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War of 1812 Battle of Bladensburg

THE BATTLE OF BLADENSBURG. Here, in the War of 1812, an army of untried militiamen made an unsuccessful attempt to save the city of Washington from capture by the British forces under General Ross. In August 1814 an enemy fleet commanded by Admiral Gockburn, with several thousand veterans of the Napoleonic campaigns aboard, arrived in Chesapeake Bay. Commander Barney with a small American flotilla had been virtually bottled up in the Patuxent River since late in 1813 by another squadron. The British plan was to dispose of Barney, land troops, and march overland to Washington, which spies had told them was poorly defended. Realiz- ing the hopelessness of his position, Barney burned his ships to pre- vent their capture by the enemy, first, however, removing the cannon which later was used with some effect against the foe. Barney marched his men, about 400 in number, to join the defense of the Capital, where, in response to a call from President Madison, militia from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia had been con- centrated for nearly a year. When news reached the military authorities at Washington that the British had landed and were on the march to take the Capital, this force, numbering about 7,500, was sent out under orders to halt the advancing enemy. The raw, un- trained men had been denied the necessary preparation and proper equipment for their task because of the bickerings and petty jeal- ousies. Interposed between the oncoming British and the country's Capital, under leaders of whom they knew little and whom they trusted less, the militia met Ross' column of experienced soldiers, numbering between five and six thousand officers and men, at this place on August 24, 1814. Inefficiency of organization, lack of co- ordination between units resulting in conflicting orders, and the con- sequent loss of morale among the rank and file had the inevitable result; in spite of the efforts of their commander, General Winder of Maryland, to rally them, the American ranks, after a brief and in- effective resistance, broke and fled. What has been called an ordered retreat was in reality a rout and Ross continued to the Capital unopposed. He entered the city, from which the Government had already fled, and burned various parts of the city in retaliation, it was said, for the earlier burning of York, Ontario, by American troops. The Nation's Capitol was partly destroyed, as were a number of other public structures.