of the war. With one regiment and several warships, the
British captured Eastport, Maine, on 11 July without a fight. In September,
Sherbrooke was at the head of four regiments in a large squadron that captured
Castine on the Penobscot River on 1 September and took Hampden and Bangor two
days later. Very little fighting occurred, and because of some judicious
administration, the subsequent occupation of the area (which lasted until April
1815) was conducted in an amicable way. Although swords rattled in Boston and
plans were discussed in Washington, no effort was made to regain the captured

The administration was too busy anyway with more immediate
problems at Washington. The plans discussed by Vice Admiral Sir Alexander
Cochrane and the British government before he left England were wide ranging,
and he had latitude to choose specific campaign goals. After taking command of
the North America Station at Bermuda in April 1814, Cochrane assessed the
situation and decided to center on the Chesapeake Bay region first. To that
end, he sent Rear Admiral Cockburn to establish a base at Tangier Island and
begin raids while he waited for regiments to arrive from Europe.

Cockburn resumed his aggressive activities, which included
stopping the advance of a gunboat flotilla under Captain Joshua Barney, USN,
and trapping it in the Patuxent River. When Cochrane finally arrived in August
with Major General Robert Ross and an army of 4,500, Cockburn recommended an
expedition up the Patuxent toward Washington. This led to the British victory
at Bladensburg (24 August) and the brief occupation and burning of Washington
over the next day. As a diversion, Captain James Gordon sailed a squadron up
the Potomac River to Alexandria, which surrendered without a fight. Despite the
effort of naval heroes John Rodgers, David Porter, and Oliver Perry to stop
Gordon with fireships and shore batteries, he soon rejoined Cochrane’s fleet.

These events humiliated the administration and threw it into
chaos. Armstrong was forced to resign, and James Monroe took his place as
secretary of war. After hesitating, Cochrane decided to attack Baltimore, but
Major General Samuel Smith of the Maryland Militia commanded there and had
greatly improved its defenses. Cochrane landed Ross early on 12 September to
attack the city’s flank, but the general was killed by a sniper a few hours
later. Smith’s advance force broke at the battle of North Point that afternoon,
but the extent of the fortifications and the determined resistance maintained
during the bombardment of the harbor and Fort McHenry on 13–14 September
convinced Cochrane to withdraw. The successful defense of Baltimore nearly made
up for the destruction of Washington.

Cochrane left a small force to blockade and raid the
Chesapeake and turned his attention toward the Gulf coast. In the spring, he
had sent naval and Royal Marine officers to form an alliance with the Creek
nation in preparation for an attack on New Orleans. The events of the Creek War
(1813–1814) and the competence of Brigadier General Andrew Jackson depleted the
strength of the Creek “Red Sticks,” and by September they could offer the
British little assistance. Not fully aware of this situation, Cochrane proceeded
with a plan that dedicated an army of 10,000 to the campaign.

Cochrane reached the staging point at Jamaica in November
and hurried on to the British base in western Florida, where he learned that
the Americans controlled Mobile, blocking the overland route to New Orleans. As
a result, he and Major General John Keane decided to approach the city by water
from the east, resulting in a slow and fatiguing transfer of men from ships to
shore. After a small USN flotilla made a brave but unsuccessful stand at the
battle of Lake Borgne (14 December), the British pushed on and gained their
beachhead at the Villeré plantation below New Orleans on 23 December.

Jackson had effectively coordinated the defense of New
Orleans and ordered an attack on the British the night they arrived. He failed
to push them off but set the pattern for what was to come. Even when Major
General Sir Edward Packenham arrived with most of the rest of the army, he was
not able to penetrate Jackson’s defenses, as he learned in actions on 28
December and 1 January 1815. His grand assault on 8 January quickly turned into
the sharpest British defeat of the war, with nearly 2,000 men killed, wounded,
and captured. Packenham and his second in command died of their wounds, and his
successor, Major General John Lambert, and Cochrane decided to pull out.
Jackson held his lines firm, expecting another attack. His brilliant
generalship made him the foremost hero of the age.

Lambert and Cochrane landed their troops on Dauphine Island
off Mobile to recuperate and then captured nearby Fort Bowyer on 12 February.
They might have been contemplating another attempt on New Orleans, but the
matter was soon nullified when news of peace arrived.

Cochrane had sent Cockburn to Cumberland Island on the border
of Georgia and Florida to begin a campaign that would potentially unite with
his own, but this did not get under way until January 1815, and it accomplished
little until halted in February.

Cochrane had extended the blockade to the entire American
coast, though the deployment of much of his force for the various campaigns
limited the blockade’s overall success. Still, merchants in both nations
complained loudly about lost capital (especially at the hands of privateers)
and gradually pushed their governments toward peace.

On the oceans, the opposing navies fought to a near draw in
1814 and the last ship-to-ship actions in 1815, with six victories for the RN
and seven for the USN. The British ended the cruise of the Essex at Valparaiso,
Chile, on 28 March 1814 and captured the USS President off New York on 15
January 1815. The smaller American cruisers, however, continued to show their
advantages over RN sloops sent to catch them, and the USS Constitution capped
its fighting record with the capture of two warships off Madeira on 20

After innumerable delays, peace negotiations had finally
started on 8 August 1814 at Ghent in Dutch Flanders. They dragged on for four
months as the opposing commissions presented proposals and counterproposals on
wide-ranging topics. News of the burning of Washington set the American cause
back, but reports of the successful defense of Baltimore and Prevost’s failure
at Plattsburgh gave them an advantage. The British representatives had to refer
every item to officials in London, while the American delegates argued among
themselves. In the end, the British government decided to get out of the war,
fearing that the uneasy peace in Europe following Napoleon’s abdication was
about to collapse. On 24 December, the delegates signed the Treaty of Ghent,
which essentially ordered a return to a status quo ante bellum.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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