The Battle of North Point

The British were astonished – They had looted Washington DC and burned it to the ground, and the Americans didn’t surrender! Major General Ross even supped in the White House after that coward Madison fled, and then personally put it to the torch. The shame! It was unimaginable for a European country to lose its capital and still continue the war. The capital was the center of government, the aristocracy, the bureaucracy, economics, finance, and culture. To lose Vienna, Berlin, St Petersburg, or London (!) to an invading army was unthinkable to any “civilized” country. Even Napoleon abdicated when Paris was occupied. But these Americans and their curious experiment in self-rule were strange. If they didn’t want to surrender when they were rightfully beaten then they must be taught a lesson.

In 1814, the British were finished with Napoleon in Europe and turned with a vengeance on America. They had been fighting a defensive war for the last two years, but when Napoleon surrendered that all changed. In August, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane and Maj Gen Robert Ross, with 19 ships and 6000 elite troops, invaded Maryland and easily swept passed any resistance the Americans offered. They sacked Washington DC in late August and when President Madison didn’t accept terms, they did the same to Georgetown and Alexandria. Their next target was Baltimore, one of the largest trading ports on the Atlantic seaboard, and a haven for American privateers that raided British shipping.

Admiral Cochrane moved his fleet up the Chesapeake Bay and landed Maj Gen Ross with a brigade of regulars and two battalions of Royal Marines with orders to seize and destroy Baltimore. Ross’s 4000 officers and soldiers were all veterans of the Duke of Wellington’s five year Peninsular Campaign against Napoleon. They were met by MG James Stricker and 3000 Maryland militia. The American militiamen fought the British veterans at North Point, Maryland in the afternoon of 12 Sep 1814. The flooding forced the British to approach Baltimore through North Point, between the Back River and Bear Creek, and funneled them into Marylander muskets. The Americans gave a much better account of themselves than they had in defending Washington DC. The battle resembled Bunker Hill more than Bladensburg, and only when their position was out flanked did the Americans fall back. And they did so in an organized and disciplined fashion, fighting the whole way.

The Battle of North Point was very costly for the British: Maj Gen Ross was shot through the head by a 14 year old Maryland sharpshooter and this left command to Col Arthur Brooke. Stricker’s stand gave MG Samuel Smith time to prepare the landward defense of Baltimore, defenses that Brooke deemed impossible to storm without support from the British Navy. And finally, the Battle of North Point gave Major George Armistead, charged with the seaward defense of Baltimore, time to gather extra powder for Fort McHenry.

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