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Battle of North Point
Part of the War of 1812
300px
Battle of North Point by Don Troiani
DateSeptember 12, 1814
LocationNorth Point, Maryland
Coordinates: 39°11′53.54″N 76°26′29.39″W / 39.1982056°N 76.4414972°W / 39.1982056; -76.4414972
Result British Tactical Victory[1][2]
American Strategic Victory[2]
Belligerents
 United States United Kingdom United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Samuel Smith
John Stricker
Robert Ross
Arthur Brooke
Strength
3,200 [3] 4,000 [3]
Casualties and losses
24 Killed
139 Wounded
50 Captured [3]
42-46 Killed
279-295 Wounded [3][4][5]

The Battle of North Point was fought on September 12, 1814, between General John Stricker's Maryland Militia and a British force led by Major General Robert Ross. Although tactically a British victory, the battle delayed the British advance against Baltimore, buying valuable time for the defense of the city. The engagement was a part of the larger Battle of Baltimore, a strategic American victory in the War of 1812.

Background[edit | edit source]

British movements[edit | edit source]

Major General Robert Ross had been dispatched to Chesapeake Bay with a brigade of veterans from the Duke of Wellington's army early in 1814, reinforced with a battalion of Royal Marines. He had defeated a hastily assembled force of Maryland and District of Columbia militia at the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814, and burned Washington. Having disrupted the American government, he withdrew to the waiting ships of the Royal Navy at the mouth of the Patuxent River before heading further up the Chesapeake Bay to the strategically more important port city of Baltimore.

Ross's army of 3,700 troops and 1,000 marines[6] 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.[7]

American defenses[edit | edit source]

The Battle of North Point, Lithograph of an original painting by militiaman and amateur painter Thomas Ruckle. Ruckle served with the Washington Blues, a unit of the Maryland Militia, at the Battle of North Point

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 also from Maryland, a battalion of three volunteer rifle companies and a battery of six 4-pounder field guns.[8] 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.[7]

Stricker received intelligence that the British were camped at a farm just 3 miles (4.8 km) from his headquarters.[7] 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.[9]

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.[10]

Battle[edit | edit source]

Opening skirmish[edit | edit source]

At about midday on the 12th, Stricker heard that the British had halted while the soldiers had a meal, while some sailors attached to Ross's force plundered some 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.[9]

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.[9] The British attempted to drive out the concealed American riflemen. Rear Admiral George Cockburn (the second in command of the Royal Navy' American Station, who usually accompanied Ross) was cautious about advancing without more support and Ross agreed that he would leave and get the main army.[9] However, Ross never got his chance, as an American sniper, or snipers shot him in the chest.[9] Ross turned his command over to Colonel Arthur Brooke and died soon after.[9]

Main battle[edit | edit source]

Brooke reorganized the British troops and prepared to assault the American positions at 3:00 pm.[9] He decided to use his three cannon to cover an attempt by the 4th Regiment to get around the American flank, while two more regiments and the naval brigade would assault the American center.[9] The British frontal assault took heavy casualties as the American riflemen fired right into the British assault, and the Americans loaded their cannon with pieces of broken locks, nails and horseshoes, spraying scrap metal on the advancing British.[9] However, the British 4th Regiment managed to outflank the American positions and send many of the American regiments fleeing. Stricker was able to turn the flight into an organized retreat, with his men firing volleys as they continued to fall back.[9]

Not all the militia regiments performed with equal distinction. The 51st Regiment and some of the 39th broke and ran under fire. However, the 5th and 27th held their ground and were able to retreat in good order having inflicted significant casualties on the advancing enemy.[11] Only one American gun was lost.[citation needed]

Corporal John McHenry of the 5th Regiment wrote an account 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.[11]

With some of his units lost among woods and swampy creeks, and others in confusion, Brooke did not follow up the retreating Americans. He had advanced to within a mile of the main American position but he had suffered heavier casualties than the Americans, and it was getting dark, so he chose to wait until Fort McHenry was expected to be neutralized,[12] while Stricker withdrew to Baltimore's main defences.[citation needed]

Casualties[edit | edit source]

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15][16][17] The American loss was 24 killed, 139 wounded and 50 taken prisoner.[3]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Political cartoon JOHN BULL and the BALTIMOREANS (1814) by William Charles, praising the stiff resistance in Baltimore, and satirizing the British retreat

The battle had been costly for the British. Apart from the other casualties, losing General Ross was a critical blow to the British. He was a respected leader of British forces in the Peninsular War and the War of 1812. Ross's death proved a blow to British morale as well. The combined effect of the blow suffered at North Point and the failure of the Royal Navy to capture or get past Fort McHenry at the entrance to Baltimore harbor, despite a 25-hour bombardment, proved to be the turning point of the Battle of Baltimore. During the bombardment on Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key was detained on a British ship at the entrance to Baltimore and penned the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner".[citation needed]

The day after the battle, Brooke advanced cautiously towards Baltimore. There was no more opposition from Stricker, but when the British came into view of the main defenses of Baltimore, Brooke estimated them to be manned by up to 22,000 militia, with 100 cannon. He prepared to make a night assault against the defenses at Loudenslager Hill, but asked Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane to send boats and bomb ketches to silence an American battery, "Roger's Bastion", on the flank of his proposed attack. Despite a stiff fight between the boats, commanded by Captain Charles John Napier and the American batteries, the Bastion was unharmed and Brooke called off the attack and withdrew before dawn.[18] The British re-embarked at North Point.[citation needed]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

The battle is commemorated through the Maryland state holiday of Defenders Day. The lineage of the 5th Maryland is perpetuated by the 175th Infantry Regiment (MD ARNG), one of only nineteen Army National Guard units with campaign credit for the War of 1812.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. James, p. 321
  2. 2.0 2.1 Battle of North Point - North Point War of 1812 - Battle of North Point Baltimore, in which author Kennedy Hickman says, "While a tactical loss, the Battle of North Point proved to be a strategic victory for the Americans."
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 1814 British Dead
  4. 4.0 4.1 James, p. 513, reproducing in its entirety 'Return of the killed and wounded, in action with the enemy, near Baltimore, on the 12th of Sept., 1814, Public Record Office, WO 1'
  5. James, p. 521
  6. Crawford (2002) pg 273 refers to the number of Marines from each specific ship detachment
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Brooks and Hohwald, p. 199
  8. Elting, p. 230
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 9.9 Brooks and Hohwald, p. 200
  10. Elting, p. 232
  11. 11.0 11.1 George, p.143
  12. Brooks, Hohwald p. 201
  13. James, p521, reproducing in its entirety 'a return of killed and wounded belonging to the navy, disembarked with the army under Major General Ross, Sept. 12, 1814, Public Record Office, ADM 1/507'
  14. "No. 16947". 17 October 1814. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/16947/page/ 
  15. Mullaly, Franklin R. (March 1959). "The Battle of Baltimore". pp. 90. http://mdhs.mdsa.net/mhm/index.cfm?span=1950-1959. 
  16. Mullaly's sources are: '1. Return of the killed and wounded, in action with the enemy, near Baltimore, on the 12th of Sept., 1814, Public Record Office, WO 1; also, 2. a return of killed and wounded belonging to the navy, disembarked with the army under Major General Ross, Sept. 12, 1814, Public Record Office, ADM 1/507'
  17. The Pbenyon website quotes from James publication of 1827 'the total loss of the British on shore amount to 46 killed, and 300 wounded' which appears to be the totals from Debbeig and Cochrane's casualty returns, thereby double-counting the Royal Marine casualties.
  18. Elting, pp. 238-242

References and further reading[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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