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Lighthouse at North Point

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The Battle of North Point was an engagement in the War of 1812, fought on September 12, 1814, between Brigadier General John Stricker's Third Brigade of the Maryland State Militia and a British landing force, composed of units from the King's Army (British Army), Royal Navy seamen and Royal Marines, and led by Major General Robert Ross and Rear Admiral George Cockburn. The events and result of the engagement, a part of the larger Battle of Baltimore, saw the U.S. forces retreating after having inflicted heavy casualties on the British.[6]

One of the casualties was Ross, killed during the course of the battle by American sharpshooters. His death significantly demoralized the troops under his command and left some units confused and lost among the woods, meadows and marshes of the Patapsco Neck penninsula. This prompted the British second-in-command, Colonel Arthur Brooke of the 44th Regiment of Foot, to have his troops remain on the battlefield for the evening and night, treating the wounded at the nearby Methodist meeting house (church), and evacuating some by barge south down Bear Creek to the offshore Fleet in the Patapsco River, thus delaying by a day his northwestward advance against Baltimore.

This delay gave the Americans more time to organize and strengthen the defense of the city, under the command of Major General Samuel Smith, along an extensive network of trenches, fortifications, and artillery with a central strong point of "Rodgers' Bastion", commanded by U.S. Navy Commodore John Rodgers. Gen. Stricker slowly retreated his organized militia back to the main defenses, cutting down trees across the roads to delay the British advance, and rejoined the existing regular army and navy, militia and civilian forces of approximately 15,000 men and 100 cannons. Along with the failure of the Royal Navy to neutralize Fort McHenry guarding Baltimore Harbor (Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River), the resulting vast numerical superiority over the invading British force of 4,000 men and 4 cannons led to the subsequent abandonment of the planned sea and land assault on Baltimore.

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Battle of North Point

British movements

Major General Robert Ross had been dispatched to Chesapeake Bay with a brigade of veterans from the Duke of Wellington's army from the Spanish Peninsular Wars early in 1814, reinforced with a battalion of Royal Marines and seamen from the Royal Navy under Rear Admiral George Cockburn. They had already defeated a hastily assembled force of Maryland, Baltimore and District of Columbia state militia at the Battle of Bladensburg, northeast of Washington, D.C. on August 24, 1814, and burned Washington, the new national capital but rough village. Having disrupted the American government, he withdrew to the waiting ships of the Royal Navy at Benedict, Maryland, withdrawing down the Patuxent River before later heading further up the Chesapeake Bay to the strategically more important port city of Baltimore, although the Americans managed to defeat a British landing at Caulk's Field on the Eastern Shore of the Bay and killing their commander, Captain Sir Peter Parker (1785–1814), before doing so.

Ross's small army of 3,700 troops and 1,000 marines[7] landed at North Point at the end of the peninsula between the Patapsco River and the Back River on the morning of September 12, 1814, and began moving toward the city of Baltimore.[8]

American defenses


Major General Samuel Smith of the Maryland militia anticipated the British move, and dispatched Brigadier General John Stricker's column to meet them. Stricker's force consisted of five regiments of Maryland militia, a small militia cavalry regiment from Maryland, a battalion of three volunteer rifle companies and a battery of six 4-pounder field guns.[10] Stricker deployed his brigade half way between Hampstead Hill, just outside Baltimore, where there were earthworks and artillery emplacements, and North Point. At that point, several tidal creeks narrowed the peninsula to only a mile wide, and it was considered an ideal spot for opposing the British before they reached the main American defensive positions.[8]

Stricker received intelligence that the British were camped at a farm just 3 miles (4.8 km) from his headquarters.[8] He deployed his men between Bear Creek and Bread and Cheese Creek, which offered cover from nearby woods, and had a long wooden fence near the main road. Stricker placed the 5th Maryland Regiment and the 27th Maryland Regiment and his six guns in the front defensive line, with two regiments (the 51st and 39th) in support, and one more (the 6th) in reserve. He placed his men in mutually supporting positions, relying on numerous swamps and the two streams to stop a British flank attack, all of which he hoped would help avoid another disaster such as Bladensburg.[11]

The riflemen initially occupied a position some miles ahead of Stricker's main position, to delay the British advance. However, their commander, Captain William Dyer, hastily withdrew on hearing a rumour that British troops were landing from the Back River behind him, threatening to cut off his retreat. Stricker posted them instead on his right flank.

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Opening skirmish

At about midday on the 12th, Stricker heard the British had halted while the soldiers had a meal, and some sailors attached to Ross's force plundered nearby farms. He decided it would be better to provoke a fight rather than wait for a possible British night attack. At 1:00 pm, he sent Major Richard Heath with 250 men and one cannon to draw the British to Stricker's main force.[11]

Heath advanced down the road and soon began to engage the British pickets. When Ross heard the fighting, he quickly left his meal and ran to the scene.[11] His men attempted to drive out the concealed American riflemen. Rear Admiral George Cockburn, second in command of the Royal Navy's American Station who usually accompanied Ross, was cautious about advancing without more support and Ross agreed that he would leave and bring back the main army.[11] However, Ross never got the chance, as an American rifleman shot him in the chest.[11] Mortally wounded, Ross turned command over to Colonel Arthur Brooke and died soon after.[11]

Main battle

Brooke reorganized the British troops and prepared to assault the American positions at 3:00 pm.[11] He decided to use his three cannon to cover an attempt by his 4th Regiment to get around the American flank, while two more regiments and the naval brigade would assault the American center.[11] The British frontal assault took heavy casualties as the American riflemen fired into the British ranks, and lacking canister the Americans loaded their cannon with broken locks, nails and horseshoes, firing scrap metal at the British advance.[11] Nevertheless, the British 4th Regiment managed to outflank the American positions and sent many of the American regiments fleeing. Stricker was able to conduct an organized retreat, with his men firing volleys as they continued to fall back. This proved effective, killing one of the British commanders and leaving some units lost among woods and swampy creeks, with others in confusion.[11]

Not all the militia regiments performed with equal distinction. The 51st Regiment and some men of the 39th broke and ran under fire. Robert Henry Goldsborough, US Senator and serving as a Major in the militia, reflected his feelings on the conduct of the militia units and the battle in general a week later, stating that:

The affair at Baltimore was...as little glorious to our arms as that at Bladensburg]]. Our militia were completely defeated routed.[13]

Goldsborough's account of the battle is distinctly more critical and pessimistic than those of Smith and Stricker, and arguably has a greater basis in reality. For example, Smith initially stated the British had near double the numbers they actually had, which is not the first example of exaggeration on the part of the American commanders involved with the affair at Baltimore.[14] However, the 5th and 27th held their ground and retreated in good order, having inflicted significant casualties on the enemy.[15] Only one American gun was lost.[citation needed]

Corporal John McHenry of the 5th Regiment wrote of the battle:

Our Regiment, the 5th, carried off the praise from the other regiments engaged, so did the company to which I have the honor to belong cover itself with glory. When compared to the [other] Regiments we were the last that left the ground... had our Regiment not retreated at the time it did we should have been cut off in two minutes.[15]

Brooke did not follow the retreating Americans. He had advanced to within a mile of the main American position, but he had suffered heavier casualties than the Americans. As it was getting dark, he chose to wait until Fort McHenry was expected to be neutralized,[16] while Stricker withdrew to Baltimore's main defences.[citation needed]

Casualties

The official British Army casualty report, signed by Major Henry Debbeig, gives 39 killed and 251 wounded. Of these, 28 killed and 217 wounded belonged to the British Army; 6 killed and 20 wounded belonged to the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Royal Marines; 4 killed and 11 wounded belonged to the contingents of Royal Marines detached from Cockburn's fleet; and 1 killed (Elias Taylor) and 3 wounded belonged to the Royal Marine Artillery.[4] As was normal, the Royal Navy submitted a separate casualty return for the engagement, signed by Rear-Admiral Cockburn, which gives 4 sailors killed and 28 wounded but contradicts the British Army casualty report by giving 3 killed (1 and 2 from HMS Madagascar and HMS Ramillies respectively) and 15 wounded for the Royal Marines detached from the ships of the Naval fleet.[17] A subsequent casualty return from Cochrane to the Admiralty, dated 22 September 1814, gives 6 sailors killed, 1 missing and 32 wounded, with Royal Marines casualties of 1 killed and 16 wounded.[18] The total British losses, as officially reported, were either 43 killed and 279 wounded or 42 killed and 283 wounded, depending on which of the two casualty returns was accurate. Historian Franklin R. Mullaly gives still another version of the British casualties, 46 killed and 295 wounded, despite using these same sources.[19][20][21] The American loss was 24 killed, 139 wounded and 50 taken prisoner.

Legacy: The battle has been commemorated on September 12 for over 200 years since, through the Maryland state, Baltimore City and County holiday of Defenders' Day along with observances of the following two days of bombardment at Fort McHenry. It was also immediately remembered beginning the following year with the laying of the cornerstone for the Battle Monument, the first in the nation to commemorate the common American soldiers whose names were to be inscribed on the column shaft of the Monument, designed by French émigré architect J. Maximilian M. Godefroy at the downtown intersection of North Calvert Street and between East Lexington and East Fayette Streets, at the former long-time central gathering place, Courthouse Square, now vacant, (site of the previous 1769 Baltimore City/County Courthouse, famously known after 1784 as the "Courthouse on Stilts", when stone/brick arches were constructed to preserve the colonial structure and raise the building up and allow Calvert Street to pass to the north underneath, later razed in 1805 and rebuilt to the west of the small square at the southwest corner of Calvert and Lexington Streets) until, which had just months before been proposed for the erection of the new Washington Monument. After viewing the proposed elaborately detailed design by architect Robert Mills and fearing if the shaft might topple over and hit any of the many expensive substantial townhouses then around the square, the memorial was moved further north of town to the area known as "Howard's Woods" on land donated by Colonel John Eager Howard of Revolutionary War fame. Another cornerstone-laying ceremony occurred the next year and it was completed in 1827. In 1839 an organization was created consisting of "The Old Defenders" of the Fort McHenry, North Point and Hampstead Hill soldiers as one of the nation's first veterans organizations. It later evolved into the nationwide "General Society of the War of 1812".

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The site of the British landings are part of what became Fort Howard, a coastal artillery site in the early 1900's.  The remains of these giant guns remain and have become part of Fort Howar Park.  Today you can stroll through the empty shells of concrete and metal and imagine what if must have been like for soldiers stationed at the fort.  There were four batteries of guns and 2 batteries of 12 inch mortars, housed in giant pits~.  The guns had weights attached and when fired self retracted into a lower protected position for loading.  Everywhere i turned, more ruins and concrete.  I found a place to enter the underground tunnels and was lucky i had my flashlight.  These passageways are black as night and very narrow, and they zig zag back and forth.  I am not sure if this was to minimize any blast from munitions that were stored nearby, or to make it hard for an enemy to get thru with a rifle and gear on.  I went deep into the black and explored the massive bunker.  A K-2 meter told me what i already knew, there were other people with me and they were not alive.  My audio recorder soon seconded this and i had the word "help"  and also "respect" as I saluted and asked for the highest ranking officer to come speak to me.  That turns out to be Major General Robert Ross, who was the commander of the British Forces on the east coast, and the hero of Bladensburg.  Being the only one in there to my knowledge, suddenly there was a loud noise from behind me from a corridor that led outside, but was gated and locked so no one could go in or out that way.  It was so loud that I was startled and was sure that someone of authority was coming toward me, but no one appeared.  Instantly the area got colder and i could see my breath.  I not knowing it was General Ross, asked whoever it was to gather all the men up so they could cross over into heaven.  A short time later i had finished helping these gentlemen cross, including a few american casualties and one who became my friend, name Jacob!  He was the first one to talk to me on the evp recorder.  Later he kept saying "THANK YOU FRIEND" and i could hear others also saying just thank you in the background.  In the end i was able to help 39 souls leave there, plus a few i met later in a separate area.  It was a nice way to spend my birthday. 

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Hiking adventures into history!~