Lossing's Field Book of the War of 1812, Chapter XXXIX - The Capture of Washington City.






The National Capital in Peril. – Events suggesting Danger. – Strange Apathy of the Government. – A Dearth of Troops for the Defense of Washington. – The Government alarmed. – The President’s Plan for Defense. – Preparations for defending the Capital. – General Winder in military Command. – The States called on for Troops. – Tardiness of the Secretary of War. – Apathy of the People. – Winder’s Advice and Warnings. – The British appear in Chesapeake Bay. – Barney’s Flotilla. – General Winder’s Calls for Troops. – Gathering of Troops. – The British in the Patuxent. – Destruction of Barney’s Flotilla. – The Forces gathered for the Defense of Washington and Baltimore. – The British move on Washington. – Alarming Note from Secretary Monroe. – Removal of the Public Records. – Preparations for Battle. – Disposition of Troops. – Battle-line formed near Bladensburg. – Advance of the British. – Retreat of the Americans. – Winder invites the Government to a Council. – The British advance on Bladensburg. – The Field of Action. – The Secretary of War and General Winder. – Arrangements for Battle near Bladensburg. – Order of Battle near Bladensburg. – Advance of the British. – Dueling-ground at Bladensburg. – Battle-ground at Bladensburg. – Battle near Bladensburg. – Gallant and effective Stand by Commodore Barney. – Barney wounded, made Prisoner, and paroled. – Biographical Sketch of Barney. – Close of the Battle of Bladensburg. – The British march on Washington. – An Excuse for burning the City wanted. – The British enter Washington. – Cockburn in his Element. – Destruction of the Public Buildings. – The Barbarities of the British condemned by their Countrymen. – The Navy Yard destroyed. – The Long Bridge burnt. – Flight of the President and his Cabinet. – Mrs. Madison’s Patriotism. – Jacob Barker at the President’s House. – The Declaration of Independence saved. – Original Object of this British Invasion. – Their fears of the aroused People. – British retreat from Washington. – An Account by an Eye-witness. – Effect of the Invasion. – Who was to blame for the Defeat at Bladensburg. – Slavery the Culprit. – Fort Washington. – Fort Washington neglected. – It is deserted and blown up. – British Ships pass up the Potomac. – Alexandria plundered. – Preparations to intercept the British Vessels in the Potomac. – A Torpedo. – British Ships pass American Batteries and escape. – Visit to the Battle-ground at Bladensburg. – Oak Hill Cemetery. – Kalorama. – Barlow’s Vault. – The Death of Decatur. – Van Rensselaer’s Letter. – The Congressional Burying-ground. – A Visit to Fort Washington. – Departure from the National Capital.


"A veteran host, by veterans led,
With Ross and Cockburn at their head,
They came – they saw – they burned – and fled!

They left our Congress naked walls –
Farewell to towers and capitols!
To lofty roofs and splendid halls!

To conquer armies in the field
Was, once, the surest method held
To make a hostile country yield.

The warfare now the invaders make
Must surely keep us all awake,
Or life is lost for freedom’s sake.



While the events recorded in the preceding chapter were occurring on the New England coast, others of a more important character in the vicinity of Chesapeake Bay were attracting public attention. We have already observed how audaciously the British operated along the shores of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays during the year 1813, continually menacing not only the smaller coast villages, but the larger cities. The national capital itself, situated at the head of the navigation of the Potomac, was in peril at times, and yet the government seemed to have been paralyzed by a strange delusion – a conviction that the British would never attempt to penetrate the country so far as the city of Washington, and that the archives of the nation were safe there. Tokens of danger were not wanting. First came intelligence, late in January, that four thousand British troops destined for the United States had landed at Bermuda. This was followed by the appearance of Admiral Cockburn, the marauder, in Lynnhaven Bay, on the 1st of March, with a 74 line-of-battle ship, two frigates, and a brig, and who commenced at once the practice of his wicked amphibious warfare. At the close of April a vessel from Europe brought the startling news of the downfall of Napoleon; and soon afterward came the announcement of his abdication and retirement to Elba, and the probable release of a large British force that might be sent to America.

For several months previous to the advent of Cockburn, thoughtful men had called the attention of the President and his constitutional advisers to the exposed state of the entire District of Columbia, and especially the capital, and to the importance of adopting vigorous measures for its defense. 1 The President appears to have feared danger, but his cabinet were unmoved. Even when the foe was so near that the booming of his cannon could almost be heard, they could not be impressed with a sense of impending danger; and on the 14th of May the government organ (National Intelligencer) 2 said: "We have no idea of the enemy attempting to reach the vicinity of the capital; and if he does, we have no doubt he will meet such a reception as he had a sample of at Craney Island. The enemy knows better than to trust himself abreast of or on this side of Fort Washington." This idle boast and the government apathy were terribly rebuked a little more than three months afterward by British arms and British torches. At that very time hostile marauders were in the waters of the Potomac, and their leaders, employing competent spies, had made themselves perfectly acquainted with the condition of the country, and of military affairs around Washington.

June came, and yet there was strange apathy in official circles, and very little preparation for defense. In the entire Fifth Military District, of which the District of Columbia was a part, there were only two thousand one hundred and fifty-four effective enlisted men, of whom one half were at Norfolk, one quarter at Baltimore, and the remaining quarter divided between Annapolis, Fort Washington, and St. Mary’s. There were, besides, only a company of marines in the barracks at Washington, and a company of artillery at Fort Washington (late Fort Warburton), on the Potomac, twelve miles below the capital.

Five hundred recruits for the regular army from North Carolina, under Lieutenant Colonel Clinch, 3 who had been in camp near Washington for the purpose of drill and exercise, were allowed to leave for the Northern frontier quite late in June, when the public mind was filled with alarm because of the menaces of the enemy.

At length the government was aroused to a sense of danger and responsibility by intelligence that a number of the largest class of transports had been fitted out at Portsmouth, England, "as well as all troop-ships in that port," for the purpose, it was believed, of going to Bordeaux and taking on board there the most effective of Wellington’s regiments and conveying them to the United States. This was confirmed at near the close of June by the arrival at New York of a cartel from Bermuda, which brought intelligence that she left at that port "a fleet of transports, with a large force, bound to some port in the United States, probably the Potomac." Official intelligence of this fact reached the government on the 26th, and on the 1st of July the President called a cabinet council and laid before them a well-considered plan of defense against threatened invasion, which had been suggested, if not actually prepared, by General William H. Winder, who had lately been exchanged, and had returned from Canada. 4 It contemplated the establishment of a camp of regular troops, two or three thousand strong, somewhere between the Eastern Branch of the Potomac and the Patuxent Rivers, in Maryland, and the concentration of ten thousand militia in the vicinity of Washington City.

The Cabinet approved the President’s plan. 5 A new military district, entitled the Tenth, was formed, comprising Maryland, the District of Columbia, and the portions of Eastern Virginia lying between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers.

Brigadier General Winder 6 was appointed to thc command of it, and the government made a requisition upon the several States for militia to the aggregate of ninety-three thousand men, who were to be organized at home and held in readiness. 7 The District of Columbia and the State of Maryland were called upon to furnish their respective quotas immediately, the former being two thousand men and the latter six thousand. Pennsylvania was directed to send five thousand and Virginia two thousand to the militia rendezvous at once. The naval defenses were intrusted to Commodore Barney, a veteran commander, who was in the Patuxent with a small flotilla of gun-boats.

In official orders there appeared an army of fifteen thousand militia for the defense of Washington, and General Winder was envied as the fortunate commander of a larger force than had yet appeared in the field. But that army remained hidden in official paragraphs, and only a small portion of it confronted the invader, for he came before the States on whom the government had made a requisition for militia had moved in the matter. There was extraordinary tardiness every where, and indications of the most fatal official apathy or weakness. The Governor of Maryland, residing within an easy day’s ride of the War Office, did not receive a copy of that requisition until six days after it was ordered; and the Governor of Pennsylvania did not receive his until ten days afterward. And it was not until the day when the British appeared in heavy force in Chesapeake Bay (July 12, 1814) that the Secretary of War placed a copy of it in the hands of General Winder, and then it was accompanied by a cautious order directing him, in the event of an invasion, to call for a part or the whole quota required of Maryland, but to "be careful to avoid unnecessary calls, and to apportion the call to the exigency." 8 Five days afterward another order from the War Department reached him, which gave him authority to draw, in addition to the Maryland quota, two thousand men from Virginia and five thousand from Pennsylvania, and assuring him that the whole of the militia of the District of Columbia, amounting to about two thousand, were kept in a disposable state, and subject to his orders.

General Winder had comprehended the difficulties of the situation from the beginning. As early as the 9th of July, before he had received notice of his appointment to the command, he wrote a letter to the Secretary of War, full of sound advice, wholesome warning, and sagacious predictions, but that functionary never deigned to reply to it. 9 He issued orders in accordance with his own judgment alone, and with an apparent obliviousness to stern facts – orders which implied the organization and readiness of the troops mentioned when there was not a shadow of such force in existence. The Governor of Maryland (Levin Winder), after issuing drafts for three thousand men, found that scarcely so many hundreds could be collected; and the Governor of Pennsylvania informed the Secretary of War that, in consequence of the defect of the militia laws of that commonwealth, the executive had no power to enforce the draft.

General Winder entered upon his duties with alacrity, under the inspiration of seductive promises by the government; and, notwithstanding he was soon made to feel that he was the victim of official incompetency, he was untiring in his exertions to make the defense of the District a certainty. He visited every part of the region to be defended, inspecting every fortification under his command, and reconnoitring every position thought to be favorable for the defense of the capital. 10 He was in daily communication with the government, giving information, sounding notes of alarm, and making wise suggestions. "The door of Washington" (meaning Annapolis), he wrote on the 16th of July, "is wide open, and can not be shut with the few troops under my command." Fort Madison there was utterly defenseless, and too unhealthful for a garrison to occupy it. He warned the government that its heavy armament might be easily seized by the invaders, and turned upon the town and Fort Severn with fatal effect. 11 He begged in vain for efforts to save that post, and made stirring appeals to the people to come forward for the defense of the state. Yet, notwithstanding the danger that threatened, and his great personal popularity, heightened by good deeds on the Northern frontier, Winder was compelled to report on the 1st of August that he had actually in camp only one thousand regulars, and about four thousand militia enrolled, a larger proportion of them yet to be collected. The government had neglected to call for cavalry and riflemen, very important branches of the service.

While these feeble efforts were in operation the enemy appeared in strong force. On the 16th of August the small British squadron in the Chesapeake was re-enforced by a fleet of twenty-one vessels under Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, the senior commander on the American station. These were soon joined by another under Commodore Sir Charles Malcolm. These vessels bore several thousand land troops commanded by General Ross, an Irish officer, and one of Wellington’s most active leaders. Washington and Baltimore appear to have been chosen objects of attack simultaneously. A part of the British naval force, under Captain Gordon, went up the Potomac, and another portion, under Sir Peter Parker, went up the Chesapeake toward Baltimore.

At that time, Commodore Barney, with a flotilla of thirteen armed barges and the schooner Scorpion, with an aggregate of about five hundred men, was in the Patuxent River. His vessels had been chased out of the Chesapeake, and blockaded in St. Leonard’s Bay.

Of this confinement they were relieved by some artillery under Colonel Henry Carbery, 12 with which he drove away the Loire, the blockading frigate, when the released flotilla went up the Patuxent, first to Benedict, and then to Nottingham, that it might be within co-operating distance of both Washington and Baltimore. Seeing this, the British determined to capture or destroy it, and on the 18th of August a force of a little more than five thousand men, composed of regulars, marines, and negroes, 13 went up the Patuxent, and landed at Benedict with three cannon under cover of an armed brig. Most of the other large British vessels were below, some of them aground, and all too heavy to ascend the comparatively shallow stream.

Barney, then at Nottingham, 14 promptly informed the Navy Department of this movement, and of a boast of the British admiral that he would destroy the American flotilla, and dine in Washington the following Sunday. General Winder, by direction of the War Department, immediately ordered General Samuel Smith’s division (the Third) of the Maryland militia into actual service.

He also called upon General John P. Van Ness [August 18, 1814.], commander of the militia of the District of Columbia, for two brigades, to be encamped near Alexandria; and he sent a circular letter [August 19.] to all the brigadiers of the Maryland militia, asking for volunteers to the amount of one half of their respective commands. By his orders, his adjutant general, Hite, issued a stirring appeal to the citizens to come forward, "without regard to sacrifices and privations," in defense of the national capital. Winder also asked General Stricker, of Baltimore, to send to Washington his volunteer regiments of infantry and his rifle battalion. These calls for volunteers were approved by the Secretary of War, who enjoined Winder so to word the requisition as "to guard against interfering with the legal draft." 15

The veteran patriot, General Smith, promptly responded to the call of the government. He at once issued a division order [August 19, 1814.], in which he gave notice of the invasion, and directed the whole of General Stansbury’s brigade (the Third) to be held in readiness for active service, adding, "The third brigade is now under the pay of the United States, in its service, and subject to the Articles of War." 16 That corps General Smith declared to be "the finest set of men he ever saw." 17

They paraded at four o’clock the same day, and on the following morning General Stansbury 18 left Baltimore for Washington with thirteen hundred of his corps.

Another force, under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Sterett, consisting of the Fifth Regiment of Baltimore Volunteers, Major Pinkney’s 19 rifle battalion, and the artillery companies of Captains Myers and Magruder, left Baltimore on the evening of the 20th, and joined Stansbury on the evening of the 23d. With wise precaution, General Smith ordered [August 20.] the eleventh brigade and Colonel Moore’s cavalry to hold themselves in readiness to march to Baltimore at a moment’s warning, for it seemed probable that the enemy would strike at both cities simultaneously. They were ordered to Baltimore on the 23d.

The British in the mean time had moved up the Patuxent from Benedict, the land troops being accompanied by a flotilla of launches and barges that kept abreast of them. The naval forces were under the command of the notorious marauder, Cockburn. They reached Lower Marlborough on the 21st, when Barney’s flotilla, then in charge of Lieutenant Frazier and a sufficient number of men to destroy it if necessary, moved up to Pig Point, where some of the vessels grounded in the shallow water. Barney had landed with four hundred seamen and pushed on toward Winder’s head-quarters, then at the Wood Yard, on the road between Upper Marlborough and Washington, and twelve miles from the latter, where he had established a slightly intrenched camp. Frazier was instructed to destroy the flotilla at Pig Point rather than allow it to fall into the hands of the foe. This order was obeyed, and the flotilla was blown up on the morning of the 22d, when the enemy moved up from Nottingham in forty barges, and commenced firing upon it with cannon and rockets. 20 They found only the ruins of Barney’s vessels at Pig Point. Their land force pressed forward to Upper Marlborough, whence a road led directly to Washington City, and there encamped, leaving Cockburn and the British flotilla at Pig Point.

Now let us see what forces were at the disposal of General Winder for the defense of Washington. There were two small brigades of District troops.

One of these comprised the militia and volunteers of Washington and Georgetown, arranged in two regiments under Colonels Magruder and Brent, and was commanded by General Walter Smith, of Georgetown. Attached to the brigade were two companies of light artillery, commanded respectively by Major George Peter, of the regular army, and Captain Benjamin Burch, a soldier of the Revolution. There were also two rifle companies under Captains Doughty and Stull. This brigade numbered, on the morning of the 21st of August, one thousand and seventy men. The second brigade was commanded by General Robert Young, and numbered five hundred men. It comprised a company of artillery led by Captain Marsteller. It was chiefly employed in defending the approaches to Fort Washington, about twelve miles below the capital.

Brigadier General West, of Prince George’s County, had troops on the look-out toward the Potomac.

The troops from Baltimore comprised a greater portion of the brigade of General Stansbury, formed in two regiments under Lieutenant Colonels Ragan and Schutz, thirteen hundred and fifty in number; and the Fifth Regiment, under Colonel Sterett, with artillery and riflemen already mentioned, the latter under the celebrated William Pinkney. The whole force from Baltimore was about two thousand two hundred, commanded by General Stansbury as chief.

Besides these there were various detachments of Maryland militia, under the respective command of Colonels W. D. Beall (of the Revolution) and Hood, Lieutenant Colonel Kramer, and Majors Waring and Maynard – in all less than twelve hundred. There was also a regiment of Virginia militia under Colonel George Minor, six hundred strong, with one hundred cavalry.

The regular army contributed three hundred men from the Twelfth, Thirty-sixth, and Thirty-eighth Regiments, under Lieutenant Colonel William Scott. To these must be added the sailors of Barney’s flotilla, four hundred, and one hundred and twenty marines from the navy yard at Washington, furnished with two 18-pounders and three 12-pounders.

There were also various small companies of volunteer cavalry from the District, Maryland, and Virginia, under Lieutenant Colonel Tilghman, and Majors O. H. Williams and Charles Sterett, three hundred in number, and a squadron of United States dragoons commanded by Major Laval. The whole force was about seven thousand strong, of whom nine hundred were enlisted men. The cavalry did not exceed four hundred in number. The little army had twenty-six pieces of cannon, of which twenty were only 6-pounders. This force, if concentrated, would have been competent to roll back the invasion had the commanding officer been untrammeled by the interference of the President and his Cabinet.

Winder’s vigilance was sleepless after the appearance of the invaders in the Patuxent. He was actively employed with the cavalry in reconnoitring; and on the morning of the 22d he ordered Lieutenant Colonel Scott’s command, Laval’s cavalry, Major Peter’s artillery, and the rifle company of Stull, and another under Captain Davidson, acting as riflemen, with several field-pieces, numbering about eight hundred men, to proceed immediately to Nottingham, where the enemy had encamped during the night just passed, and reconnoitre and harass them. The remainder of Winder’s force in hand was directed to follow in their support. The general himself, accompanied by his limited staff, proceeded in advance of the troops, and soon discovered the enemy moving up the river. He was convinced that an encounter with that overwhelming force would be perilous, and he ordered Scott and Peter to fall back to the Wood Yard and wait for him. The main body of the troops, under General W. Smith, had arrived in the mean time within two miles of the advance; and the whole American force, then within five miles of the invaders, including Barney’s men and marines from the Washington Navy Yard, numbered about twenty-five hundred, fairly armed with muskets and rifles, and five pieces of heavy artillery.

On arriving at the junction of the roads leading respectively to Marlborough and the Wood Yard, General Ross, who led the British column in person, turned into the latter with the seeming intention of pushing on toward Washington. He was induced to do so by Cockburn, who thirsted for plunder, and who argued that the prestige which the British would acquire by the capture of the metropolis of the republic would be of immense advantage to the cause, and that no doubt the government, to save the city, would make a liberal offer of money, a circumstance that would greatly increase the marauder’s amount of prize-money. After proceeding a short distance, Ross changed his course and proceeded toward Marlborough. Winder deemed it prudent to avoid an encounter, and in the afternoon he retreated toward the capital, and encamped at a place called Long Old Battalion Fields, about eight miles from the city, where he might be within easy striking distance of Bladensburg, the bridges over the East Branch of the Potomac, and the road leading to Fort Washington. 21

Colonel James Monroe, the Secretary of State, who had been several days with Winder reconnoitring the enemy, and watching all military movements, believed that Washington was in great peril, for he well knew the weakness of the American forces. While Ross was yet advancing, and before he retraced his steps and went toward Marlborough, Monroe sent the following dispatch to the President:


"The enemy are advanced six miles on the road to the Wood Yard, and our troops are retiring. Our troops were on the march to meet them, but in too small a body to engage. General Winder proposes to retire till he can collect them in a body. The enemy are in full march to Washington. Have the materials prepared to destroy the bridges.


"P.S. – You had better remove the records." 22


This message produced the wildest excitement in the national capital, then a straggling town of between eight and nine thousand inhabitants, and caused a sudden and confused exodus of all the timid and helpless ones who were able to leave.

Winder’s situation was an unenviable one. With a comparatively strong foe on his front, ready to fall upon him or the capital he was expected to defend, he had only about twenty-five hundred armed and effective men in camp, and many of these had been from their homes only three or four days. They were undisciplined and untried, and surrounded and influenced by a crowd of excited civilians, to whose "officious but well-intended information and advice" the general was compelled to listen. In addition to this intrusion and interference of common men, he was embarrassed by the presence and suggestions of the President and his Cabinet ministers, the most of them utterly ignorant of military affairs. Better would it have been for Winder and the country if these civilians, from the President down, had kept away from the camp and the field, and prudently preserved silence.

The fatigued little army at Long Old Fields had reposed but a short time when, at two o’clock in the morning (August 23), a timid sentinel gave a false alarm, and they were summoned to their feet in battle order. They were soon dismissed, and slept on their arms until dawn. At sunrise they were ordered to strike their tents, load the baggage wagons, and have every thing in readiness to move within an hour. When every thing was prepared for marching they were reviewed by President Madison. In the mean time Winder had ascertained from scouts that the British were resting quietly in their camp at Upper Marlborough, and he resolved to concentrate all the troops within his reach at some point between his present camp and that of the enemy. He accordingly sent orders to General Stansbury, at Bladensburg, to march with his own and Lieutenant Colonel Sterett’s troops, and take position in the road within seven miles of Marlborough. The same order was sent to Lieutenant Colonel Beall, supposed to be then approaching with his corps from Annapolis. A detachment from General Walter Smith’s brigade, under Major Peter, composed of the same companies as the detachment sent forward the day before, was ordered to move from camp in the same direction and for the same purpose – to approach as near the enemy as possible without incurring too much risk, and annoy him whether in motion or at rest. General Winder himself, accompanied by a troop of Laval’s cavalry, started for Bladensburg at noon for the purpose of holding a conference with General Stansbury. When within four or five miles of that place, he was overtaken by Major M‘Kenney with intelligence that Major Peter had met and skirmished with the vanguard of the advancing enemy, two or three miles from Marlborough, on the road toward the Wood Yard, had been driven back toward the Old Fields, and that General Smith had sent off the baggage toward Washington across the Eastern Branch, and had drawn up his own troops and Barney’s seamen in battle order to await an attack from the foe. Winder immediately sent orders to Stansbury, now moving forward, to fall back toward Bladensburg, take the best position possible with his own and Sterett’s troops in front of that village, and resist the enemy if attacked. If driven, he was to retreat toward the capital. He then hastened back to the Old Fields, where he found Smith and Barney well posted.


Stansbury’s force took position in an orchard (near a mill yet standing near Bladensburg) on a gentle eminence, and there, behind a slight breast-work, he placed six heavy guns in position to command the pass into the town and the bridge southwestward of it. About one hundred yards in the rear of this position, in the small dwelling on Tournecliffe’s farm, the surgeons of the command were placed, to receive and take care of the wounded soldiers. 24

General Ross rested at Upper Marlborough until after noon of the 23d, when, being joined by Cockburn and his seamen and marines, he moved forward at two o’clock, and, as we have observed, encountered and drove back Major Peter and his command. He then pressed steadily on unmolested to the junction of the roads leading respectively to Washington City and the Alexandria Ferry, on the Potomac River, not far above Fort Washington. There they halted. The Americans were puzzled. Some believed that an attack on Fort Washington in the rear, simultaneously with an assault by the British fleet in front, was contemplated; but more, and among these General Winder and Colonel Monroe, believed the national capital to be the prize sought to be won. Impressed with this conviction, Winder issued orders toward sunset for the troops to retire across the Eastern Branch Bridge and take position on the borders of the city, where greater facility would be afforded for assisting General Young, who was covering Fort Washington with a small force, and for drawing to himself Stansbury and Sterett if the enemy should advance rapidly upon the capital. Late at night the troops, greatly wearied and dispirited, encamped within the limits of the city. "Thus," said General Smith, "terminated the four days of service of the troops of this District. They had been under arms, with but little intermission, the whole of the time, both night and day; had traveled, during their different marches in advance and retreat, a considerable tract of country, exposed to the burning heat of a sultry sun by day, and many of them to the cold dews of the night, uncovered. They had in this period drawn but two rations, the requisition therefor in the first instance being but partially complied with, and it being afterward almost impossible to procure the means of transportation, the wagons employed by our quartermaster for that purpose being constantly impressed by the government agents for the purpose of removing the public records when the enemy’s approach was known, and some of them thus seized while proceeding to take in provisions for the army."

The night of the 23d of August was marked by great excitement in the National capital. The President and his Cabinet indulged in no slumbers, for Ross, the invader, was bivouacked at Melwood, near the Long Old Fields, about ten miles from the city, and Winder’s troops, worn down and dispirited, were fugitives before him. Laval’s horsemen were exhausted, and Stansbury’s troops at Bladensburg were too wearied with long marching to do much fighting without some repose. What the morning would reveal no one could tell, and the dark hours were passed in great anxiety by the troops and people. The Secretary of State was in his saddle half the night; and at midnight he had visited the head-quarters of Stansbury, acquainted him with the relative positions of Winder and Ross, and advised him to fall in the rear of the latter. Fortunately the military leader did not follow the advice of the civilian.

Winder’s head-quarters were at Combs’s, near the Eastern Branch Bridge, and at dawn the President and several of his Cabinet ministers were there. 25 Before their arrival, General Winder (who was greatly fatigued in body and mind, and had received a severe injury from a fall during the night) had sent a note to the Secretary of War, expressing a desire to have the counsel of that officer and of the government. This was a mistake. He had had too much of that bane to success already, and it was now administered too liberally for the good reputation of himself and his country. These government officers were so officious as well as fickle – fickle, because impulse, and not judgment, guided them – that the general’s thoughts and plans were interfered with at a moment when one mind should control all movements, and that mind be free to act untrammeled and unbiased. 26

While Winder and the government were in council, Ross moved toward Bladensburg. Laval’s scouts first brought intelligence of the fact to head-quarters. They were soon followed by an express from Stansbury, giving positive information that the British were marching in that direction, with the view, no doubt, of crushing the little force of Baltimoreans near the Bladensburg Mill. Up to that moment the council believed that Ross would move on Fort Washington, or on the city by the very bridge near which they were in consultation. This delusive idea now vanished, and government, general, and troops all moved off toward the point of danger. Winder had now under his command at Washington and Bladensburg five thousand one hundred effective men. The force of the enemy was about the same.

It was ten o’clock in the morning when Winder ordered General W. Smith, with the whole of his troops, to hasten toward Bladensburg. Barney was soon afterward ordered to move with his five hundred men, and the Secretary of State, who had seen some military service in the Revolution, was requested by the President and General Winder to hasten to Stansbury and assist him in properly posting his troops. Mr. Monroe was immediately followed by General Winder and his staff. The Secretary of War then followed; and lastly the President and Attorney General, accompanied by some friends, all on horseback, rode on toward the expected theatre of battle. 27 Stansbury seems not to have been well pleased with the aid of the Secretary of State, for he afterward intimated that "somebody," without consulting him, changed and deranged his order of battle. That "somebody" was Colonel Monroe, as we shall presently observe.

Let us for a moment take a glance at the theatre on which the opposing forces were soon to meet face to face. It was the slopes and plain around Bladensburg, then a little straggling village at the head of small-craft navigation on the Eastern Branch of the Potomac, up which for four miles vessels of largest class might ride. The village is about six miles from Washington by the old post-road from that city to Baltimore. Another road from Georgetown joined the Washington Road at an acute angle a few yards from the bridge less than a hundred feet long, that spanned the stream at Bladensburg. Above the bridge the creek was every where fordable.


In the triangular field formed by the two roads just mentioned, and near the mill, General Stansbury’s command was posted on the morning of the 24th. On the brow of a little eminence in that field, three hundred and fifty yards from the Bladensburg Bridge, between a large barn 29 and the Washington Road, a barbette earth-work had been thrown up for the use of heavy cannon. Behind this work were the artillery companies from Baltimore, under Captains Myers and Magruder, one hundred and fifty strong, with six 6-pounders. These were too small for the high embankment, and embrasures were cut so that they might command the bridge and both roads. Major Pinkney’s riflemen were on the right of the battery, near the junction of the roads, and concealed by the shrubbery on the low ground near the river. Two companies of militia, under Captains Ducker and Gorsuch, acting as riflemen, were stationed in the rear of the left of the battery, near the barn and the Georgetown Road. About fifty yards in the rear of Pinkney’s riflemen was Sterett’s Fifth Regiment of Baltimore Volunteers, while the regiments of Ragan and Schutz were drawn up en echelon, 30 their right resting on the left of Ducker’s and Gorsuch’s companies, and commanding the Georgetown Road. The cavalry, about three hundred and eighty in all, were placed somewhat in the rear, on the extreme left, and seem not to have taken any part in the battle that ensued.

This, all things considered, seems to have been a judicious arrangement; but Colonel Monroe, without consulting General Stansbury, and in face of the enemy, then on the other side of the Eastern Branch, proceeded to change it, by moving the Baltimore regiments of Sterett, Ragan, and Schutz a quarter of a mile in the rear of the artillery and riflemen, their right resting on the Washington Road. This formed a second line in full view of the enemy, within reach of his Congreve rockets, entirely uncovered, and so far from the first line as not to be able to give it immediate support in case of an attack This was a blunder that proved disastrous, but it was made too late to be corrected, the enemy was so near.


General Winder in the mean time had arrived on the field, and posted a third and rear line on the crown of the hills, near the residence of the late John C. Rives, proprietor of the Washington Globe, about a mile from the Bladensburg Bridge. This line embraced a regiment of Maryland militia, under Colonel Beall, which had just arrived from Annapolis, and was posted on the extreme right; Barney’s flotilla-men, who formed the centre on the Washington Road, with two 18 pounders planted in the highway a few yards from the site of Rives’s barn, a portion of the seamen acting as artillerists; and Colonel Magruder’s District militia, regulars under Lieutenant Colonel Scott, and Peter’s battery, who formed the left.


About five hundred yards in front of this position the road descends into a gentle ravine, which was then, as now, crossed by a small bridge (Tournecliffe’s), on the north of which it widens into a little grassy level, and formed the dueling-ground where Decatur and others lost their lives.

Overlooking it, about one hundred and fifty yards from the road, is an abrupt bluff on which the companies of Captains Stull and Davidson were posted in position to command that highway. Lieutenant Colonel Scott, with his regulars, Colonel Brent, with the Second Regiment of General Smith’s brigade, and Major Waring, with the battalion of Maryland militia, were posted in the rear of Major Peter’s battery. Magruder was immediately on the left of Barney’s men, his right resting on the Washington Road; and Colonel Kramer, with a small detachment, was thrown forward of Colonel Beall.

NOTE. - In the smaller section of the map on page 929 are figures which indicate the position of certain troops, as follows: 5, Second Regiment, of Smith’s brigade; 6, Major Peter’s battery; 7, Major Waring’s battalion; 8, Scott’s regulars; 9, companies of Stull and Davidson; 10, Ragan’s regiment; 11, Schutz’s; 12, Fifth Baltimore Regiment; 13, Burch’s artillery; 16, militia and riflemen; 17, Baltimore artillery; 20, the British.

Such was the disposition of Winder’s little army when, at noon, the enemy were seen descending the hills beyond Bladensburg, and pressing on toward the bridge. At half past twelve they were in the town, and came within range of the heavy guns of the first American line. The British commenced hurling rockets at the exposed Americans, and attempted to throw a heavy force across the bridge, but were driven back by their antagonists’ cannon, and forced to take shelter in the village and behind Lowndes’s Hill, in the rear of it. 33 Again, after due preparation, they advanced in double-quick time; and, when the bridge was crowded with them, the artillery of Winder’s first and second lines opened upon them with terrible effect, sweeping down a whole company. The concealed riflemen, under Pinkney, also poured deadly volleys into their exposed ranks; but the British, continually re-enforced, pushed gallantly forward, some over the bridge, and some fording the stream above it, and fell so heavily upon the first and unsupported line of the Americans that it was compelled to fall back upon the second. A company, whose commander is unnamed in the reports of the battle, were so panic-stricken that they fled after the first fire, leaving their guns to fall into the hands of the enemy.

The first British brigade were now over the stream, and, elated by their success, did not wait for the second. They threw away their knapsacks and haversacks, and pushed up the hill to attack the American second line in the face of an annoying fire from Captain Burch’s artillery. They weakened their force by stretching out so as to form a front equal to that of their antagonists. It was a blunder which Winder quickly perceived and took advantage of. He was then at the head of Sterett’s regiment. With this and some of Stansbury’s militia, who behaved gallantly, he not only checked the enemy’s advance, but, at the point of the bayonet, pressed their attenuated line so strongly that it fell back to the thickets on the brink of the river, near the bridge, where it maintained its position most obstinately until re-enforced by the second brigade. Thus strengthened, it again pressed forward, and soon turned the left flank of the Americans, and at the same time sent a flight of hissing rockets over and very near the centre and right of Stansbury’s line. The frightened regiments of Schutz and Ragan broke, and fled in the wildest confusion. Winder tried to rally them, but in vain. Sterett’s corps maintained their ground gallantly until the enemy had gained both their flanks, when Winder ordered them and the supporting artillery to retire up the hill. They, too, became alarmed, and the retreat, covered by riflemen, was soon a disorderly flight.

The first and second line of the Americans having been dispersed, the British, flushed with success, pushed forward to attack the third. Peter’s artillery annoyed, but did not check them; and the left, under the gallant Colonel Thornton, soon confronted Barney, in the centre, who maintained his position like a genuine hero, as he was. His 18-pounders enfiladed the Washington Road, and with them he swept the highway with such terrible effect that the enemy filed off into a field, and attempted to turn Barney’s right flank. There they were met by three 12-pounders and marines, under Captains Miller and Sevier, and were badly cut up. They were driven back to the ravine already mentioned as the dueling-ground, leaving several of their wounded officers in the hands of the Americans. Colonel Thornton, who bravely led the attacking column, was severely wounded, and General Ross had his horse shot under him.


The flight of Stansbury’s troops left Barney unsupported in that direction, while a heavy column was hurled against Beall and his militia, on the right, with such force as to disperse them. The British light troops soon gained position on each flank, and Barney himself was severely wounded near a living fountain of water on the estate of the late Mr. Rives, which is still known as Barney’s Spring. 34 When it became evident that Minor’s Virginia troops could not arrive in time to aid the gallant flotilla-men, who were obstinately maintaining their position against fearful odds, and that farther resistance would, be useless, Winder ordered a general retreat. The commodore, too severely hurt to be moved, became a prisoner of war, 35 but was immediately paroled by General Ross, and sent to Bladensburg after his wound was dressed by a British surgeon. 36 There he was joined by his wife and son, and his own surgeon, and on the 27th was conveyed to his farm at Elkridge, in Maryland. The great body of the Americans who were not dispersed retreated toward Montgomery Court-house, in Maryland, leaving the battlefield in full possession of the enemy, and their way to the national capital unobstructed except by the burning of the two bridges over the Eastern Branch of the Potomac. 37 The Americans lost twenty-six killed and fifty-one wounded. The British loss was manifold greater. According to one of their officers who was in the battle, and yet living (Mr. Gleig, Chaplain General of the British Army), it was "upward of five hundred killed and wounded," among them "several officers of rank and distinction." The battle commenced at about noon, and ended at four o’clock.

Up to this time the conduct of the British had been in accordance with the rules of modern warfare. Now they abandoned them, and on entering the national capital they performed deeds worthy only of barbarians. In a proclamation issued by the President on the 1st of September he submitted the following indictment: "They wantonly destroyed the public edifices, having no relation in their structure to operations of war, nor used at the time for military annoyance; some of these edifices being also costly monuments of taste and of the arts, and others depositories of the public archives, not only precious to the nation as the memorials of its origin and its early transactions, but interesting to all nations as contributions to the general stock of historical instruction and political science." Let us briefly examine the testimony of history.


When Ross was assured of complete victory, he halted his army a short time on the field of battle, and then, with the fresh Third Brigade, which had not been in the conflict, he crossed the Eastern Branch Bridge. Assured of the retreat of the Americans beyond Georgetown, Ross left the main body a mile and a half from the Capitol, and entered the town, then containing about nine hundred buildings. He came to destroy the public property there. It was an errand, it is said, not at all coincident with his taste or habits, and what was done by him appears to have been performed as humanely as the orders of his superiors would allow. 38 When, on his arrival in the Chesapeake, he had been informed by Admiral Cochrane that he (the admiral) had been urged by Sir George Prevost, the Governor General of Canada (who was not satisfied with the terrible devastation of the Niagara frontier at the close of 1813), 39 to retaliate in kind upon the Americans for the destruction of the government buildings at York 40 and the village of Newark, 41 he demurred, saying that they had carried on the war on the Peninsula and in France with a very different spirit, and that he could not sanction the destruction of public or private property, with the exception of military structures and warlike stores. 42 "It was not," says one of Ross’s surviving aids, Sir Duncan M‘Dougall, in a letter to the author in 1861, "until he was warmly pressed that he consented to destroy the Capitol and President’s house, for the purpose of preventing a repetition of the uncivilized proceedings of the troops of the United States." Fortunately for Ross’s sensibility there was a titled incendiary at hand in the person of Admiral Sir George Cockburn, who delighted in such inhuman work, and who literally became his torch-bearer.

The bulk of the invaders, having crossed the Eastern Branch, halted upon the plain between the Capitol and the site of the Congressional Burying-ground, when General Ross, accompanied by Cockburn and a guard of two hundred men, rode into the city at eight o’clock in the evening. They were fired upon from behind the house of Robert Sewall, near the Capitol, by a single musket, and the horse on which the general was riding was killed. Mr. Sewall’s house was immediately destroyed. The same fate awaited the materials in the office of the National Intelligencer, the government organ, whose strictures on the brutality of Cockburn had filled that marauder with hot anger. 43 These, and some houses on Capitol Hill, a large rope-walk, and a tavern, comprised the bulk of private property destroyed, thanks to the restraining power of General Ross. Several houses and stores were also plundered.


The unfinished Capitol, in which was the library of Congress, the President’s house, a mile distant, the Treasury buildings, the Arsenal, and barracks for almost three thousand troops, were soon in flames, whose light was plainly seen in Baltimore, about forty miles northward.


In the course of a few hours nothing of the superb Capitol and the Presidential mansion was left but their smoke-blackened walls. 44 Of the public buildings only the Patent-office was saved.

All the glory that the British had won on the battle-field was lost in this barbarian conflagration. "Willingly," said the London Statesman newspaper, "would we throw a veil of oblivion over our transactions at Washington. The Cossacks spared Paris, but we spared not the capital of America." The British Annual Register for 1814 denounced the proceedings as "a return to the times of barbarism." "It can not be concealed," the writer continued, "that the extent of devastation practiced by the victors brought a heavy censure upon the British character, not only in America, but on the Continent of Europe." Continental writers and speakers condemned the act in unmeasured terms; and yet the government of England, which has seldom represented the sentiments of the people, caused the Tower guns to be fired in honor of Ross’s victory; thanked the actors through Parliament; decreed a monument to that general in Westminster Abbey at his death; and, making additions to his armorial hearings, authorized his descendants forever to style themselves "Ross of Bladensburg!" 45

While the public buildings in Washington were in flames, the national shipping, stores, and other property were blazing at the navy yard; also the great bridge over the Potomac, from Washington City to the Virginia shore.

Commodore Thomas Tingey was in command of the navy yard, and, before the battle, had received orders to set fire to the public property there in the event of the British gaining a victory, so as to prevent its falling into the hands of the invaders. Tingey delayed the execution of the order for four hours after the contingency had occurred. When, at half past eight in the evening, he was informed that the enemy was encamped within the city limits, near the Capitol, he applied the torch, and property valued at about a million of dollars was destroyed. The schooner Lynx was saved, and most of the metallic work at the navy yard remained but little injured. 46 The fine naval monument, delineated on page 124, was somewhat mutilated, but whether accidentally at the time of the conflagration, or wantonly by the British, who went there the next day to complete the destructive work, is an unsettled question. 47 At the same time, the Long Bridge over the Potomac was fired at both ends. The Americans on the Virginia side thought a large body of British troops were about to pass over, and fired that end to foil them, while the British on the city side, perceiving, as they thought, a large body of Americans about to cross over from the Virginia side, fired the Maryland end of the bridge. The value of the entire amount of property destroyed at Washington by the British and Americans was estimated at about two million dollars. The walls of the Capitol and President’s house stood firm, and were used in rebuilding.

President Madison, and other civil officers who went out to see the fight and give such assistance as they might, remained on the field until Barney fell, when they fled to the city as fast as swift-footed horses could carry them, and were among the first to announce the startling intelligence that the British, victorious, were probably marching on the town, 48

Mrs. Madison 49 had already been apprised of the danger. When the flight of Congreve rockets caused the panic-stricken militia to fly, the President sent messengers to inform her that the defeat of the Americans and the capture of the city seemed to be promised, and to advise her to fly to a place of safety. These messengers reached her between two and three o’clock. Mrs. Madison ordered her carriage, and sent away in a wagon silver plate and other valuables, to be deposited in the Bank of Maryland. She anxiously waited for her husband, and in the mean time took measures for preserving the full-length portrait of Washington, painted by Stuart, which hung in the presidential mansion. 50 Finding the process of unscrewing the frame from the wall too tedious for the exigency, she had it broken in pieces, and the picture removed with the "stretcher," or light frame on which the canvas was nailed. This she did with her own hands. Just as she had accomplished so much, two gentlemen from New York, one of whom was the now (1867) venerable New Orleans banker, Jacob Barker, 51 entered the room. The picture was lying on the floor. The sounds of approaching troops were heard. They might be the invaders, who would be delighted by the possession of so notable a captive as the beautiful wife of the President. It was time for her to fly. "Save that picture," she said to Mr. Barker and Mr. R. G. L. De Peyster, his companion – "save that picture, if possible; if not possible, destroy it: under no circumstances allow it to fall into the hands of the British." Then, snatching up the precious parchment on which was written the Declaration of Independence and the autographs of the signers, which she had resolved to save also, she hastened to the carriage with her sister (Mrs. Cutts) and her husband, and two servants, and was borne away to a place of safety beyond the Potomac. 52

Just as Barker and De Peyster had taken the picture from the stretcher and rolled it up, a portion of the flying American army came up, and halted in front of the President’s house. Some refreshments were given to them, when they marched on toward Montgomery Court-house, the appointed place of rendezvous for the broken army, followed by those gentlemen with the picture. They left it in charge of a farmer in whose house they lodged that night, and a few weeks afterward Mr. Barker restored the portrait to Mrs. Madison. 53 It now hangs upon the wall in the Blue Room of the Presidential mansion.

It was not the design of the British to hold the territory which they had, unexpectedly to themselves, acquired. Indeed, the whole movement up the Chesapeake was originally intended as a feint – a menace of Baltimore and Washington to engage the attention of the government and people, and to draw in that direction the military force of the country, while the far more important measure of invading Louisiana with a formidable force, and taking possession of the Mississippi Valley, should be matured and executed. Accordingly, when Winder’s forces were defeated and routed, the President and his Cabinet driven from the national capital, and the public buildings were destroyed, the invaders retreated precipitately, evidently in fear of a reactive blow. While the British Cabinet, judging from metropolitan influence in European countries, were disposed to believe that, with the loss of their capital, the Americans would consider all gone, and would yield in despair to their victors, those conquerors, on the spot, saw too well the danger to be apprehended from the spirit of a people aroused to greater exertions, and with more united energy, because of that very misfortune.

Impressed with a sense of this danger, Ross and Cochrane moved away with their forces with great secrecy on the night of the 25th of August, after ordering every inhabitant of Washington to remain within doors from sunset till sunrise, on pain of death, and increasing their camp-fires, so as to deceive the Americans. It was immediately after the passage of a terrific tempest of wind, lightning, and rain, during which houses were unroofed and trees were uprooted. Softly these victors stole away in the gloom.

"No man spoke above his breath," says one of the British officers who was present. "Our very steps were planted lightly, and we cleared the town without exciting observation," 54 At midnight, just as the moon arose and cast a pale light over the scenes, they passed the battle-field and Bladensburg, leaving their dead unburied, and full ninety of their wounded to the humanity of Commodore Barney and his men. It was humiliating to the British troops thus to steal away in the dark from the field of their conquest. They moved sullenly onward, so wearied with fatigue and loss of sleep that, when the columns halted for a few minutes, the roads would be filled with sleeping soldiers. At seven o’clock in the morning, finding themselves but little annoyed by pursuers, they halted for rest and refreshments for several hours. At noon they moved forward, encamped at Marlborough, and, marching leisurely, reached Benedict on the 29th, where they embarked on the transports the next day [August 30, 1814.]. 55

The loss of the battle at Bladensburg and of the national capital filled the American people with mortification, and produced the most intense excitement throughout the country. 56 Crimination and recrimination kindled widespread anger, that burned intensely while the actors lived. The public were disposed to hold the Secretary of War responsible for the misfortune, because of his alleged obstinacy and inefficiency, and on the 3d of September he left the Cabinet, and retired to private life. 57 The government gladly attempted to fix the odium upon the militia of Maryland and the District of Columbia, who were easily panic-stricken, and who, on being driven from the field, fled in disorder to their homes; and General Winder received a full share of blame, how worthily let the preceding narrative determine. Only Barney and his seamen were praised. Historians, puzzled by contemporaneous quarrels, have generally agreed in condemning both the government and the militia – the former for imbecility, and the latter for cowardice. A culprit more culpable than either may be discovered by close research. The late Alvan Stewart, in a letter to Dr. Bailey on the 30th of August, 1845, gives us a clew to the identity of the criminal. He says: "General Smith, 58 of Georgetown, District of Columbia, told me in 1818, while passing over this very ground [between Bladensburg and the national capital], in a journey I was taking to Washington City, that he commanded a brigade in the fleeing army of ours, and that the secret of our disgraceful flight was, that a story had been circulated through the District and adjacent counties of the two states, that on that day the slaves were to rise and assert their liberty, 59 and that each man more feared the enemy he had left behind; in the shape of a slave in his own house or plantation, than he did any thing else. 60 The officers and soldiers had their minds distracted with the possibility of this insurrection," said General Smith, "and therefore fled to their homes before an inferior force, and left Washington to the mercy of its captors." 61 Barney’s men, having no such fears, fought gallantly and persistently. May we not look for the chief cause of the disaster at Bladensburg, and the loss of the national capital in 1814, to the slave system, which has cursed every thing upon which the blight of its influence has fallen?

While Cochrane and Ross were making their way toward Washington, a portion of the British fleet, consisting of two frigates of thirty-six and thirty-eight guns, two rocket-ships of eighteen guns each, two bomb-vessels of eight guns each, and one schooner of two guns, sailed up the Potomac River, under Commodore Gordon, of the Sea-horse, to co-operate with them. The only obstruction to the passage of the fleet on which the Americans might place the least reliance was Fort Washington (late Warburton), on the Maryland side of the Potomac, about twelve miles below the National capital. It was a feeble fortress, but capable of being made strong. So early as May, 1813, a deputation from Alexandria, Georgetown, and Washington waited upon the Secretary of War, and represented the importance of strengthening that post.

An engineer (Colonel Decius Wadsworth) was sent to examine it. He reported in favor of additional works in the rear, while he believed that the armament of the fort, and its elevated situation, would enable a well-managed garrison to repulse any number of ships of war that might attempt to pass up the river. Nothing more was done. In July, 1814, when a British fleet and army were in the Chesapeake, the authorities of Alexandria again called the attention of the Secretary of War to the feeble condition of Fort Washington. The Secretary did not believe the enemy would push for the capital, and nothing was done. The Alexandrians appealed to General Winder, who, in a letter to the Secretary of War [July 25, 1814.], recommended the strengthening of the post. Three of the banks of Alexandria offered to loan the government fifty thousand dollars for the construction of more defenses for the District. The money was accepted, but nothing was done to Fort Washington. When the battle of Bladensburg occurred, and the seat of government was left to the mercy of the invaders, Fort Washington was as feebly armed as ever, and its garrison consisted of only about eighty men, under Captain Samuel T. Dyson, who had received orders from General Winder to be very watchful, and, in the event of its being approached by the enemy on land, to blow up the fortification and retreat across the river.


The British squadron appeared before Fort Washington on the 27th of August, three days after the capture of the capital. Captain Dyson either misunderstood General Winder’s order, or was influenced by mortal fear, for he blew up and abandoned the fort without firing a gun. 63 No doubt the British fleet could have been kept below by the heavy cannon of the fort. Dyson chose not to try the experiment, and for his injurious conduct he was dismissed from the service.

The British squadron now had nothing to fear, and without hinderance it sailed on, and was anchored off Alexandria on the evening of the 28th. On the morning of the 29th it assumed a hostile attitude a hundred yards from the wharves, and was well prepared to lay every building in the town in ashes. The citizens had done what they could to protect their city. 64 The able-bodied men and their heavy guns had been called to the defense of Washington City, and only exempts and a few others, not more than one hundred in all, were left. When the squadron came they had no effective means to oppose the intruders, and the citizens sent a deputation to Commodore Gordon to ask upon what terms he would consent to spare the town. He replied that all naval stores and ordnance; all the shipping and its furniture; merchandise of every description in the city, or which had been carried out of it to a place of safety; and refreshments of every kind, must be immediately given up to him. Also that the vessels which had been scuttled to save them from destruction must be raised, and delivered up to him, "Do all this," he said, "and the town of Alexandria, with the exception of public works, shall be spared, and the inhabitants shall remain unmolested. These were harsh and humiliating terms, and the inhabitants were allowed only one hour for consideration. They were powerless, and were compelled to submit. The merchandise that had been carried from the town and the sunken vessels could not be given up to the invader, so he contented himself by burning one vessel and loading several others, chiefly with flour, cotton, and tobacco. With these in charge, the squadron weighed anchor and sailed down the Potomac. 65

On hearing of the surrender of Alexandria, the government determined to annoy, and, if possible, capture or destroy the British squadron in its descent of the Potomac. The Maryland and District militia could not be rallied in time, so the Secretary of the Navy sent an express to Commodore Rodgers, at Baltimore, 66 for him to hasten to the Potomac with as large a number of seamen as he could collect. These were placed under the command of Commodores Rodgers, Perry, Porter, and Creighton. 67 Armed boats and fire-ships were soon prepared, and the seamen, in conjunction with the Virginia militia, gave the enemy a great deal of trouble. Batteries were erected on the river bank at the "White House," a short distance below Mount Vernon, and on Indian head, both commanding points on the Virginia side of the stream. Musketeers were stationed on the thickly-wooded shores. Cannon were taken by District Volunteers, and placed in battery with all possible dispatch, and for several days from the 1st of September [1814.] they kept the British war and plunder vessels from descending the river. Meanwhile the batteries and the militia were strengthened by accessions of guns sent down from Washington and men from the neighboring country, and at times there was heavy fighting. Finally the war vessels, ten in number, with an aggregate of one hundred and seventy-three guns, brought their concentrated power to bear upon Porter’s battery at the "White House" and its supports, and drove all away. Perry’s battery at Indian Head received like attention. His guns were skillfully managed by Lieutenant (late Commodore) George C. Read; 68 but Perry, like Porter, overwhelmed by a vastly superior force, was compelled to retire, and allow the enemy, with his plunder, to pass on to Chesapeake Bay. 69

Thus ended the invasion which resulted in the capture of Washington City, the destruction of its public buildings and navy yard, the surrender and plunder of Alexandria, and the profound regret and humiliation of the American people. 70

I visited the theatre of many of the events described in this chapter, in the years 1860 and 1861. At the close of the former year I was in Washington City, on my way southward to go over the region of the Creek War in Alabama 71 from the Tennessee River to the Gulf of Mexico, and to view the grounds of conflict in the vicinity of New Orleans. I was met there by a letter from a distinguished South Carolina author, informing me that on a certain day a Convention would declare that state seceded from the Union, 72 and advising me to defer my visit on account of the excitement and confusion that must inevitably follow such revolutionary action. On the day after receiving this letter [December 20, 1860 {original text has "1850".}.], and while conversing with the venerable General Cass (who had lately left Mr. Buchanan’s Cabinet in disgust) at his own house, a messenger brought to him the startling intelligence of the passage of the Ordinance of Secession by the South Carolina Convention of politicians [December 20.]. I shall never forget the extreme sadness of countenance, voice, and words of the eminent statesman after that announcement. "I hoped," he said, "to leave to my children, as an inheritance from patriotic men, a united, prosperous, and happy country; but all is over! This is but the beginning of the end!"

The political firmament was so cloudy that I concluded to defer my visit to the Gulf region until a more propitious time, and so I spent a week among the public records in the Departments at Washington, and in visiting the battle-ground at Bladensburg. I had the good fortune to go over that field of strife with the late John C. Rives, whose residence, we have observed, 73 was near the place where Barney fought and fell. Being his guest for a day, we spent nearly the whole time in exploring the battle-ground, and making the sketches on preceding pages. Not long afterward the great Civil War broke out, and it was a year after the visit now considered before I was again in the National capital in the prosecution of this work, when it was filled with soldiery and all the paraphernalia of war. Accompanied by a young kinswoman, I then visited localities of interest connected with the War of 1812 in and around Washington City, at Baltimore, North Point, Havre de Grace, and other places.

It was a bright day in November [1861.] when we rode over to Oak Hill Cemetery, near Georgetown, to visit the graves of General Towson and Commodore Morris. It was a beautiful spot. The burial-places were spread over the slopes of a broad ravine that went down to Piney Branch Creek, where the gentle murmur of a small cascade was heard. The ground was covered with stately oaks, and among them stood many commemorative monuments.


I sketched those of Towson and Morris, 74 and a small uninscribed stone, with a cross upon it, near the latter, and then we rode back, crossed Piney Creek, and, a mile from Georgetown, entered a pleasant lane shaded with oaks, that led to the beautiful mansion of Kalorama, on the brow of a hill, which was once the residence of the eminent Joel Barlow. 75


At the time of our visit it was used as a hospital for soldiers sick with small-pox and measles. Before it was a gentle wooded slope, at the foot of which was a circular plain of ten or twelve acres, then beaten hard by the tread of troops, for it had been made a camp-ground.


On the edge of this plain, overlooking a steep slope covered with oaks, the family vault of Barlow, 76 in which the body of Commodore Decatur was laid on the 24th of March, 1820, two days after he fell in a duel with Commodore Barron, near Bladensburg. 77 It was followed to this tomb by a vast concourse of people, and was placed in it with military honors. 78

We returned to Washington just as the stars were appearing. Early the next day we rode out to the Congressional Burial-ground, which lies party upon a plain, and partly upon an uneven slope toward the Anacostia, or Eastern Branch of the Potomac.


It contains many beautiful monuments, and also monotonous rows of small marble cenotaphs erected to the memory of members of Congress who died while representatives of districts, but who were not buried there.


Among the most elaborately wrought of the fine monuments is that of Elbridge Gerry, who died suddenly while he was Vice-President of the United States. 79 It is of white marble, about thirteen feet in height, with a neat iron railing around it. 80 After sketching this monument and those of several other distinguished public servants, we returned to the city, and passed the evening pleasantly with Colonel C. S. Todd, one of General Harrison’s staff in the War of 1812, already mentioned, 81 and the late venerable Elisha Whittlesey, Comptroller of the National Treasury, who was also an active participant in the Second War for Independence. 82

Having procured a special letter of permission from General M‘Clellan, we started for old Fort Washington, twelve miles down the Potomac, on the following morning, accompanied by Mr. Samuel Yorke AtLee, Librarian of the Treasury Department. Beyond the Potomac, from Arlington Heights to Alexandria and below, we saw the white tents of various military encampments. At Fort Washington, which stands upon the high bank of the Potomac, on the Maryland side, at the mouth of the Piscataway Creek, we were courteously received by Major Haskin, the commander of the garrison; and while making the sketch seen on page 939, we heard the heavy guns of the Confederates, who then blockaded the Potomac. It was twilight when we returned to Washington City. At an early hour the next morning we crossed the Long Bridge into Virginia, made a journey of almost twenty miles among camps and forts in the vicinity of the National capital, and returned to Washington at dusk. On Monday morning we departed for Baltimore, to visit places of historic interest there and in its vicinity.



1 So early as the middle of July, the previous year, when the enemy were no nearer the capital than at the time in question, General Philip Stuart, of the Maryland militia, offered a resolution in Congress for the distribution of arms among the people of the District of Columbia and the members of Congress for the defense of the capital.

2 This paper is still (1867) published at Washington City, and, until recently, by Gales and Seaton, the proprietors in 1814.

3 Duncan L. Clinch was one of the most meritorious officers in the United States service. He was a native of North Carolina, and entered the army as first lieutenant of infantry in 1808, and was soon made regimental paymaster. He was promoted to captain in 1810, and lieutenant colonel in August, 1813. At the close of the war he was retained in the army, and was promoted to colonel in 1819. In 1829 he was breveted brigadier general for ten years’ meritorious services. He was an efficient officer in the war with the Seminoles in 1835 and 1836. He resigned in September, 1836. From 1843 to 1845 he was a representative in Congress from Georgia. He died at Macon, Georgia, on the 28th of October, 1849. He was a brave soldier and noble-hearted man. I am indebted to his daughter, the wife of General Robert Anderson, of Fort Sumter fame, for the above portrait.

4 Letter to the Secretary of War, June 30, 1814, in Winder’s Letter-book.

5 The Secretary of War could not be made to believe, even as late as August, when the enemy was almost at the door of the capital, that Washington City was his object. "What the devil will they do here?" was his question to one who expressed a belief that the capital was in danger. "No, no; Baltimore is the place, sir; that is of so much more consequence." – Statement of General Van Ness before a Committee of Inquiry. In his Notices of the War of 1812, the Secretary says that the attack on Washington was an after-thought of Admiral Cochrane when he had caused the destruction of Barney’s flotilla. Cochrane, in a letter to the Board of Admiralty in September, says that the presence of a flotilla at the head of the Patuxent gave him a "pretext for ascending that river," while "the ultimate destination of the combined force was Washington, should it be found that the attempt might be made with any prospect of success." And at the beginning of August, a letter, written by some one on compulsory duty in the British fleet in the Chesapeake, dated July 27th, was placed in Winder’s hands, and submitted to the Secretary of War, in which the intentions of the enemy to rush to the capital were fully revealed. "The manner in which they intend doing it is," said the writer, "to take advantage of a fair wind in ascending the Patuxent, and, after having ascended it a certain distance, to land their men at once and to make all possible dispatch to the capital, batter it down, and then return to their vessels immediately. In doing this there is calculated to be employed upward of seven thousand men." – Winder Papers.

On the contrary, Mr. Gleig, the now (1867) venerable chaplain general of the British Army, who accompanied the invaders, says that the destruction of Barney’s flotilla was the sole object of the passage up the Patuxent, and that the capture and destruction of Washington was suggested by Cockburn, the marauder, when that work was accomplished.

6 William H. Winder was born in Somerset County, Maryland, on the 18th of February, 1775. His ancestors were among the earliest settlers in that state, and were influential men. He was graduated at the University of Pennsylvania, studied law, and entered upon its practice. He went to Nashville, Tennessee, to settle, but found so little encouragement that he returned to his native state. At the age of twenty-three he was elected a member of the Maryland Legislature. In 1802 he took up his residence in Baltimore, and soon stood in the foremost rank at the bar in that city, where his rivals and friends were William Pinkney, Luther Martin, and men of that character. In March, 1812, he received the commission of lieutenant colonel of infantry, and was promoted to colonel in July following, and with troops from his state performed eminent service on the Niagara frontier. He was commissioned a brigadier in March, 1813 {original text has "1843".}, and in June following he was captured at Stony Creek, in Canada, and held as a prisoner of war until the spring of 1814. In May of that year he was appointed adjutant and inspector general, and at the beginning of July he was assigned to the command of the Tenth Military District. He was active in efforts to defend Washington City, and afterward Baltimore. After the retirement of the British he was ordered to the Northern frontier. He left the army in 1815, and returned to the practice of his profession with a ruined constitution. He was twice elected state senator. His health finally gave way, and he died in Baltimore on the 24th of May, 1824, at the age of forty-eight years. He was Grand Master of the Masonic Order in Maryland. No private citizen was ever before or since honored with such a funeral as his; and the pen of William Wirt indited a most eloquent eulogy of his character.

7 The requisition upon the several States was as follows: New Hampshire, 3500; Massachusetts, 10,000; Rhode Island, 500; Connecticut, 3000; New York, 13,500; New Jersey, 5000; Pennsylvania, 14,000; Delaware, 1000; Maryland, 6000; Virginia, 12,000; North Carolina, 7000; South Carolina, 5000; Georgia, 3500; Kentucky, 5500; Tennessee, 2500; Louisiana, 1000; Mississippi Territory, 500. Of this force 8400 were to be artillery, and the remainder infantry.

8 The Secretary of War, as we have seen, did not believe that the British would attempt to penetrate to Washington; and on the day when he gave this cautious order, the National Intelligencer (the government organ) said, "It is not probable they will be required to be embodied unless the enemy should attempt to execute his threats of invasion."

9 Autograph Letter, Winder Papers; Report of an Investigating Committee of Congress.

10 It is related that a farmer living near Bladensburg, who having, with some of his neighbors, followed some directions for deep plowing given in a book, struck the gravel below his soil, and allowed all his manure to leach through and thus ruin his land, saw General Winder one day, when the British were near, with a map in his hand, inspecting that region. "He’ll be whipped," said the farmer. "Why?" asked a by-stander. "Because he’s going to book-fighting the British, as we have been book-farming, and got whipped."

11 Autograph Letter.

12 Henry Carbery was a captain in the American Navy in 1792, and resigned in 1794. He entered the military service in Maryland in the spring of 1813 as colonel. He died on the 26th of May, 1822.

13 These "disciplined negroes" had been forced by threats, and bribed by promises of freedom, to enter the British service.

14 Barney had been very active with his flotilla in opposing the marauding expeditions of the British. On the 9th of July he wrote from Nottingham to a friend, saying, "Six times in one month I have beat the enemy, always increasing in their force, so that I believe they are tired of me. They now lie at the mouth of the Patuxent." – Autograph Letter.

15 Autograph Letter, Winder Papers.

16 General Smith’s MS. Order-book. I am indebted to the kind courtesy of General John Spear Smith, of Baltimore, son of General Samuel Smith, and his aid-de-camp in 1814, for the use of his father’s military papers of this period.

17 Autograph Letter to General Winder.

18 Tobias E. Stansbury lived to the great age of ninety-three years. He was an active public man from the commencement of the Revolution almost to the time of his death, which occurred in Baltimore County, Maryland, on the 25th of October, 1849. He was repeatedly a member of the Maryland Legislature, and was Speaker of its House of Delegates. He always enjoyed the perfect confidence of his fellow-citizens.

19 See sketch of William Pinkney on page 147 {original text has "148".}.

20 Barney’s autograph Letter to the Investigating Committee, October 30, 1814.

21 See Map on page 929.

22 Mr. S. Pleasanton, then employed in the office of the Secretary of State, made immediate arrangements for the removal of the books and papers of the State Department. He had linen bags made in which they were placed, and then conveyed in carts across the Chain Bridge, over the Potomac, two miles above Georgetown, to the grist-mill of Edgar Patterson, in Virginia. Considering them unsafe there, Mr. Pleasanton had them conveyed to Leesburg, thirty-five miles from Washington, where they were locked up in an unoccupied house, and the keys given to the Rev. Mr. Littlejohn, who had been one of the collectors of the internal revenue. Thus the precious documents of the Revolutionary period and other valuable papers now in the Office of the Rolls at Washington City were saved from destruction. – Autograph Letter of S. Pleasanton to General Winder, August 7, 1848. Mr. Pleasanton, in his account of this transaction, says: "While engaged in the passage-way of the buildings with the papers, the Department of State being on one side, and the War Department on the other side of the passage, General Armstrong, then Secretary of War, on his way to his own room, stopped a short time, and observed to me that he thought we were under unnecessary alarm, as he did not think the British were serious in their intentions of coming to Washington." To this belief the Secretary adhered until they were in full march upon the capital.

23 This is a sketch of the old mill made near the close of 1861. Bladensburg and the bridge are seen in the distance.

24 I have before me a very interesting narrative in manuscript of the events of the battle, which came under the observation of Dr. Samuel B. Martin, one of the surgeons stationed at Tournecliffe’s house, where he was made a prisoner at the close of the battle.

25 Secretaries of War, Navy, and Treasury, and the Attorney General.

26 It appears from contemporaneous testimony that, at the interview at Winder’s head-quarters that morning, it was resolved by the President to give the supreme control of military affairs to the Secretary of War, but that in a short time the President changed his mind, who told the Secretary that "the military functionaries should be left to the discharge of their own duties on their own responsibilities." – See General Armstrong’s account of the matter in his Notices of the War of 1812. The now (1867) venerable Jacob Barker, of New Orleans, who was at the seat of government at this time, in an interesting narrative of these events, says: "The President left Washington at about 9 A. M. [August 24], in great haste, to recall General Armstrong, who had preceded him about an hour with the President’s order to supersede General Winder in the defense of the capital, and reaching the ground a few minutes before the fight began, said to General Armstrong, ‘It is too late to make any change. Come with me, and leave the defense with the military authorities, where it belongs.’ " – Letter to Mr. Carroll, February 8, 1848, in reply to one from that gentleman in the New York Herald, December 1,1847. General Armstrong was offended, and, as he says in his narrative, "now became, of course, a mere spectator of the combat."

27 Richard Rush, then Attorney General, says that the President informed him, when they were riding out toward Bladensburg, that one motive that caused his going to the field was to be on hand to give the requisite sanction to the claims to superior command of General Armstrong.

28 This view is from the right bank of the Eastern Branch, on the road leading to Washington.

29 This barn, on the Georgetown Road, was yet standing in 1861. A small drawing of it is seen in the corner of the smaller section of the map on page 929.

30 See note 4, page 652.

31 This mansion stands between the Baltimore and Washington Railway and the turnpike leading from Washington to Bladensburg. It is about four miles from the national capital. Mr. Rives, who died there on Sunday, the 10th of April, 1864, at the age of sixty-nine years, was one of the founders of the Washington Globe, the official organ of President Jackson. His partner in the establishment of that paper, Mr. Blair, survives him. Mr. Blair was the editor of the Globe, and Mr. Rives was the business manager. The latter was the publisher of the Globe at the time of his death. He was a noble and generous citizen. For a long time during the great Civil War he gave from his private purse about $1000 a month to the families of the volunteer soldiers in the District of Columbia.

32 This is a view of Tournecliffe’s Bridge and the Dueling-ground from the north side of the road from Washington to Bladensburg. The place where Decatur and Barron fought was on the low ground by the creek, seen immediately over the two figures in the picture, nearest the left of it. These officers fought with pistols on the 22d of March, 1820, when Decatur was mortally wounded, and died in the arms of his distracted wife at Kalorama, near Georgetown, the same night, at the early age of forty years. The event is elsewhere mentioned in this volume. Here, also, a duel was fought by Jonathan Cilley, of Maine, and W. J. Graves, of Kentucky (both members of Congress), on the 24th of February, 1838. They fought with rifles at eighty yards’ distance. Cilley was mortally wounded at the third fire. The higher ground seen toward the right of the picture is the place where Captains Davidson and Stull were posted.

Other duels have been fought on this ground. The first was in 1814, when one of the parties (Edward Hopkins) was killed. The next was in 1819, by A. T. Mason and John M‘Carty. Mason was killed. Decatur and Barron fought there the next year. In 1822, Midshipman Locke, and Gibson, Chief Clerk of the Treasury Department, fought there. Gibson was shot. Key and Sherborn fought there in 1833, when Key was killed. The duel of Graves and Cilley, as we have seen, was in 1838. There was a duel there in 1846, when a lawyer named Jones killed Dr. Johnson. Hoole and Dallas exchanged shots there in 1850 or 1851.

33 Ross made the house of Mr. Lowndes his head-quarters on that day.

34 The picture is a view at "Barney’s Spring" when I visited and sketched it in December, 1860. It is a little south of the road leading between Washington and Bladensburg, and about two hundred yards southwest from the mansion of the late Mr. Rives. Barney’s battery was in the road near by; and the stumps of two cedar-trees, a short distance from the site of the battery, indicate the spot where the commodore’s horse, which was shot under him, was buried.

35 Joshua Barney was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on the 6th of July, 1759. He went to sea when a small boy, and at the age of fourteen years was second mate of a vessel, and at sixteen was commander. After many adventures abroad, he arrived in the Chesapeake in October, 1775. The following June he was appointed a lieutenant In the United States Navy, and was the first to unfurl the American flag in Maryland. He was a very active officer during the whole war. He brought the first news of peace with Great Britain, on the 12th of March, 1783. Continuing in service, he was one of the six commanders appointed under the act of 1793, but he declined the honor. He went to France with Monroe, and was the bearer of the American flag to the National Convention. He entered the French service in command of two fine frigates. He resigned his French commission in 1802, and returned home. He again entered the naval service of the United States in 1812, and distinguished himself during the war that ensued. He died of a bilious fever at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, on the 1st of December, 1818, at the age of fifty-nine years. His remains were interred in the burying-ground of the First Presbyterian Church at Pittsburg, and over them a plain white marble slab was laid by his widow. They were removed to the Alleghany Cemetery on the 12th of May, 1848, where they repose in the shadow of thrifty young trees, without a record there on wood or stone. The bullet which finally caused the death of Commodore Barney was never extracted during his lifetime. In obedience to his orders, it was sought for after his death, and found.

It is preserved in a disc of brass, with an inscription, in the archives of the Navy Department at Washington City. The annexed engraving is a representation, the exact size, of the bullet, the disc, and the inscription. The portrait of Barney on the opposite page was painted by Joseph Wood, of Washington City, in 1818.

36 Dr. Martin, in his MS. Reminiscences, already mentioned, says that when he and other prisoners were going up the hill toward where Barney fell, they met a litter with the wounded commodore on it. He desired his guard to halt, and call the prisoners to him. The leader called out to them, "Coom over here, Yankees, to see your coonthryman, Barney; he looks like a spread aigle, Yankees!" The prisoners shook hands with the brave old commodore, who gave them words of cheer.

37 The lower bridge, near the navy yard, had been left in charge of Captain Creighton, with orders to destroy it on the approach of the enemy. It was fired at four o’clock in the afternoon.

38 Hoping to spare the town, Ross had sent an agent to negotiate for a pecuniary ransom. There was no competent authority to meet his agent, and if there was, the proposition would, as the President afterward said, have been treated with contempt.

39 See page 634.

40 See page 628.

41 See page 632. Evidently ashamed of the barbarism committed by British hands, Vice Admiral Cochrane attempted to palliate it by a pitiful trick. After the destruction of the capital, and the invaders were safely back on their vessels in the Patuxent, Cochrane wrote a letter to Secretary Monroe, in which he said to him, "Having been called upon by the Governor General of the Canadas to aid him in carrying into effect measures of retaliation against the inhabitants of the United States for the wanton destruction committed by their army in Upper Canada, it has become imperiously my duty, conformably with the governor general’s application, to issue to the naval force under my command an order to destroy and lay waste such towns and districts upon the coast as may be found assailable." Cochrane then expressed a hope that the "conduct of the executive of the United States would authorize him in staying such proceedings, by making reparation to the suffering inhabitants of Upper Canada," etc. This letter was antedated August 18, or six days before the battle of Bladensburg, so as to appear like a humane suggestion, in the non-compliance with which might be found an excuse for the destruction of the national capital. It did not reach Mr. Monroe until the morning of the 31st of August, a week after Washington was devastated, when that officer, in a dignified reply, reminded the vice admiral that the wanton destruction by the British of Frenchtown, Frederick, Georgetown, and Havre de Grace, and the outrages at Hampton by the same people, had occurred long before the destruction of Newark.

42 Dr. Martin (see note 1, page 925) says: "General Ross was the perfect model of the Irish gentleman, of easy and beautiful manners, humane and brave, and dignified in his deportment to all. He was beloved by all his officers, and his prisoners had no reason to regret falling into such hands."

43 Cockburn was about to apply the torch, when he was prevailed upon by the women of adjoining residences not to do so, as it would endanger their dwellings. He caused all the type and other printing materials to be thrown into the street, the printing-presses to be destroyed, and the library, containing several hundred volumes, to be burned. He assisted in this work with his own hands. His companions in the business were some sailors and soldiers.

44 These buildings were fired under the direct superintendence of Lieutenant George Pratt, the second of the Sea-horse, who was shot in the gun-boat battle on Lake Borgue, near New Orleans, a few months afterward.

45 The London Times, then, as now, the exponent of the principles of the ruling classes in England, and the bitter foe of the American people, gloried over the destruction of the public buildings, and the expulsion of the President and Cabinet from the capital, and indulged in exulting prophecies of the speedy disappearance of the great republic in the West. "That ill-organized association," said the Times, "is on the eve of dissolution, and the world is speedily to be delivered of the mischievous example of the existence of a government founded on democratic rebellion." In long after years, when Cockburn died at the age of eighty-two, the Times lauded him chiefly for his marauding exploits in this country, and his "splendid achievement" in firing our national capital.

46 Letter of Commodore Tingey to the Secretary of the Navy, August 27, 1814. The officers and other persons at the navy yard fled in boats to Alexandria.

47 On the day after the entrance of the British into Washington (August 26), a party of two hundred of them were sent to finish the work of destruction at the navy yard. A large quantity of powder, shot, and shell had been thrown into a well. A British artilleryman accidentally dropped a match into it, when a terrible explosion occurred, and communicated fire to a small magazine of powder near by. That also exploded. Earth, stones, bricks, shot, shells, etc., were thrown into the air, and, falling among the invaders, killed twelve men, and wounded more than thirty others.

48 The Opposition press and speakers were merry over the flight of the President and his Cabinet from the battle-field. A New York paper said: "Should some Walter Scott in the next century write a poem, and call it Madison, or the Battle of Bladensburg, we would suggest the following lines for the conclusion, to be put into the mouth of his hero:

" ‘Fly, Monroe, fly! run, Armstrong, run!
Were the last words of Madison.’ "

49 Dolly Payne was the maiden name of Mrs. Madison. She was the daughter of Quaker parents, residents of Virginia, and was born on the 20th of May, 1767, while her mother was visiting some friends in North Carolina. Her father manumitted his slaves, and made Philadelphia his residence. There Dolly married a young lawyer named Todd, who was also a Quaker. He died, leaving her a young widow with an infant son; and in 1794 she married Mr. Madison, then a distinguished member of Congress, and Montpellier, in Virginia, became their home. She adorned every station in life in which she was placed. She died in July, 1850, at the age of eighty-three years, having survived her husband fourteen years.

50 Mrs. Madison wrote to her sister at intervals. At three o’clock she wrote: "Mr. Madison comes not. May God protect him! Two messengers, covered with dust, come to bid me fly, but I wait for him. . . . . Our kind friend, Mr. Carroll, has come to hasten my departure, and is in a very bad humor with me because I insist on waiting until the large picture of General Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall."

51 Jacob Barker is one of the remarkable men of this country. He was born in Maine on the 17th of December, 1779. His mother was a Quaker, and he has been a member of that Society through life. He entered early into mercantile life, and became largely interested in commerce as an extensive ship-owner. He was a firm and efficient supporter of the administration during the war, and aided the government largely in its financial operations. He was an intimate family friend of President Madison. He became extensively engaged in banking, and his long and active life has been a scene of many vicissitudes for him, He is now (1867), at the age of eighty-nine years engaged in banking in the city of New Orleans.

52 The flight of the President from the battle-field, and of Mrs. Madison from the Presidential mansion, formed the subject of many squibs for the Opposition. Among others was a witty parody on John Gilpin’s Ride, only one stanza of which I can now recall. It is descriptive of Mrs. Madison’s directions for the flight of the family, where she says to the President:

"Sister Cutts, and Cutts and I,
And Cutts’s children three,
Shall in the coach – and you shall ride
On horseback after we."

According to letters among General Winder’s papers, the President and his Cabinet fled to different places. On the 26th, the day after the British withdrew from Washington, the President, with General Mason, the Commissary of Prisoners, and Richard Rush, the Attorney General, was at Brookville, in Maryland; the Secretary of the Navy was with the President’s family in Loudon County, Virginia; and the Secretary of War and Secretary of the Treasury were at Frederick, in Maryland, on the Monocacy River. As soon as the President was certified of the flight of the invaders to their ships, he summoned his Cabinet to a reunion at Washington. The President, with the Secretary of State, arrived there on the 28th. The reunion took place on the 29th. – Autograph Letters of Monroe and Armstrong, August 26 and 27, 1814.

53 Oral statement of Mr. Barker to the author at New Orleans in April, 1861.

54 Rev. George R. Gleig, now (1867) chaplain general of the British Army. He entered the army at an early age, was in the Peninsular War with Wellington, and served as a subaltern in America at Baltimore, and Washington, and New Orleans. He was severely wounded in the battle of Bladensburg. He has published two works on these campaigns, one entitled The Subaltern in America, and the other Campaigns of Washington and New Orleans. To these books, written with great candor, I am indebted for much information concerning the movements of the British in these campaigns. Mr. Gleig has been an industrious book-maker. After the war in this country he took orders, and was chaplain of Chelsea Hospital for some time. He was made chaplain general to the forces in 1846. A fine lithographed portrait of him, from which the above picture was copied, and his signature, I received from him through the hands of a gentleman residing in London.

55 The chief authorities consulted in the preparation of the narrative of the capture of Washington are the official reports of the commanders; Wilkinson’s Memoirs; Armstrong’s Notices of the War of 1812; files of the National Intelligencer; Niles’s Register; Ingraham’s Sketch of the Events which preceded the Capture of Washington; Ingersoll’s historical Sketch of the Second war, etc.; Williams’s History of the Invasion and Capture of Washington; the MS. Papers of General Winder and Commodore Barney; Gleig’s Campaign of Washington, etc.; Statements of Survivors, etc., etc.

56 Intelligence of the disaster reached Cincinnati on the 6th of September. General Harrison was there. Forgetful of the ill treatment which he had received from those in power, and anxious to save his country, he at once addressed a letter to the Governors of Ohio and Kentucky, to whom appeals had never been made in vain, suggesting the propriety of sending a volunteer force of dragoons and mounted riflemen to the aid of the people on the sea-board. Movements for that purpose were set on foot, when the repulse of the British at Baltimore, and their abandonment of expeditions (if ever conceived) against Philadelphia and New York, rendered farther operations in the West unnecessary. – Autograph Letter of General Harrison to Governor Shelby, September 6, 1814.

57 On the 29th of August President Madison informed General Armstrong that there was a high degree of excitement against him among the militia of the District, and that an officer of a corps had given notice that he would no longer obey any order coming through the then Secretary of War. He told Armstrong that he must so far yield to public clamor as to permit some other person to perform the duties of his office in relation to the defense of the District. Armstrong would not consent to a division of his duties, and resigned. In his letter of resignation, and in a subsequent paper, he offered a vindication of his conduct. In the year 1836 General Armstrong published a still more elaborate vindication, in two small volumes, entitled Notices of the War of 1812.

58 General Walter Smith. See page 922.

59 On several occasions during the war the British had offered liberty to the slaves if the latter would join them, and on one occasion, as we have seen (page 690), preparations were made, on that account, for a general insurrection in South Carolina.

60 See the testimony of John Randolph on this point in a speech on the floor of Congress in the year 1811. See page 214.

61 Writings and Speeches of Alvan Stewart on Slavery, edited by his son-in-law, Luther R. Marsh, page 372.

62 This is a view of Fort Washington from the rear, looking across the Potomac to the Virginia shore, as it appeared in November, 1861. It is on the Maryland shore, about three miles higher up the river than Mount Vernon.

63 In a letter to the Secretary of War, dated "Camp at Macon’s Island, August 29, 1814," Captain Dyson excused his conduct by saying he had been informed that the enemy had been re-enforced at Benedict by six thousand men, and were marching on Fort Washington to co-operate with the fleet. This was a false rumor. He acted too precipitately to find out the truth, but not until it was too late to be useful.

64 At about the time when the British fleet appeared in the Potomac, General Winder received from an unknown hand a sketch of a simple torpedo for blowing up vessels, with a description of its construction and use. The engraving of it on the next page is a fac-simile of the original pen-and-ink sketch found among the Winder papers. General Winder believed it was from General Guy, of Alexandria, who had conversed with him on the subject previously.


The torpedo’s construction and use were described as follows: Ascertain the depth of the channel in which a row of torpedoes are to be placed, and cut trees three feet in diameter of such length as will allow ships to pass over them when they stand perpendicular. Bore them out with a pump auger, the hole being large enough for a 12-pound ball. Then fill the place with hot tallow, so that it will thoroughly enter the pores of the wood, and make it impervious to water. Then bore it out again, and put in powder in flannel cartridges. Over the powder place two balls, and then pour in melted tallow again, so as to completely inclose the powder. Over the balls put a wad of oakum, also covered at top with tallow. Before putting in the powder, a hole must be made in the log, and a wire inserted so as to penetrate the cartridge, and the hole then made water-tight. This wire was to extend to the shore. It was to be a conductor of an electric spark to the powder. To secure the trees from bursting with the powder explosion, they were to be hooped. The following are the directions for the working of the torpedo, given by the projector:

1, a tree on the shore, serving as a mark by day, and having a lantern hanging upon it by night. 2, position of a sentinel, who views an object on the water between himself and the tree 1 through a fixed tube. 3, another tree, with a lantern at night. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, other sentinels on the shore, who look through fixed tubes upon tree number 3, their vision crossing that of sentinel number 2 at different positions. The circles in the channel of the river show the position of five tree torpedoes. Thus stationed, the different sentinels would all see a vessel, as it crossed their vision between them and tree 3, at different points. When the sentinel at 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 sees an object on his line of vision, he will immediately pull a cord to convey information of the fact to number 2, and if, at the same time, that object covers the vision of the sentinel on line 1 and 2, the vessel must be over one of the torpedoes. Then number 2, having in charge the electric wire, will communicate the spark to the powder of the torpedo.

65 The loss sustained by the Alexandrians by the surrender of the city consisted of three ships, three brigs, several small bay and river craft, 16,000 pounds of flour, 1000 hogsheads of tobacco, 150 bales of cotton, and $5000 worth of wines and segars.

66 Commodore Rodgers was at Philadelphia when the British captured Washington. As early as the 26th he had received an order from the Secretary of the Navy to hasten to Washington with all the force under his command. He started with four hundred seamen and fifty marines armed with muskets, and four pieces of artillery (12-pounders), but before he reached Baltimore he heard of the fall of the capital. At Baltimore he awaited farther orders. – Rodgers to Winder – Autograph Letter among the Winder Papers.

67 Perry and Porter were in Baltimore at the time, and accompanied Rodgers to Washington. The former was in command of the frigate Java, recently launched at Baltimore.

68 Commodore Read died at Philadelphia, where he was Governor of the Naval Asylum, in August, 1863.

69 On the 5th of September twenty-six sail passed Point Lookout, and at four o’clock on the afternoon of the 9th twenty-one ships, six brigs, and three smaller vessels were seen beating up the Chesapeake. – Autograph Letters from Thomas Swann, at Point Lookout, among the Winder Papers.

70 The slight resistance offered to the invaders during their operations in the space of twelve days excited great surprise, alarm, and indignation. They had been performed in the midst of a population most interested in the events, and capable of furnishing at least 20,000 able-bodied men for the defense of their homes and the National capital. The national honor required an investigation, and early in the next session of Congress a committee for that purpose was appointed by the House of Representatives. Their report exculpated the President and General Winder, but left Congress and the people to form their own judgment from the facts presented.

71 See Chapters XXXIII and XXXIV {original text has "XXIII and XXIV".}.

72 The writer was William Gilmore Simms. His letter was dated December 13, 1860. "In ten days more," he wrote, "South Carolina will have certainly seceded; and in reasonable interval after this event, if the forts in our harbor are not surrendered to the state, they will be taken."

73 See page 927.

74 A picture of Towson’s appears on page 809, and Morris’s on page 901.

75 See page 94.

76 On each side of the entrance door to the vault was a white marble slab, suitably inscribed. Commencing on one, and running across to the other, are the words "Sacred to the repose of the dead and the meditation of the living." On the left-hand slab we read: "Joel Barlow, Patriot, Poet, and Philosopher, lies buried at Zarowitch, Poland, where he died, 26th December, 1812, aged fifty-seven years."

"Judith Baldwin Barlow, his wife, died 29th of May, 1818, aged sixty-two."

"Abraham Baldwin, her brother, died a senator in Congress from Georgia, 4th of March, 1807, aged fifty-two years. His memory needs no marble; his country is his monument; the Constitution his greatest work." Mr. Baldwin was a member from Georgia of the Convention that framed the National Constitution in 1787. On the right-hand side are inscriptions commemorative of the Bomford family.

77 General Solomon Van Rensselaer, then in Washington City, wrote as follows to Mrs. Van Rensselaer:


"Washington, March 20, 1820.

"DEAR HARRIET, – I have only time, after writing to several, to say that an affair of honor took place this morning between Commodores Decatur and Barron, in which both fell at the first fire. The ball entered Decatur’s body two inches above the hip, and lodged against the opposite side. I just came from his house. He yet lives, but will never see another sun. Barron’s wound is severe, but not dangerous. The ball struck the upper part of his hip, and turned to the rear. He is ruined in public estimation. The excitement is very great."


On the following day Van Rensselaer wrote of his death, and said: "His poor wife (they have no children) is distressed beyond expression. She would suffer no one to be in her room, and, strange to say, she did not see him until after his death." General Van Rensselaer was misinformed, for she was present when he died. Mrs. Decatur survived her husband about forty years. She died at Georgetown, in the District of Columbia, in 1860.

78 Decatur’s remains were taken from his late residence in Washington city at four o’clock in the afternoon, and borne to Kalorama by the following officers: Commodores Tingey, Macdonough, Rodgers, and Porter, Captains Cassin, Ballard, and Chauncey, Generals Brown and Jesup, and Lieutenant M‘Pherson. The funeral was attended by nearly all the public functionaries in Washington, American and foreign, and a great number of citizens. While the procession was moving, minute-guns were fired at the navy yard.

79 Mr. Gerry was boarding at the house of Mrs. Wilson, and was on his way from there to the Capitol when the death summons came to him in the street. At his funeral his body was taken from Mrs. Wilson’s to the hall of the House of Representatives in charge of a committee of arrangements. From there It was conveyed to the Congressional Burying-ground by Messrs. Tallmadge, Macon, Brower, Sevier, Wright, Findley, Nelson, and Brigham, chosen pall-bearers, followed by all the public functionaries in Washington, domestic and foreign.

80 Mr. Gerry was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and had ever been conspicuous in public life. The following is a copy of the inscription on his monument: East Side – "The tomb of ELBRIDGE GERRY, Vice-President of the United States, who died suddenly in this city, on his way to the Capitol as President of the Senate, November 23d, 1814, aged seventy, thus fulfilling his own memorable injunction, ‘It is the duty of every citizen, though he may have but one day to live, to devote that day to the good of his country.’ " West Side – "Erected by order of the Congress of the United States, 1823."

81 See page 548.

82 See page 341.



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