The BATTLE OF BLADENSBURG took place during the
War of 1812
* 1 Background
* 2 Campaign
* 2.1 British moves * 2.2 American moves
* 3 Battle
* 3.1 American dispositions * 3.2 Action
* 4 Casualties * 5 Aftermath
* 6 Order of battle
* 6.1 British * 6.2 American
* 7 Battlefield preservation * 8 Notes * 9 References * 10 External links
For the first two years of the War of 1812, the British had been
preoccupied with the war against
By April 1814, Napoleon had been defeated and was exiled to the
Elba . Large numbers of British ships and troops were now
free to be used to prosecute the war with the
Albert Gallatin , President
Nevertheless, on 2 July, Armstrong designated the area around
Washington and Baltimore as the
Major-General Robert Ross , the British commander at Bladensburg
Although Major General Ross commanded the British troops in
Chesapeake Bay, the point of attack was to be decided by Vice Admiral
Cochrane dispatched two forces to make diversions. The frigate HMS
Menelaus and some small craft threatened a raid on Baltimore, while
two frigates and some bomb ketches and a rocket vessel ascended the
From Nottingham, Ross continued up the Patuxent to Upper Marlboro ,
from where he could threaten to advance on either Washington or
Baltimore, confusing the Americans. He might have taken the capital
almost unopposed had he advanced on 23 August, but instead he rested
his men and organised his force. On the night of 23–24 August, at
the urging of Rear Admiral Cockburn and some of the British Army
officers under his own command, Ross decided to risk an attack on
Washington. He had four infantry battalions, a battalion of Royal
Marines , a force of about 200 men of the
Corps of Colonial Marines ,
which was composed of locally recruited black refugees from slavery, a
rocket detachment from the
Ross had a choice of two routes by which he could advance: from the
south via Woodyard or from the east via Bladensburg . The former route
would involve finding a way across an unfordable part of the Eastern
Branch of the Potomac (now called the
In Washington, Brigadier General Winder could call in theory upon 15,000 militia , but he actually had only 120 dragoons and 300 other Regulars , plus 1,500 poorly trained and under-equipped militiamen at his immediate disposal. On 20 August, Winder ordered this force to advance south towards Long Old Fields and Woodyard (off modern Route 5 ) to confront the British forces at Upper Marlboro. After a brief clash with Ross's leading units on 22 August, Winder ordered a hasty retreat to the Long Old Fields. He feared that the British might make a surprise night attack, in which the British would hold the advantage in organisation and discipline while Winder's own advantage in artillery would count for little. Winder had been captured in just such a night attack at Stoney Creek the year before.
Although he rode with the forces directly challenging the British invaders, Winder realized that Bladensburg was the key to Washington's defence. Bladensburg commanded the roads to Baltimore and Annapolis , along which reinforcements were moving to join him. The town also lay on one of the only two routes available for the British to advance on Washington, in fact the preferred route because the Eastern Branch was easy to ford there. On 20 August, Winder had ordered Brigadier General Tobias Stansbury to move from Baltimore to Bladensburg, "take the best position in advance of Bladensburg ... and should he be attacked, to resist as long as possible".
On 22 August, Stansbury deployed his force on Lowndes Hill , where he hastily dug earthworks for artillery emplacements . The road from Annapolis crossed the hill, and the road from Upper Marlboro ran to its south and west. Furthermore, the roads to Washington, Georgetown, and Baltimore all intersected behind between it and Bladensburg. From this position, Stansbury dominated the approaches available to the British while controlling the lines of communication.
At 2:30 a.m. on 23 August, Stansbury received a message from Winder, informing him that he had withdrawn across the Eastern Branch and he intended to fire the lower bridge. Surprised, Stansbury was seized by an irrational fear that his right flank could be turned. Instead of strengthening his commanding position, he immediately decamped and marched his exhausted troops across Bladensburg bridge, which he did not burn, to a brickyard 1.5 miles (2.4 km) further on. He had thus thrown away almost every tactical advantage available to him.
Meanwhile, in Washington, every government department was hastily
packing its records and evacuating them to
Winder now had at least 1,000 regulars from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy,
and U.S. Marine Corps, plus about 7,000 less than dependable militia
and volunteers from the District of Columbia,
Stansbury's force consisted of the 1st (Ragan's), 2nd (Schutz's), and
5th (Sterrett\'s ) regiments of
Stansbury chose a defensible position, though hardly the best one
available, on the west side of the Eastern Branch of the Potomac
opposite the town of Bladensburg. The artillery was posted in an
earthwork hastily constructed by Colonel
Decius Wadsworth , the Army's
Commissary General of Ordnance, to the north of the bridge. The
earthwork had been designed for heavier weapons, and the 6-pounder
field guns had a restricted field of fire through its embrasures. They
could not use oblique fire to prevent the bridge from being seized.
Behind Stansbury's troops and to his right was a brigade of District
of Columbia militia under Brigadier General Walter Smith, which had
marched from Long Old Fields. Smith's brigade was strongly posted
behind a creek, but Smith had not conferred with Stansbury before
deploying his brigade, and there was a gap of a mile between them.
Smith's men would be unable to support Stansbury, and if Stansbury
were overcome, Smith's left flank would be open to attack. A battalion
under Lieutenant Colonel Kramer lined the creek. Joshua Barney's men,
with two 18-pounder guns and three 12-pounder guns drawn from the
Washington Navy Yard , were posted astride the Washington turnpike.
(Barney had originally been posted to guard the lower bridge over the
Eastern Branch and destroy it if necessary, but he had pleaded to
President Madison and the Secretary of the Navy that he and his men
were needed where the action was.) To Barney's left was the 1st
Regiment of "District" Militia, a militia artillery company under
Major George Peter with six 6-pounder guns and a provisional battalion
of regulars under Lieutenant Colonel William Scott. The 2nd District
To Smith's right rear in turn was a column under Colonel William
Beall, which had just arrived from Annapolis. A regiment of Virginia
Stansbury's troops were tired from two days' constant alarms and redeployments, and Smith's and Beall's men were equally exhausted from having force-marched to the battlefield through a hot and humid summer day, with many diversions and unnecessary panics.
The 200th Anniversary reenactment of the battle, on August 23, 2014, showing the British line infantrymen advancing
Around noon on 24 August, Ross's army reached Bladensburg. Stansbury's tactical errors quickly became apparent. Had he held Lowndes Hill, Stansbury could have made the British approach a costly one (although this would have involved fighting with the East Branch at his back, which would not have improved his men's morale and might have been disastrous in a hasty retreat). Had he held the brick structures of Bladensburg, which were ready-made mini-fortresses, he might have embroiled Ross's troops in bloody street fighting. Because the bridge had not been burned, it had to be defended. Stansbury's infantry and artillery were posted too far from the river's edge to contest a crossing effectively.
The British advance was led by Colonel William Thornton 's 85th Light Infantry and the three light companies of the other line battalions. Although the Baltimore artillery stopped Thornton's first rush across the bridge, they had solid shot only, which was of little use against scattered skirmishers. Pinkney's riflemen, posted to protect the American guns, were driven back and as Thornton's men closed in, the Baltimore artillerymen retreated with five of their cannon, being forced to spike and abandon another.
The British 1/44th Regiment had meanwhile forded the East Branch
above the bridge. As they prepared to envelop the American left,
Winder led a counter-attack against Thornton by Sterrett's 5th
The British pressed on and were engaged by Smith's brigade and
Barney's and Peters's guns. Thornton's light brigade made several
frontal attacks over the creek, but were repulsed three times by
artillery fire, and were counter-attacked by Barney's detachment.
Thornton was badly wounded and his light infantry were driven back
with heavy casualties. However, as the 1/44th threatened Smith's open
left flank, Winder ordered Smith to retreat also. Colonel
Charles Waterhouse 's painting of the depiction of U.S. Marines
manning their guns at Bladensburg, on the boundary of Washington
Smith's brigade fell back initially in good order, but Winder's orders to retreat apparently did not reach Barney, and his situation worsened when the civilian drivers of the carts carrying his reserve ammunition joined the general rout, leaving the Marine gun crews with fewer than three rounds of canister, round shot and charges in their caissons. Barney's 300 sailors and 103 Marines nevertheless held off the British frontal attacks. Eventually, as the British 1/4th and 1/44th Regiments enveloped their left flank, Barney ordered his men to retreat to avoid capture. Barney himself was badly wounded in the thigh with a musket ball and was taken prisoner. Beall's troops were also driven from the hill they held, after an ineffectual resistance.
Winder had not given any instructions before the battle in the case of a retreat and as the American militia left the battlefield, he issued contradictory orders to halt and reform, or fall back on the Capitol where Secretary of War John Armstrong, Jr. hoped vainly to make a stand, using the federal buildings as strongpoints, or retreat through Georgetown to Tenleytown . Most of the militia simply fled the field with no destination in mind, or deserted the ranks to see to the safety of their families.
Although the British had suffered heavier casualties than the
Americans (many inflicted by Barney's guns), they had completely
routed the defenders. British casualties were 64 dead and 185 wounded.
Some of the British dead "died without sustaining a scratch. They
collapsed from heat exhaustion and the strain of punishing forced
marches over the five days since landing at Benedict". Heidler's
Encyclopedia of the
War of 1812
Following their victory, at the Battle of Bladensburg, the British entered Washington D.C. and burned many U.S. government and military buildings . From the 1816 book, The History of England, from the Earliest Periods, Volume 1 by Paul M. Rapin de Thoyras.
The hasty and disorganized American retreat led to the battle
becoming known as the "Bladensburg Races" from an 1816 poem. The
battle was termed "the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms"
and "the most humiliating episode in American history". The American
militia actually fled through the streets of Washington. President
Lieutenant General Prevost had urged Vice Admiral Cochrane to avenge
Raid on Port Dover on the north shore of
After Major General Ross was killed at the Battle of North Point on 12 September 1814, his descendants were given an augmentation of honour to their armorial bearings by a royal warrant dated 25 August 1815, and their family name was changed to the victory title Ross-of-Bladensburg in memory of Ross's most famous battle.
The lineages of the 5th
ORDER OF BATTLE
* Regulars (total: 4500 all ranks).
(Major General Robert Ross )
* 1st (Light) Brigade (Colonel William Thornton ) (1100 men)
* 85th Regiment of Foot (Bucks Volunteers)(Light Infantry) * Light companies, 1/4th, 21st, 1/44th Foot * Company of Royal Marines, commanded by Lt Athelstan Stevens, detached from the Royal Marine battalion * Rocket Detachment of 26 Royal Marine Artillery gunners, commanded by Lt John Lawrence, likewise detached from the Royal Marine battalion * Company of Colonial Marines overseen by Captain Reed of the 2nd West India Regiment
* 2nd Brigade (Colonel Arthur Brooke ) (1460 men)
* 1st Battalion, 4th (King\'s Own) Regiment of Foot * 1st Battalion, 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot
* 3rd Brigade (Colonel Patterson) (ca. 1460 men)
* 21st Regiment (Royal North British Fusiliers)
* 2nd Battalion,
* composite battalion (formed from ship-based Marines) commanded by Captain John Robyns and guarding the shoreline at Benedict
Note: there were a total of 1350 Marines
* Regulars (total: 960 to 1160 all ranks).
* 1 Squadron, Regiment of Light Dragoons, commanded by Colonel
Jacint Laval, 140 horses.
* 1 Infantry Battalion,
* District of Columbia 1st Regiment of Militia, Colonel George
Magruder, 535 all ranks
* District of Columbia 2nd Regiment of Militia, Colonel Wm. Brent,
535 all ranks
* Company of District of Columbia Union Rifles, Captain John
Davidson, 116 all ranks
* Company of District of Columbia Rifles, Captain John Stull, 116
* Detachment of Navy Yard Rifles (volunteers), Captain John Doughty,
116 all ranks
* Detachment of Captain Maynard, 100 men all ranks
* Detachment of Captain Waring, 100 men all ranks
* District of Columbia Dragoons, 50 horse
* Battery, The Washington Irish Artillery, Captain Ben Burch, ? x
6-pounders, 150 all ranks
* Battery, The District of Columbia
* Total Regular and Militia: 7,163 to 7,363
* 2 x 18-pounder guns * 3 x 12-pounder guns * 23 x 6-pounder guns
Like many historic battlefields that once belonged to the rural American landscape, urban sprawl and heavily traveled roads associated with urbanization in the DC metro area have made it very difficult to preserve and acquire the complete site of the Bladensburg battleground.
This article includes a list of references , but ITS SOURCES REMAIN UNCLEAR because it has INSUFFICIENT INLINE CITATIONS . Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (December 2007) (Learn how and when to remove this template message )
* ^ A B C D Heidler & Heidler, p.56
* ^ A B Quimby, p.689
* ^ Howe (2007), p.63
* ^ Howard (2012), p.97
* ^ Hitsman, p.240. Instructions from the Earl of Bathurst to Ross.
* ^ Howard (2012), pp.116-117
* ^ Howard (2012) p.129
* ^ Howard (2012), p.135
* ^ Howard (2012), pp.136-138
* ^ Forester, p.180
* ^ Elting, p.204
* ^ A B Elting, p.207
* ^ Hitsman, p.241
* ^ Howard (2012), p.168
* ^ A B Elting, p.206
* ^ "Narrative of General Winder, addressed to the chairman of the
Committee of Investigation" as quoted in Williams, John S. (1857).
"Appendix I". History of the Invasion and Capture of Washington, and
of the Events Which Preceded and Followed. New York: Harper &
Brothers. pp. 316–317. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
* ^ Howard (2012), pp.166-167
* ^ Eaton, p.9
* ^ A B Elting, p.213
* ^ Elting, p.214
* ^ Howard (2012>, pp.178-179).
* ^ Elting, p.215
* ^ Elting, p.212
* ^ Elting, p.216
* ^ Elting, p.217
* ^ A B Elting, p.218
* ^ A B Howe, p.63
* ^ Mostert, Noel (2007). The Line upon a Wind. Random House,
London: Jonathan Cape. p. 667. ISBN 978-0-224-06922-9 .
* ^ Hitsman and Graves, p.243
* ^ Elting, p.219
* ^ Pitch, pp.80-81
* ^ Quimby, p.689. Quimby refers to History of the
* Crawford, Michael J. (Ed) (2002). The Naval War of 1812: A
Documentary History, Vol. 3. Washington: