12th September, 2014: I will do my best to describe what happened at what has been called the Battle of Baltimore or the Battle of North Point. When the British fleet arrived in the Patapsco River on 11th September 1814, the transports anchored off North Point while the smaller ships, frigates and bomb ships, sailed on into harbor where they anchored within range of Fort McHenry. Their time would not come for a couple of days, but the transports came into play the next day, 12th September. At 0300 that day, General Ross‘s army, accompanied by Admiral Cockburn, landed and began the march up the peninsula toward Baltimore. The plan was to march and fight to the north of the city and swoop down on it while the Navy, having reduced Fort McHenry, bombed it from the water. The townspeople would quickly succumb and the victorious Brits would reprise their action in Washington City. As people say in today’s culture, “not so much!”
What Ross and Cockburn did not know was that Samuel Smith, Chairman of the Committee of Safety, as well as a US Senator and major general of the militia, along with Commodore John Rodgers, Captain David Porter, and Commodore Barney’s sailors and Marines, were ready and waiting. Smith had stationed General John Stricker along North Point with 3200 militiamen in defensive positions and, farther up the neck, closer to Baltimore city itself, Army Captain Montgomery and six 4-pounder artillery pieces – a kind of last line of defense. Additional defenses had been established around the choke points of the harbor, notably alongside the star fort guarding the entrance. More about them tomorrow.
As the British army marched (as only the British army can!) up North Point, their advance parties encountered some resistance, designed to fight and retreat, drawing the invaders farther into the neck where they would find the main body of the American militia. During their advance, General Ross was shot and killed by an American sniper – two in fact, farm boys named Wells and McComas – and Colonel Arthur Brooke took over command. They pressed on, met the militia and after deciding on a strategy, he rallied his troops in a savage frontal assault. A pitched battle, hand to hand, bayonets, and pistols ensued, but the Brits broke through in about 20 minutes. 163 Americans were killed and about 50 taken prisoner. On up North Point they marched, not halting until they reached Montgomery’s artillery. Night was falling and Cockburn and Brooke knew a naval bombardment would commence the next day, so they camped to wait for the navy to break through the defenses of Fort McHenry for their final assault on Baltimore.
We’ll talk about the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the next issue. And maybe by then, we’ll be able to show you some images!
“Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever!” H. Melville