Thursday, November 8, 2012

The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Bay

Poster NOVEMBER. 2012 in W2010

As noted, I will be giving a talk at lunchtime on Thursday, November 15 at the Talbot County Public Library in Easton.


At the beginning of the War, Baltimore was fast becoming the nation's third-largest city with a population of 50,000 by 1815.

The British foreign and military policy to “chastise the savages” was aimed primarily at the Chesapeake Bay region in 1814.

The Baltimore merchants outfitted over 100 privateering vessels that took about 1/3 of all British vessels lost during the War.

It is said that the success of the privateers unleashed British wrath on Maryland and brought British fleets to the Bay in both 1813 and 1814.

A contrary view holds that the British were hard pressed in Canada and chose Bay operations to divert US resources from the northern campaigns. It was probably both.

Rear Admiral George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross were the precursors of the 20th century “amphibious raiders.”

No other “battle” brought forward the folly of full reliance on militia defense forces during the War of 1812 as the encounter at Bladensburg, Maryland on August 24, 1814.
The success of the British raid on Washington in August 1814 was a surprise to both sides.

Ross hoped to replicate the Washington raid at Baltimore, but underestimated the resourcefulness of Baltimore commander Major General Samuel Smith and the militia he led, and led well.

Before his death near North Point, Ross was slated to command the New Orleans expedition later in 1814.

The American defense at Fort McHenry was very complex in execution. The defenders of the post, including Major George Armistead, were Baltimore heroes, but auxiliary posts and batteries played a much larger role than generally known.

Approximately 3,000-5,000 slaves were enticed by the British to run away from their masters in Maryland. Around 200 male able-bodied ended up enlisting in the British “Colonial Marines” and were trained on Tangier Island, Virginia, in the southern Chesapeake, where the British had a fort.

One side effect of the War, and its attendant blockade, was to stimulate industrial development in the United States and at Baltimore. The city grew to be both a commercial and an industrial power center.

Some claim that Baltimore, looking and acting more like Boston or New York commercially, drew the slave state of Maryland away from secession in 1861.

Adapted from the Journal of the War of 1812, Volume 13, No. 2, Summer 2010.

The Journal of the War of 1812, previously a printed subscription quarterly is now free and on line. Go to

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Light Horse Harry Lee and the War of 1812

Henry Lee

General Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee (1756–1818), as painted by William Edward West (1788-1857), circa 1838.


"Live by the Sword – Die by the Sword:

Light-horse Harry Lee in the America Revolution and the War of 1812"
By Christopher T. George

Old Manassas Courthouse, 9248 Lee Ave, Manassas, VA 20110, Thursday, April 12, 2012 (7:00 PM-9:00 PM) Phone: (703) 792-4754. Email

In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, author and historian Christopher George will give a glimpse into the strategies of Colonel Light-horse Harry Lee. The audience will learn about his use of terror tactics during the American Revolution and the Baltimore anti-Federalist riots in the Summer of 1812. Lee was grievously wounded while participating in civil disturbances in opposition to the War of 1812. Due to the violent nature of these events, this lecture may not be suitable for young audiences.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stolen Valor

Even though I knew something of the case before reading yesterday's editorial in the Washington Post and the issues involved, the subtitle to the editorial nonetheless shocks and disappoints me, viz.,

"The Supreme Court should rule that lying about military medals is free speech -- not a crime."

How could they say such a thing? I suppose it's okay for imposters to claim they were heroes in a battle, that they held such and such a rank. What is next? It's okay to claim you are the President of the United States or the Secretary of State? Such a move impugns the honor of anyone who served in America's wars, and those who were wounded or were killed. The Post editorial is well meant because it derives from a case of a disturbed veteran who called into a help line and was given away but nonetheless people who falsely claim military honors should not be rewarded for their deceitfulness, and nor should anyone be allowed to claim honor that does not belong to them.

Tonight. . . .
Baltimore National Heritage Area invites you to
Our History Happy Hour
Thursday, February 23rd 5:30-8:00 p.m.
Renaissance Baltimore Haborplace Hotel
Get a sneak peak of Anthem, The independent documentary film about the story of
The Star-Spangled Banner and the music of The War of 1812.

Featuring 1812 historian Dr. Ralph Eshelman and musicologist Dr. David Hildebrand,
this film will educate a broad audience on the important role Maryland plays in our national identity.

Please join us and meet the filmmakers,
see a preview and socialize over a cocktail with others interested
and involved in the heritage of the birthplace of our national anthem!

Make sure you are in the Know when the ships come in….both times!

$3 Special pricing on Killian’s and Domestics
$4 Snap Dragons
$5 Specialty War of 1812 cocktails
Munchies on board


Janet Caslow, CTA
War of 1812 Coordinator
Baltimore National Heritage Area
100 Light Street 12th Floor
Baltimore, MD 21202
cell 410-241-8693
....a National Celebration in Baltimore, *Star Spangled 200

The winner of the War of 1812 was Tchaikovsky!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Don't Miss the War of 1812 Course at Johns Hopkins this Spring

USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere

USS Constitution captures HMS Guerriere, August 19, 1812, one of the most significatnt American successes of the War of 1812, that helped give birth to the legend of "Old Ironsides" popularized by the 1830 poem of that name by Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the iconic American national symbols to come out of the war.

My long-time colleague historian Dr. Martin K. Gordon is offering in March and April what I would suggest is a recommended overview of the War of 1812 in the Odyssey adult continuing education program at the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus. Dr. Gordon is the master of ceremonies for our annual National War of 1812 series held usually in Baltimore the first Saturday of October (watch for news of this year's upcoming event, due to be held on Saturday, October 6). Many of the speakers in the course have spoken in our symposium series and I plan to attend as a student--the campus is just across the street from me where I live off University Parkway in Baltimore. Hope to see you there!
Here are the details of the course:

The War of 1812: A Bicentennial for Baltimore and the Nation

Martin K. Gordon, PhD, Program Coordinator

The War of 1812 marked the culmination of sixty years of fighting for the North American landmass east of the Mississippi River—the region now composed of Canada and of the eastern half of the United States. When the fighting started in 1754, the American colonials, the British, the French, and the Native Americans all fought for control. Fifty-eight years later in 1812, the Americans, now independent, fought the British, the Canadians, and the Native Americans for ownership in Canada and on the Ohio and Southwest frontiers. But now there was a new challenge.

The 23-year-old United States had maritime interests to protect in addition to its landward thrusts. This was the era when Baltimore earned its reputation as a “nest of pirates” for its profitable privateering. Meanwhile, conflict on the Great Lakes and on land on both sides of the border with Canada strengthened both American and Canadian national identities.

Along the East Coast, the war gave us “The Star Spangled Banner,” commemorating the heroic defense of Baltimore, after the British burning of Washington, as well as continued growth for Baltimore and its shipbuilding and trade businesses.

To the southwest, Native Americans forever lost their lands east of the Mississippi to Andrew Jackson’s forces. Jackson then went on to work with the real pirates of Barataria Bay, Louisiana to defeat the last British invasion at the Battle of New Orleans.

Through slide lectures and guest speakers, participants in this course learn of the victories, defeats, and historical legacy left all around them by this war, which played such a crucial role in confirming the independence and westward growth of our nation.

March 8. The Causes, Conduct, and Consequences of This War
With its causes rooted in the outcome of the American Revolution, the War of 1812 was fought along the land and maritime frontiers of the new nation. This comprehensive overview prepares participants for the sessions to come and for their own readings and touring after the course. Martin K. Gordon, PhD, Program Coordinator.

March 15. The Maritime War Along the East Coast
The Royal Navy had long practiced blockading the coast of France during the Napoleonic Wars. But in blockading the United States it didn’t have enough ships. While the United States Navy contested the blockade, winning its ship to ship fights with the British, Maryland merchants, especially from Havre de Grace and from Baltimore took advantage of every opportunity to damage British commerce and enrich themselves through privateering. William S. Dudley, PhD, Director Emeritus, United States Naval Historical Center and author, most recently of Maritime Maryland: A History.

March 29. Baltimore “a nest of pirates”
Baltimore started its participation in the war before it even started, with rioting so violent to give one example, the Revolutionary War hero and father of Robert E. Lee, Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, never recovered from the beating he received during those protests. Baltimore’s resistance to and contributions to the war effort including its successful defense in 1814 are the subject of this talk. Scott S. Sheads, author, popular lecturer, speaker on PBS’s 1812 documentary, most recently co-author of The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Reference Guide to Historic Sites in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

April 5. Fighting in the West
Future president William Henry Harrison made his reputation fighting Tecumseh and other Native Americans and their British allies for control not only of Ohio, but of the Old Northwest and even into Canada, winning the only major American victory during the several attempts to conquer that territory. Martin K. Gordon, PhD.

April 12. Fighting in the South: Andrew Jackson and the Creek Campaign
In 1814 during the Creek War, Jackson’s forces won a crushing victory at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River. The Creeks, allies of the British, were no longer a threat on the frontier, and Jackson, also victorious at Mobile Bay and Pensacola was promoted to major-general. Harold W. Youmans, Esq., author, lecturer, editor emeritus of the Journal of the War of 1812.

April 19. Fighting to the North: Canada and the Great Lakes Campaigns
The United States Army and Navy along with the states’ militia made several attempts to conquer Canada. The Navy gained control of the Great Lakes, but the land forces were unable to follow up with comparable victories. Although they did capture and burn York, the capitol of Upper Canada, but at the cost of the life of Brig. Gen. Zebulon Pike, the soldier and explorer of the west. Richard V. Barbuto, PhD, Deputy Director, Department of Military History, Command & General Staff College, U.S. Army; and author of Niagara 1814: America Invades Canada, among other works.

April 26. Jean Lafitte, Andrew Jackson, and the Battle of New Orleans
In deciding to help the Americans at New Orleans in late 1814/early 1815, Lafitte and his gang went from the status of “banditti” to “gentlemen.” This presentation offers a look into the world of the Baratarians and, especially, their contributions to the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans. What role did they really play? How has the legacy of Jean Lafitte been transformed over the years? Tom Kanon, PhD, archivist at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, has written numerous articles and essays on topics of the early American frontier period, particularly on the War of 1812 in the South.

Coordinator Martin K. Gordon, PhD, is a popular Odyssey series coordinator and speaker. Adjunct Professor of History, University of Maryland University College and adjunct member of the graduate faculties at the University of Oklahoma at Norman and at the American Military University.
Course no. 910.676.01 Homewood Campus
$180 (10.5 hours) 7 sessions
Thurs., Mar. 8–Apr. 26, 7:30–9 p.m. No class Mar. 22.

To download the Spring course catalogue as a pdf file, go to Odyssey Spring Course Catalogue.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Will the British Burn Havre de Grace?

The Burning of Havre de Grace, May 3, 1813, as illustrated by Philadelphia Scottish-born caricaturist William Charles.  Courtesy of the Brown University Library, Providence, Rhode Island.

I am getting ready to talk tonight in Bel Air, Maryland about the British burning of Havre de Grace.  See below.  I have been engaged over the past year researching the British May 3, 1813 attack on the town, which became an American poster child for British misbehavior and outrages after the British burned two thirds of the town of sixty houses and British troops even broke the windows an damaged pews at St. John's Episcopal Church.  Of course, our Canadian friends will argue that these "atrocities" are no worse than out of control American troops did in Canada.  And they would be right.  Nonetheless the British actions at Havre de Grace gave ample grist to the American propaganda machine as at least in the forum of public opinion the supporters of President James Madison could prove to Federalists or neutrals that the British were a disgrace to the human race.

St. John's Episcopal Church as illustrated in Benson J. Lossing's The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812 (New York: Harper's, 1868).

As part of the Havre de Grace marking of the Bicentennial of the war and the city's role in it, a model is being built in the new visitor's center. See a blog posting by my fellow historian, Mike Dixon at I saw the model for the first time last weekend. Unfortunately, as now planned, the model, being built under the direction of Mitch Mitchell, will not show the British attack or the British burning the town. The idea, after earlier an earlier decision to not show the British in the town, is to show the town on the day before the battle. I think this is a mistake. The diorama at Bladensburg showing the British coming across the Anacostia (then the Eastern Branch of the Potomac) comes to mind as an example of how splendid it would be to see those scarlet-clad Royal Marines and the lads in blue, Cockburn's tars, in the town.

After viewing the model, I was prompted to write the following email to HdG 1812 Project Director Heidi Glatfelter and others on the project.  I follow it with her reply:

Hello Heidi et al.

Thanks for the meeting yesterday. I appreciated the opportunity to view the model for the first time. I wanted to express a concern that I voiced when I was with you. I really think that the model will be disappointing if it does not show Havre de Grace at its most significant moment in American history.

Showing the town as it looked before the attack is rather dull and lifeless. I think you could do a lot better if you show the attack in progress and include the destruction of some of the buildings.

What you have now is interesting but it won't excite the public.

Heidi said that the problem is that you don't have full data on houses that were burned. That's true but you will never have complete data, so do the best with what you have. The model is always going to be in large part conjectural and won't show the town as it was exactly. You do know of some of the buildings that were burned. Show them in flames, and add the excitement to the diorama that is presently lacking.

Best regards

Christopher T. George
Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay


Hi Chris,

Thank you for your thoughts on showing the attack on the model. I understand your reasons for wanting to make the model more dynamic, but at this point in the process, I don't think we should derail the model builders. They had a great deal of discussion prior to beginning the model about what time period (pre/during/post attack) to represent, and for a number of reasons, they decided to go with the day before the attack.

I have been thinking about how we could show the attack on the model, and don't really think we could do it justice anyway. As you saw, the people are so small that it would be difficult to distinguish red coats from townspeople, and and I don't think the effect would be that startling. However, I do think we need to represent the attack well on the exhibit panels, as we discussed. Perhaps we can blow up a photo of the model of the town and have an artist draw in the attack, which would help represent it with  more impact. I'm open to other ideas - I know films and interactive displays were also discussed. They aren't covered in the grant, but perhaps a local corporation or donor would be interested in making a contribution. Our exhibit firm can also help us figure out how to represent the impact of the attack, which is the primary story, of course.


Heidi Glatfelter
Project Manager
Havre de Grace War of 1812 Committee
Home Office: 410-252-7519
Cell: 443-928-3383

Photographs of Model of Havre de Grace a-building. Courtesy of Mike Dixon.

Talk by Christopher T. George, Lecture on the Burning of Havre de Grace, Bel Air, Wed., Feb. 8, 2012

BRITISH REAR ADMIRAL GEORGE COCKBURN ATTACKS HAVRE DE GRACE – MAY 3, 1813 – NEW FINDINGS, Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 7:30 P.M. Historical Society of Harford County Headquarters, 143 North Main Street (at the corner of Main and Gordon Streets), Bel Air, Maryland. Sponsored by the Archeological Society of Northern Chesapeake (ASNC). No Charge.  Note: Archeological Society meeting starts at 6:30 P.M.

Also see a new entry on my other blog about the facts and myths of history.  Go to

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Francis Scott Key Docudrama Coming, and a Star-Spangled Banner Documentary

"The Flag Was Full of Stars" by Dale Gallon.  Courtesy of the Patriots of Fort McHenry.

Philip Marshall, producer with Maryland Public Television (MPT) is developing with American Photoplay a docudrama on Francis Scott Key due to air in September 2014.  There will be a one-hour drama along and a second hour with "talking heads" speaking about Key and the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."  Chris George is one of the consultants on the project.

MPT has formed a business relationship with American Photoplay to raise funds for the film project, which is expected to have a Hollywood-caliber cast and local talent including historical re-enactors.

FSK is to be made in the style of the seven-hour HBO series "John Adams" that screened in 2008.  The film is expected to be shot in Baltimore, Annapolis and in the MPT studios.

It promises to be a most exciting project, though as yet in its early stages.  There is a Facebook page for FSK.  Go to


Documentary on "The Star-Spangled Banner"

We need your help getting the word out on our Kickstarter campaign for a documentary film about the story behind our national anthem.

Local filmmakers Mark Hildebrand, Eric Lund, Jason Vaughan, Julien Jacques, Paul Adams, Aaron Solomon, and Eileen Wirz are working on an interesting documentary film, Anthem, to be released this summer. A preview video is on our Kickstarter page -

The video provides an overview of what the film is about; more videos and information are on the Anthem web site. Please help support this film about one of the most important aspects of our national identity. And please tell your friends!  Thanks

Ralph Eshelman


National Park Service Names War of 1812 Bicentennial Co-ordinator 

Christine Arato has been selected as the program coordinator for the National Park Service (NPS) bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812. Arato will lead a multi-disciplinary national team in planning for all aspects of the commemoration, which will be held from June 2012 through June 2015. The NPS will coordinate its efforts with those of Parks Canada and the U.S. Navy.

“The War of 1812 remains in the American memory with the writing of ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ the burning of the White House and the Battle of New Orleans,” said Director Jon Jarvis in announcing the selection. “But the effect of the war was felt throughout the young nation as we struggled to win a war and establish our national identity. The National Park Service looks forward to working with many partners as we commemorate this critical time in our nation’s history.”

Arato is currently the senior historian and National Historic Landmarks program manager for Southeast Region. She will start her new position in March, working at the Northeast Regional Office in Philadelphia. Top projects for the commemoration include a new brochure, website and commemorative events at parks throughout the system.

Arato graduated with honors from Harvard University with a bachelor of arts in European history and a master of theological studies. As a Student Conservation Association intern, Arato served at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and with the Olmsted Center of Landscape Preservation. After Peace Corps service in Morocco, Arato joined the NPS, contributing to planning efforts for New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park and the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

In 2001, Arato accepted her first permanent appointment at John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, where she was the supervisory park ranger. Arato has held acting assignments in the Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs and as the superintendent of Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, as well as a consultant to the World Bank. She is currently at work on a book about Rose Kennedy and the imagery of motherhood in the twentieth century commemorative landscape.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

British Use of "Tenders" in the Chesapeake Bay

"The capture of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Surveyor by forces of the Royal Navy, 1813," a watercolor by Irwin John Bevan. Courtesy of the Mariners' Museum.

I had a query passed on to me this morning from the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum about the British use of what they termed "tenders" in the Chesapeake Bay.  Because the Royal Navy was a massive entity at this period, with over 600 major vessels, a number of them of 74 guns or more, and the U.S. Navy was comparatively small, only 20-30 vessels, the largest being the 44-gun U.S.S. Constitution -- David versus Goliath -- what was a sizeable vessel for the Americans, i.e., a 36-gun frigate or a schooner, was small to the British. To the British, a frigate of of 32 or 36 guns was only a fifth-rate man of war, e.g., the British frigate HMS Macedonian, 38 guns (1810), captured by USS United States under Marylander Commodore Stephen Decatur on October 25, 1812.  A "tender" was usually what Americans knew size-wise as a schooner in terms of the British operations in the Chesapeake during the war.

The basic problem that the British had in operating in the Chesapeake Bay was that various parts of the Bay, specifically close to shore and in rivers, are relatively shallow.  That is why they used shallow draft vessels to transport attack forces from their heavier vessels, i.e., 74 gun ships of the line, frigates (usually 38 guns for the British), brigs, etc.  These shallow draft vessels were often captured American schooners or, when closest to shore, row barges which would be used for the actual attack on the American towns and installations.  At Havre de Grace, the Susquehanna Shoals toward the town, off Specutie Island, kept the British larger vessels some distance away from the town and the barges were used to row over the shoals for the attack of May 3, 1813.

Highflyer was one of the captured American schooners (tenders) that was used by the British at Havre de Grace and it was later recaptured by the town's favorite son Commodore John Rodgers in a neat bit of history that the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum might wish to discuss if it does not already have plans to do so.  Commodore Rodgers of course later played a key role on the Potomac, trying to attack Gordon's squadron with fire ships and then in the defense of Baltimore commanding "Rodgers Bastion" in present-day Patterson Park.

The Havre de Grace Maritime Museum also seems to have received some indication that the British attacked Havre de Grace because they had heard that light schooners were being constructed there.  However, not to my knowledge.  I replied, "I have no information whatsoever on whether light schooners were built at Havre de Grace.  There appears to be nothing in British records to indicate that Cockburn attacked Havre de Grace because he had heard such schooners were built there."

Indeed, Rear Admiral George Cockburn's despatch to Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren following the attack on the town reads in part as follows:

I have the Honor to inform you that whilst anchoring the Brigs and Tenders of Spesucie Island agreeable to my Intentions notified to you in my official Report of the 29th Ult. No. 10 I observed Guns fired and American Colours hoisted at a Battery laterly erected at Havre-de-Grace at the entrance of the Susquehanna River, this of course immediately gave to the Place an Importance which I had not before attached to it, and I therefore determined on attacking it after the completion of our Operations at the Island, consequently having sounded in the direction towards it and found that the Shallowness of the Water would only adnit of its being approached by Boats, I directed their assembling under Lieutentant Westphal (1st of the Marlborough), last night at 12 O'Clock alongside the Fantome, ...

Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin of the Eastern Shore 1812 Consortium website replied to the same queries as follows:

My understanding, at least from reading one ship's log is that the tenders were likely ones taken from prizes or anything local that was stopped in the Bay, and that happened frequently. The British had their own very good charts of the Bay, but still often were caught on mud or sand flats and then one or more of the other ships would be sent to help get them off the shoal or bar. There are letters from Cockburn to Warren addressing his efforts to chart the shoals of the Patapsco, and he had to anchor his ships well off Havre de Grace and send in launches because his ships could not get over the shoals.

My suggestion regarding charting the shoals and sand bars of the Bay and finding the earliest done, look at the charts in the National Archives for the Army Corps of Engineers, they do have all available old charts for the Bay.

I have not seen anything yet to indicate that it was boat building that drew Cockburn to Havre de Grace. If anything it was more about provisioning and water. 

From my friend and colleague Scott S. Sheads, War of 1812 historian and ranger at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine:


I would like to introduce you to my Maryland In the War of 1812 blog.  After 25 years of research I am beginning to clear away my heavy laden shelves that seem to have no end. The articles are extracted from a larger work in progress. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have in preparing them. There is more to follow..!


Scott S. Sheads

PS: If you have any subject you would like me to publish on my blog, please feel free to contact me.

Lower Shore looks at its role in War of 1812

Scott Sheads was the featured speaker at a luncheon held by the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council, on January 18, at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore's Henson Center.

"This special program is a kick-off for the commemoration of the War of 1812 on the Eastern Shore," said council member Bill Wilson. "Since the Chesapeake Bay was a primary battleground for the war, this program is a way for area residents to inform themselves of the history and how it affected us."

The 1812 commemoration has prompted area historians to discuss the involvement of Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico counties during the war. However, no single source of information about this exists.

"Historical footnotes can be found in a variety of sources, but what's needed is a collective source about the War of 1812 on the Shore," said Aaron Horner, research assistant at Salisbury University's Nabb Research Center. "It really is like pulling teeth to find enough information even to present to a high school class. We have nothing special in the way of diaries, letters or journals pertaining to the war in our area, but we know there was a lot of (War of 1812) activity here."

Actually, Mr. Horner, doesn't Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin's Eastern Shore 1812 Consortium website meet this need?  I suggest you cooperate with her if you are not already doing so!

Upcoming Talk by Christopher T. George:

BRITISH REAR ADMIRAL GEORGE COCKBURN ATTACKS HAVRE DE GRACE – MAY 3, 1813 – NEW FINDINGS, Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 6:30 P.M. Historical Society of Harford County Headquarters, 143 North Main Street (at the corner of Main and Gordon Streets), Bel Air, Maryland. Sponsored by the Archeological Society of Northern Chesapeake (ASNC). No Charge.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Warring Anniversaries

The long awaited Bicentennial of the War of 1812 happens to be occurring at the same time as the Sesquicentennial (150-year anniversary) of the Civil War -- and we all know how good a job Ken Burns did in making the Civil War popular -- hmmmm, a decade ago, I along with other members of the War of 1812 Consortium, Inc., tried to contact Mr. Burns to see if he might do a documentary series on the War of 1812 but were informed that he was booked up for years ahead with upcoming projects on baseball and jazz among other topics. 

Of course, the Centennial of the 1914 start of World War I in Europe is approaching, too, in August 2014, just when the 200-year anniversary of events here in Maryland and Washington, D.C., should be commemorated.  We might recall that a number of the memorials to the events of 1814 in this region were dedicated in 1914, including the gigantic bronze figure at Fort McHenry of Orpheus, the Greek god of poetry and music, erected to honor Francis Scott Key, the Georgetown lawyer, poet, and songwriter who wrote the lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the Patapsco during the Bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Memorial to Francis Scott Key at Fort McHenry.  Twentieth century postcard view. Collection of the Author.  In 1914, Congress appropriated funds for a monument at Fort McHenry to mark the centennial of Francis Scott Key's writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the defense of Baltimore. The design for Orpheus with the Awkward Foot, by sculptor Charles H. Niehaus, was selected from 34 designs submitted in a national competition.  See the Monument City blog for more on War of 1812 monuments at Fort McHenry,

Even in the final year of the celebration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, the year 2015, we will have another aniversary to contend with.  But at least it will be a period-specific one: the Bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo will occur on June 18, 2015.  Thank God for Napoleon, Blücher, and the Duke of Wellington!

We should not begrudge these other conflicts their place in the sun, for men gave their lives during them just as men gave their lives in the War of 1812.  The Winter 2011 issue of The Civil War Monitor includes a graph of dead from America's wars based on calculations in article by J. David Hacker published in Civil War History, December 2011.  The War of 1812 shows a rate of 24 killed per 10,000 population compared to 116 killed in the Revolutionary War, 6 in the Mexican War, 208 in the Civil War, and 11 in the World War I and 30 in the World War II.  So although the War of 1812 might seem to have been a small conflict compared to the bloody First and Second World Wars, when we think of those who lost their lives in the War of 1812 compared to the population of the young United States, those losses had a real and tangible impact on the life of the new country.

Last evening, my wife Donna and I had the pleasure of attending the St. Andrew's Society of Baltimore's Robert Burns Nicht Dinner at the Scottish Rites Temple located a block away from us here in Baltimore on North Charles Street.  One of the chaplains of the Society, Rev. Ernest Smart, recited a poem by Burns which the poet, perhaps better known for his wit and his love poems such as "My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose", wrote about celebrations of national victories, reminding us that men died on both sides and that death is no reason to celebrate.  These words are worth remembering:

Thanksgiving For A National Victory

Ye hypocrites! are these your pranks?
To murder men and give God thanks!
Desist, for shame! -- proceed no further;
God won't accept your thanks for Murther!

Robert Burns (1793)

War Memorial on the Cheap!

There's an effort underway in Congress to nationalize the small District of Columbia memorial to the Great War on the National Mall, which is dedicated to D.C. residents who fought and died in World War I. The initiative is being resisted by the D.C. government, quite rightly, because it would go against what the memorial was meant to commemorate, those who fought and lost their lives who lived in the District.  I had a letter in the Washington Post of January 26 to the effect that if Congress really wants to commemorate all who fought in the war, they ought to fund a war memorial worthy of the event to rival those already on the Mall to those who fought and died in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. Read my letter here and the original front page piece in the Post with a nice photograph of the lovely small D.C. Great War Memorial here. Also see the Wiki page on the memorial.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Query on War of 1812 Buttons

On a War of 1812 mailing list to which I subscribe, an enquiry from Richard Fishel read as follows:

"I am an archaeologist conducting research on an American War of 1812 fort/cantonment in western Illinois, and have a button type I cannot identify. . . . The buttons are pewter, dome-shaped, and 11 mm in diameter. We so far have recovered 11 of them, so they are fairly common. I think they may be gaiter buttons, but I am not sure." 

gaiter.  Noun. a garment covering the leg (usually extending from the knee to the ankle)
From The Free Dictionary.

gaiter - a cloth covering (a legging) that covers the instep and ankles
The style of buttons was new to me, though I don't pretend to be an expert on uniforms but rather a War of 1812 historian.  Most buttons I have seen from the war have some sort of design on them, often an eagle or a cannon (for an artilleryman) for the Americans or a crown for British regiments.  To have no design was unusual to me.  However a seller of military buttons from the Civil War and the War of 1812 had a listing described as described as: "Pewter Gator Button. Half round. Cast; from 1812 site along Georgia/North Florida Border."  I have to admit that given the "Georgia/North Florida Border" location where those buttons were found I was put in mind of alligators seeing the word "gator"! 

Such small buttons are though similar to the small buttons seen on the pantaloons of the militiaman (indicated by the red arrow) chasing the British in the following William Charles cartoon of Baltimoreans "encouraging" the British in their withdrawal back to their ships in September 1814 at the tail end of the Battle of Baltimore--


Archaeologist and reenactor Tim Abel of northern New York wrote the following to Mr. Fishel:

"I have seen these on some of my sites as well.  I don’t believe they are coat buttons, but maybe gaitor buttons.  Being a reenactor, I can vouch for these things being lost constantly.  The infantry would have worn full gaitors, while I believe the militia and artillery wore half gaitors.  Of course they could also be pantaloon buttons as well.  It's hard to say."

Incidentally, Tim has an an upcoming War of 1812 archaeology field school that he is going to be conducting through Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh.  He is also putting together a session on War of 1812 archaeology for the 2012 Eastern States Archeological Federation meetings this October in Perrysburg, Ohio.  See below.

A sutler's site that I have seen on the web shows both metal and bone gaitor buttons.  See

Perplexingly, two other War of 1812 authorities who contacted Mr. Fishel were unwilling to commit as to the buttons that he had found were gaitor buttons --

"I've recently heard back regarding the buttons from two people who are arguably among the top War of 1812 authorities in North America, René Chartrand and Charles Bradley. Both agree the buttons "could" be gaiter buttons, but neither person would say the buttons definitely go to gaiters. Mr. Bradley has found similar buttons at his excavations at War of 1812 sites in Canada, but none in a context where the button's function is obvious.

"So basically nobody is quite sure of the button's function, although most say they could be gaiter buttons."

Friday, January 20, 2012

The British Route from Washington to Baltimore in 1814

American and British Routes August to September 1814.  The broad yellow arrow shows American troop movements from Washington to the defense of Baltimore: General Ross's British Army returned to their troopships on the Patuxent for the trip up to the city on the Patapsco for a combined land-sea attack (turquoise and brown arrows).

I had a telephone query a few days ago from a reader of my book Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay.  He wondered why, after capturing Washington, D.C., the British did not march directly to Baltimore to attack the city but instead went back to their ships in the Patuxent.  And it's true that there was a good road from Washington to Baltimore, what we know today as old Route 1, through present-day Hyattsville, Laurel, and Elkridge.  The British would have had the advantage of attempting the city from the west or southwest where the Americans themselves knew the city to be most vulnerable -- virtually defenseless.  For most of the city's defenses were located in the harbor, at Fort McHenry and associated harbor batteries, and on the eastern side of the city, anchored in present-day Patterson Park or Rodger's Bastion, where the later nineteenth century Pagoda is today, in expectation of an anticipated landing at North Point and an attack on the city from the east, which is what the British attempted.

There are a number of answers to this question. 

First, the British land commander, Major General Robert Ross, was supposed to stay near the shipping and had not received clear instructions to attack Washington, D.C. in the first place, although he was persuaded to do it by Rear Admiral George Cockburn, who was accompanying Ross on land, and some of his own British Army officers, most notably his deputy quarter master general, Lieutenant George de Lacy Evans.  Ross and the army had to return to the ships to maintain their supply line and could not simply march on Baltimore after Washington -- although it is true that one History Channel documentary in which I appeared circa 2000 showed in an erroneous map that they did exactly that! 

Second, the attack on Baltimore had to be a combined land and sea coordinated attack.  In order for this to occur, British commander-in-chief Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Inglis Cochrane needed Ross's troops back on board their troopships and to receive back the bombardment squadron that had been sent up the Potomac as a diversionary movement under Captain James Alexander Gordon (lower purple route in the map above).  Gordon's squadron, which was also intended to aid Ross's army if need be, forced the capitulation of Alexandria.  Cochrane had to wait for Gordon's squadron to return before the invaders ascended the Chesapeake for the assault on Baltimore.  Gordon would rendezvous with the main fleet near Tangier Island, Virginia, in the southern Bay in the first week of September. Thus, serendipitously for the defenders at Baltimore, the British attack came via North Point exactly as Baltimore commander Major General Samuel Smith had anticipated.

R. E. Lee Russell Map of the Battle of Baltimore, September 12-14, 1814.

What would impact the British plans to take Baltimore was that they underestimated the American determination to stop their capture of the city, the idea impressed on Ross by Cockburn that the American militia "would not stand" -- of course he had vast experience dispersing small pockets of militia around the Bay for the last 18 months -- and British casualties received at Bladensburg which affected the performance of their army of 4,000 when they arrived at Baltimore.  The city was defended by nearly 20,000 troops, and by entrenchments bristling with cannons.  The British had limited artillery and no cavalry to scout what was happening up ahead.  They had lost important officers of the 85th Regiment that had led the advance in operations leading to Bladensburg, notably the commanding officer of the 85th, Colonel William Thornton, who would though recover to lead his regiment at New Orleans.  The loss of Thornton and other officers and other British logistical problems would set up the loss of Ross in a skirmish leading to the Battle of North Point and lead to their inglorious withdrawal from Baltimore when the Royal Navy proved unable to get past Fort McHenry.

Incidentally, despite the received wisdom, the damage the British received at Bladensburg was not just from Commodore Joshua Barney's battery. The American militia, although woefully led by Brigadier General William H. Winder, U.S. Army, did not merely "run" as the 1816 satirical poem, "The Bladensburg Races" would imply.  True, according to Mary Barney's book, Ross is reported to have said to Admiral Cockburn tn regard to Barney's battery, "They have given us the only fighting we have had." However, forcing their way over the bridge over the Anacostia River, the British suffered from the artillery under Colonel Decius Wadsworth, U.S. Army, and Captain Benjamin Burch and from militia musket and rifle fire.  Overall, the losses at Bladensburg along with the men lost in an accidental explosion at an American arsenal at Greenleaf Point and in the march to and from the ships would materially affect what happened to Ross and his troops at Baltimore.

Memorial cannons at the Patterson Park Pagoda, Baltimore (1890), point in the direction that the British Army would come in attempting to attack the city, September 12-14, 1814 -- from the East.  A Twentieth Century postcard view.  Collection of Christopher T. George.  See also

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mission Statement

"The Fall of Washington or Maddy in Full Flight" -- period cartoon published by S. W. Fores in Piccadilly, London, October 4, 1814, lampooning the events of August 24-25, 1814, when the British Army under Major General Robert Ross dispersed an American army of mostly militia at Bladensburg, marched into our nation's capital and burned the public buildings -- arguably the lowest point of American history before the Lincoln assassination and 9/11.

"The Country had been filled with anguish, astonishment and dismay, at the successful attack upon our Capital; we forgot for a moment that it was but a straggling Village, defended by an inadequate force - by militia hastily drawn together a few hours before, fatigued and worn down by extraordinary exertions, and we felt, as if a vital blow had been struck at our national existence. It was discovered that our foes had thrown aside the restraint of civilization and were resolved on the most cruel and barbarious warfare. This was unequivocally displayed in the wanton destruction of private property and in the mutilation of the most splendid monuments of the arts which this new world might boast. . . ." Report of the Special Committee of the 1816 Baltimore City Council for Commemoration of the Repulse of British Forces, September 13th and 14th, 1814

Mission statement

As we enter the Bicentennial period of the War of 1812, which will extend through this year of 2012 into 2015, I am beginning this blog to help discuss the War of 1812 which I have been involved in researching now for over twenty years, mainly in regard to the war in the Chesapeake but also as the founding editor of the Journal of the War of 1812 and co-ordinator of the National War of 1812 Symposia held each fall, usually in Baltimore, in which we have always tried to cover the full range of aspects of the War of 1812. 

On this blog, I will express my views about the war and answer questions from readers.  Feel free to comment.

There are a lot of exciting things happening.  The Journal of the War of 1812 , previously a quarterly print journal, is now become an on-line journal and will cover the Bicentennial with two full issues due out this year in pdf form.  A letter is going out to the subscribers to explain that.  Also I will be putting together an expanded 16th National War of 1812 Symposia in Baltimore this fall.  Look for news of that here and also news of other events taking place, including talks and conferences taking place in this country, Canada, Ireland, and Great Britain, and elsewhere.  This is an exciting time!