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The British command of the water on Lake Ontario was obtained too late in the year 1814 to have any decisive effect upon their operations. Combined with their continued powerlessness on Lake Erie, this caused their campaign upon the northern frontier to be throughout defensive in character, as that of the Americans had been offensive. Drummond made no attempt in the winter to repeat the foray into New York of the previous December, although he and Prevost both considered that they had received provocation to retaliate, similar to that given at Newark the year before. The infliction of such vindictive punishment was by them thrown upon Warren’s successor in the North Atlantic command, who responded in word and will even more heartily than in deed. The Champlain expedition, in September of this year, had indeed offensive purpose, but even there the object specified was the protection of Canada, by the destruction of the American naval establishments on the lake, as well as at Sackett’s Harbor; while the rapidity with which Prevost retreated, as soon as the British squadron was destroyed, demonstrated how profoundly otherwise the spirit of a simple defensive had possession of him, as it had also of the more positive and aggressive temperaments of Drummond and Yeo, and how essential naval control was in his eyes. In this general view he had the endorsement of the Duke of Wellington, when his attention was called to the subject, after the event.

Upon the seaboard it was otherwise. There the British campaign of 1814 much exceeded that of 1813 in offensive purpose and vigor, and in effect. This was due in part to the change in the naval commander-in-chief; in part also to the re-enforcements of troops which the end of the European war enabled the British Government to send to America. Early in the year 1813, Warren had represented to the Admiralty the impossibility of his giving personal supervision to the management of the West India stations, and had suggested devolving the responsibility upon the local admirals, leaving him simply the power to interfere when circumstances demanded. The Admiralty then declined, alleging that the character of the war required unity of direction over the whole. Later they changed their views. The North Atlantic, Jamaica, and Leeward Islands stations were made again severally independent, and Warren was notified that as the American command, thus reduced, was beneath the claims of an officer of his rank, a full admiral, a successor would be appointed. Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane accordingly relieved him, April 1, 1814; his charge embracing both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. At the same period the Lakes Station, from Champlain to Superior inclusive, was constituted a separate command; Yeo’s orders to this effect being dated the same day as Cochrane’s, January 25, 1814.

Cochrane brought to his duties a certain acrimony of feeling, amounting almost to virulence. “I have it much at heart,” he wrote Bathurst, “to give them a complete drubbing before peace is made, when I trust their northern limits will be circumscribed and the command of the Mississippi wrested from them.” He expects thousands of slaves to join with their masters’ horses, and looks forward to enlisting them. They are good horsemen; and, while agreeing with his lordship in deprecating a negro insurrection, he thinks such bodies will “be as good Cossacks as any in the Russian army, and more terrific to the Americans than any troops that can be brought forward.” Washington and Baltimore are equally accessible, and may be either destroyed or laid under contribution. These remarks, addressed to a prominent member of the Cabinet, are somewhat illuminative as to the formal purposes, as well as to the subsequent action, of British officials. The sea coast from Maine to Georgia, according to the season of the year, was made to feel the increasing activity and closeness of the British attacks; and these, though discursive and without apparent correlation of action, were evidently animated throughout by a common intention of bringing the war home to the experience of the people.

As a whole, the principal movements were meant to serve as a diversion, detaining on the Chesapeake and seaboard troops which might otherwise be sent to oppose the advance Prevost was ordered to make against Sackett’s Harbor and Lake Champlain; for which purpose much the larger part of the re-enforcements from Europe had been sent to Canada. The instructions to the general detailed to command on the Atlantic specified as his object “a diversion on the coast of the United States in favor of the army employed in the defence of Upper and Lower Canada." During the operations, “if in any descent you shall be enabled to take such a position as to threaten the inhabitants with the destruction of their property, you are hereby authorized to levy upon them contributions in return for your forbearance.” Negroes might be enlisted, or carried away, though in no case as slaves. Taken in connection with the course subsequently pursued at Washington, such directions show an aim to inflict in many quarters suffering and deprivation, in order to impress popular consciousness with the sense of an irresistible and ubiquitous power incessantly at hand. Such moral impression, inclining those subject to it to desire peace, conduced also to the retention of local forces in the neighborhood where they belonged, and so furthered the intended diversion.

The general purpose of the British Government is further shown by some incidental mention. Gallatin, who at the time of Napoleon’s abdication was in London, in connection with his duties on the Peace Commission, wrote two months afterwards: “To use their own language, they mean to inflict on America a chastisement which will teach her that war is not to be declared against Great Britain with impunity. This is a very general sentiment of the nation; and that such are the opinions of the ministry was strongly impressed on the mind of by a late conversation he had with Lord Castlereagh. Admiral Warren also told Levett Harris, with whom he was intimate at St. Petersburg, that he was sorry to say the instructions given to his successor on the American station were very different from those under which he acted, and that he feared very serious injury would be done to America."

Thus inspired, the coast warfare, although more active and efficient than the year before, and on a larger scale, continued in spirit and in execution essentially desultory and wasting. As it progressed, a peculiar bitterness was imparted by the liberal construction given by British officers to the word “retaliation.” By strict derivation, and in wise application, the term summarizes the ancient retribution of like for like, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; and to destroy three villages for one, as was done in retort for the burning of Newark, the inhabitants in each case being innocent of offence, was an excessive recourse to a punitive measure admittedly lawful. Two further instances of improper destruction by Americans had occurred during the campaign of 1814. Just before Sinclair sailed for Mackinac, he suggested to a Colonel Campbell, commanding the troops at Erie, that it would be a useful step to visit Long Point, on the opposite Canada shore, and destroy there a quantity of flour, and some mills which contributed materially to the support of the British forces on the Niagara peninsula. This was effectively done, and did add seriously to Drummond’s embarrassment; but Campbell went further and fired some private houses also, on the ground that the owners were British partisans and had had a share in the burning of Buffalo. A Court of Inquiry, of which General Scott was president, justified the destruction of the mills, but condemned unreservedly that of the private houses. Again, in Brown’s advance upon Chippewa, some American “volunteers,” despatched to the village of St. David’s, burned there a number of dwellings. The commanding officer, Colonel Stone, was ordered summarily and immediately by Brown to retire from the expedition, as responsible for an act “contrary to the orders of the Government, and to those of the commanding general published to the army."

In both these cases disavowal had been immediate; and it had been decisive also in that of Newark. The intent of the American Government was clear, and reasonable ultimate compensation might have been awaited; at least for a time. Prevost, however, being confined to the defensive all along his lines, communicated the fact of the destruction to Cochrane, calling upon him for the punishment which it was not in his own power then to inflict. Cochrane accordingly issued an order to the ships under his command, to use measures of retaliation “against the cities of the United States, from the Saint Croix River to the southern boundary, near the St. Mary’s River;” “to destroy and lay waste,” so he notified the United States Government, “such towns and districts upon the coast as may be found assailable." In the first heat of his wrath, he used in his order an expression, “and you will spare merely the lives of the unarmed inhabitants of the United States,” which he afterwards asked Prevost to expunge, as it might be construed in a sense he never meant; and he reported to his Government that he had sent private instructions to exercise forbearance toward the inhabitants. It can easily be believed that, like many words spoken in passion, the phrase far outran his purposes; but it has significance and value as indicating the manner in which Americans had come to be regarded in Great Britain, through the experience of the period of peace and the recent years of war.

However the British Government might justify in terms the impressment of seamen from American ships, or the delay of atonement for such an insult as that of the Chesapeake, the nation which endured the same, content with reams of argument instead of blow for blow, had sunk beneath contempt as an inferior race, to be cowed and handled without gloves by those who felt themselves the masters. Nor was the matter bettered by the notorious fact that the interference with the freedom of American trade, which Great Britain herself admitted to be outside the law, had been borne unresisted because of the pecuniary stake involved. The impression thus produced was deepened by the confident boasts of immediate successes in Canada, made by leading members of the party which brought on the war; followed as these were by a display of inefficiency so ludicrous that opponents, as well native as foreign, did not hesitate to apply to it the word “imbecility.” The American for a dozen years had been clubbed without giving evidence of rebellion, beyond words; now that he showed signs of restiveness, without corresponding evidence of power, he should feel the lash, and there need be no nicety in measuring punishment. Codrington, an officer of mark and character, who joined Cochrane at this time as chief of staff, used expressions which doubtless convey the average point of view of the British officer of that day: President Madison, “by letting his generals burn villages in Canada again, has been trying to excite terror; but as you may shortly see by the public exposition of the Admiral’s orders, the terror and the suffering will probably be brought home to the doors of his own fellow citizens. I am fully convinced that this is the true way to end this Yankee war, whatever may be said in Parliament against it."

It is the grievous fault of all retaliation, especially in the heat of war, that it rarely stays its hand at an equal measure, but almost invariably proceeds to an excess which provokes the other party to seek in turn to even the scale. The process tends to be unending; and it is to the honor of the United States Government that, though technically responsible for the acts of agents which it was too inefficient to control, it did not seriously entertain the purpose of resorting to this means, to vindicate the wrongs of its citizens at the expense of the subjects of its opponent. Happily, the external brutality of attitude which Cochrane’s expression so aptly conveyed yielded for the most part to nobler instincts in the British officers. There was indeed much to condemn, much done that ought not to have been done; but even in the contemporary accounts it is quite possible to trace a certain rough humanity, a wish to deal equitably with individuals, for whom, regarded nationally, they professed no respect. Even in the marauding of the Chesapeake, the idea of compensation for value taken was not lost to view; and in general the usages of war, as to property exempt from destruction or appropriation, were respected, although not without the rude incidents certain to occur where atonement for acts of resistance, or the price paid for property taken, is fixed by the victor.

If retaliation upon any but the immediate culprit is ever permissible, which in national matters will scarcely be contested, it is logically just that it should fall first of all upon the capital, where the interests and honor of the nation are centred. There, if anywhere, the responsibility for the war and all its incidents is concrete in the representatives of the nation, executive and legislative, and in the public offices from which all overt acts are presumed to emanate. So it befell the United States. In the first six months of 1814, the warfare in the Chesapeake continued on the same general lines as in 1813; there having been the usual remission of activity during the winter, to resume again as milder weather drew on. The blockade of the bay was sustained, with force adequate to make it technically effective, although Baltimore boasted that several of her clipper schooners got to sea. On the part of the United States, Captain Gordon of the navy had been relieved in charge of the bay flotilla by Commodore Barney, of revolutionary and privateering renown. This local command, in conformity with the precedent at New York, and as was due to so distinguished an officer, was made independent of other branches of the naval service; the commodore being in immediate communication with the Navy Department. On April 17, he left Baltimore and proceeded down the bay with thirteen vessels; ten of them being large barges or galleys, propelled chiefly by oars, the others gunboats of the ordinary type. The headquarters of this little force became the Patuxent River, to which in the sequel it was in great measure confined; the superiority of the enemy precluding any enlarged sphere of activity. Its presence, however, was a provocation to the British, as being the only floating force in the bay capable of annoying them; the very existence of which was a challenge to their supremacy. To destroy it became therefore a dominant motive, which was utilized also to conceal to the last their purpose, tentative indeed throughout, to make a dash at Washington.

The Patuxent enters Chesapeake Bay from the north and west, sixty miles below Baltimore, and twenty above the mouth of the Potomac, to the general direction of which its own course in its lower part is parallel. For boats drawing no more than did Barney’s it is navigable for forty miles from its mouth, to Pig Point; whence to Washington by land is but fifteen miles. A pursuit of the flotilla so far therefore brought pursuers within easy striking distance of the capital, provided that between them and it stood no obstacle adequate to impose delay until resistance could gather. It was impossible for such a pursuit to be made by the navy alone; for, inadequate as the militia was to the protection of the bay shore from raiding, it was quite competent to act in conjunction with Barney, when battling only against boats, which alone could follow him into lairs accessible to him, but not to even the smaller vessels of the enemy. Ships of the largest size could enter the river, but could ascend it only a little way. Up the Patuxent itself, or in its tributaries, the Americans therefore had always against the British Navy a refuge, in which they might be blockaded indeed, but could not be reached. For all these reasons, in order to destroy the flotilla, a body of troops must be used; a necessity which served to mask any ulterior design.

In the course of these operations, and in support of them, the British Navy had created a post at Tangier Island, ten miles across the bay, opposite the mouth of the Potomac. Here they threw up fortifications, and established an advanced rendezvous. Between the island and the eastern shore, Tangier Sound gave sheltered anchorage. The position was in every way convenient, and strategically central. Being the junction of the water routes to Baltimore and Washington, it threatened both; while the narrowness of the Chesapeake at this point constituted the force there assembled an inner blockading line, well situated to move rapidly at short notice in any direction, up or down, to one side or the other. At such short distance from the Patuxent, Barney’s movements were of course well under observation, as he at once experienced. On June 1, he left the river, apparently with a view to reaching the Potomac. Two schooners becalmed were then visible, and pursuit was made with the oars; but soon a large ship was seen under sail, despatching a number of barges to their assistance. A breeze springing up from southwest put the ship to windward, between the Potomac and the flotilla, which was obliged to return to the Patuxent, closely followed by the enemy. Some distant shots were exchanged, but Barney escaped, and for the time was suffered to remain undisturbed three miles from the bay; a 74-gun ship lying at the river’s mouth, with barges plying continually about her. The departure of the British schooners, however, was construed to indicate a return with re-enforcements for an attack; an anticipation not disappointed. Two more vessels soon joined the seventy-four; one of them a brig. On their appearance Barney shifted his berth two miles further up, abreast St. Leonard’s Creek. At daylight of June 9, one of the ships, the brig, two schooners, and fifteen rowing barges, were seen coming up with a fair wind. The flotilla then retreated two miles up the creek, formed there across it in line abreast, and awaited attack. The enemy’s vessels could not follow; but their boats did, and a skirmish ensued which ended in the British retiring. Later in the day the attempt was renewed with no better success; and Barney claimed that, having followed the boats in their retreat, he had seriously disabled one of the large schooners anchored off the mouth of the creek to support the movement.

There is no doubt that the American gunboats were manfully and skilfully handled, and that the crews in this and subsequent encounters gained confidence and skill, the evidences of which were shown afterwards at Bladensburg, remaining the only alleviating remembrance from that day of disgrace. From Barney would be expected no less than the most that man can do, or example effect; but his pursuit was stopped by the ship and the brig, which stayed within the Patuxent. The flotilla continued inside the creek, two frigates lying off its mouth, until June 26, when an attack by the boats, in concert with a body of militia, infantry and light artillery, decided the enemy to move down the Patuxent. Barney took advantage of this to leave the creek and go up the river. We are informed by a journal of the day that the Government was by these affairs well satisfied with the ability of the flotilla to restrain the operations of the enemy within the waters of the Chesapeake, and had determined on a considerable increase to it. Nothing seems improbable of that Government; but, if this be true, it must have been easily satisfied. Barney had secured a longer line of retreat, up the river; but the situation was not materially changed. In either case, creek or river, there was but one way out, and that was closed. He could only abide the time when the enemy should see fit to come against him by land and by water, which would seal his fate.

On June 2 there had sailed from Bordeaux for America a detachment from Wellington’s army, twenty-five hundred strong, under Major-General Ross. It reached Bermuda July 25, and there was re-enforced by another battalion, increasing its strength to thirty-four hundred. On August 3 it left Bermuda, accompanied by several ships of war, and on the 15th passed in by the capes of the Chesapeake. Admiral Cochrane had preceded it by a few days, and was already lying there with his own ship and the division under Rear-Admiral Cockburn, who hitherto had been in immediate charge of operations in the bay. There were now assembled over twenty vessels of war, four of them of the line, with a large train of transports and store-ships. A battalion of seven hundred marines were next detailed for duty with the troops, the landing force being thus raised to over four thousand. The rendezvous at Tangier Island gave the Americans no certain clue to the ultimate object, for the reason already cited; and Cochrane designedly contributed to their distraction, by sending one squadron of frigates up the Potomac, and another up the Chesapeake above Baltimore. On August 18 the main body of the expedition moved abreast the mouth of the Patuxent, and at noon of that day entered the river with a fair wind.

The purposes at this moment of the commanders of the army and navy, acting jointly, are succinctly stated by Cochrane in his report to the Admiralty: “Information from Rear-Admiral Cockburn that Commodore Barney, with the Potomac flotilla, had taken shelter at the head of the Patuxent, afforded a pretext for ascending that river to attack him near its source, above Pig Point, 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." August 19, the troops were landed at Benedict, twenty-five miles from the mouth of the river, and the following day began their upward march, flanked by a naval division of light vessels; the immediate objective being Barney’s flotilla.

For the defence of the capital of the United States, throughout the region by which it might be approached, the Government had selected Brigadier-General Winder; the same who the year before had been captured at Stoney Creek, on the Niagara frontier, in Vincent’s bold night attack. He was appointed July 2 to the command of a new military district, the tenth, which comprised “the state of Maryland, the District of Columbia, and that part of Virginia lying between the Potomac and the Rappahannock;" in brief, Washington and Baltimore, with the ways converging upon them from the sea. This was just seven weeks before the enemy landed in the Patuxent; time enough, with reasonable antecedent preparation, or trained troops, to concert adequate resistance, as was shown by the British subsequent failure before Baltimore.

The conditions with which Winder had to contend are best stated in the terms of the Court of Inquiry called to investigate his conduct, at the head of which sat General Winfield Scott. After fixing the date of his appointment, and ascertaining that he at once took every means in his power to put his district in a proper state of defence, the court found that on August 24, the day of the battle of Bladensburg, he “was enabled by great and unremitting exertions to bring into the field about five or six thousand men, all of whom except four hundred were militia; that he could not collect more than half his men until a day or two previously to the engagement, and six or seven hundred of them did not arrive until fifteen minutes before its commencement; ... that the officers commanding the troops were generally unknown to him, and but a very small number of them had enjoyed the benefit of military instruction or experience.” So far from attributing censure, the Court found that, “taking into consideration the complicated difficulties and embarrassments under which he labored, he is entitled to no little commendation, notwithstanding the result; before the action he exhibited industry, zeal, and talent, and during its continuance a coolness, a promptitude, and a personal valor, highly honorable to himself.”

The finding of a court composed of competent experts, convened shortly after the events, must be received with respect. It is clear, however, that they here do not specify the particular professional merits of Winder’s conduct of operations, but only the general hopelessness of success, owing to the antecedent conditions, not of his making, under which he was called to act, and which he strenuously exerted himself to meet. The blame for a mishap evidently and easily preventible still remains, and, though of course not expressed by the Court, is necessarily thrown back upon the Administration, and upon the party represented by it, which had held power for over twelve years past. A hostile corps of less than five thousand men had penetrated to the capital, through a well populated country, which was, to quote the Secretary of War, “covered with wood, and offering at every step strong positions for defence;" but there were neither defences nor defenders.

The sequence of events which terminated in this humiliating manner is instructive. The Cabinet, which on June 7 had planned offensive operations in Canada, met on July 1 in another frame of mind, alarmed by the news from Europe, to plan for the defence of Washington and Baltimore. It will be remembered that it was now two years since war had been declared. In counting the force on which reliance might be placed for meeting a possible enemy, the Secretary of War thought he could assemble one thousand regulars, independent of artillerists in the forts. The Secretary of the Navy could furnish one hundred and twenty marines, and the crews of Barney’s flotilla, estimated at five hundred. For the rest, dependence must be upon militia, a call for which was issued to the number of ninety-three thousand, five hundred. Of these, fifteen thousand were assigned to Winder, as follows: From Virginia, two thousand; from Maryland, six thousand; from Pennsylvania, five thousand; from the District of Columbia, two thousand. So ineffective were the administrative measures for bringing out this paper force of citizen soldiery, the efficiency of which the leaders of the party in power had been accustomed to vaunt, that Winder, after falling back from point to point before the enemy’s advance, because only so might time be gained to get together the lagging contingents, could muster in the open ground at Bladensburg, five miles from the capital, where at last he made his stand, only the paltry five or six thousand stated by the court. On the morning of the battle the Secretary of War rode out to the field, with his colleagues in the Administration, and in reply to a question from the President said he had no suggestions to offer; “as it was between regulars and militia, the latter would be beaten." The phrase was Winder’s absolution; pronounced for the future, as for the past. The responsibility for there being no regulars did not rest with him, nor yet with the Secretary, but with the men who for a dozen years had sapped the military preparation of the nation.

Under the relative conditions of the opposing forces which have been stated, the progress of events was rapid. Probably few now realize that only a little over four days elapsed from the landing of the British to the burning of the Capitol. Their army advanced along the west bank of the Patuxent to Upper Marlborough, forty miles from the river’s mouth. To this place, which was reached August 22, Ross continued in direct touch with the navy; and here at Pig Point, nearly abreast on the river, the American flotilla was cornered at last. Seeing the inevitable event, and to preserve his small but invaluable force of men, Barney had abandoned the boats on the 21st, leaving with each a half-dozen of her crew to destroy her at the last moment. This was done when the British next day approached; one only escaping the flames.

The city of Washington, now the goal of the enemy’s effort, lies on the Potomac, between it and a tributary called the Eastern Branch. Upon the east bank of the latter, five or six miles from the junction of the two streams, is the village of Bladensburg. From Upper Marlborough, where the British had arrived, two roads led to Washington. One of these, the left going from Marlborough, crossed the Eastern Branch near its mouth; the other, less direct, passed through Bladensburg. Winder expected the British to advance by the former; and upon it Barney with the four hundred seamen remaining to him joined the army, at a place called Oldfields, seven miles from the capital. This route was militarily the more important, because from it branches were thrown off to the Potomac, up which the frigate squadron under Captain Gordon was proceeding, and had already passed the Kettle-bottoms, the most difficult bit of navigation in its path. The side roads would enable the invaders to reach and co-operate with this naval division; unless indeed Winder could make head against them. This he was not able to do; but he remained almost to the last moment in perplexing uncertainty whether they would strike for the capital, or for its principal defence on the Potomac, Fort Washington, ten miles lower down.

For the obvious reasons named, because the doubts of their opponent facilitated their own movements by harassing his mind, as well as for the strategic advantage of a central line permitting movement in two directions at choice, the British advanced, as anticipated, by the left-hand road, and at nightfall of August 23 were encamped about three miles from the Americans. Here Winder covered a junction; for at Oldfields the road by which the British were advancing forked. One division led to Washington direct, crossing the Eastern Branch of the Potomac where it is broadest and deepest, near its mouth; the other passed it at Bladensburg. Winder feared to await the enemy, because of the disorder to which his inexperienced troops would be exposed by a night attack, causing possibly the loss of his artillery; the one arm in which he felt himself superior. He retired therefore during the night by the direct road, burning its bridge. This left open the way to Bladensburg, which the British next day followed, arriving at the village towards noon of the 24th. Contrary to Winder’s instruction, the officer stationed there had withdrawn his troops across the stream, abandoning the place, and forming his line on the crest of some hills on the west bank. The impression which this position made upon the enemy was described by General Ross, as follows: “They were strongly posted on very commanding heights, formed in two lines, the advance occupying a fortified house, which with artillery covered the bridge over the Eastern Branch, across which the British troops had to pass. A broad and straight road, leading from the bridge to Washington, ran through the enemy’s position, which was carefully defended by artillerymen and riflemen." Allowing for the tendency to magnify difficulties overcome, the British would have had before them a difficult task, if opposed by men accustomed to mutual support and mutual reliance, with the thousand-fold increase of strength which comes with such habit and with the moral confidence it gives.

The American line had been formed before Winder came on the ground. It extended across the Washington road as described by Ross. A battery on the hill-top commanded the bridge, and was supported by a line of infantry on either side, with a second line in the rear. Fearing, however, that the enemy might cross the stream higher up, where it was fordable in many places, a regiment from the second line was reluctantly ordered forward to extend the left; and Winder, when he arrived, while approving this disposition, carried thither also some of the artillery which he had brought with him. The anxiety of the Americans was therefore for their left. The British commander was eager to be done with his job, and to get back to his ships from a position militarily insecure. He had long been fighting Napoleon’s troops in the Spanish peninsula, and was not yet fully imbued with Drummond’s conviction that with American militia liberties might be taken beyond the limit of ordinary military precaution. No time was spent looking for a ford, but the troops dashed straight for the bridge. The fire of the American artillery was excellent, and mowed down the head of the column; but the seasoned men persisted and forced their way across. At this moment Barney was coming up with his seamen, and at Winder’s request brought his guns into line across the Washington road, facing the bridge. Soon after this, a few rockets passing close over the heads of the battalions supporting the batteries on the left started them running, much as a mule train may be stampeded by a night alarm. It was impossible to rally them. A part held for a short time; but when Winder attempted to retire them a little way, from a fire which had begun to annoy them, they also broke and fled.

The American left was thus routed, but Barney’s battery and its supporting infantry still held their ground. “During this period,” reported the Commodore, that is, while his guns were being brought into battery, and the remainder of his seamen and marines posted to support them, “the engagement continued, the enemy advancing, and our own army retreating before them, apparently in much disorder. At length the enemy made his appearance on the main road, in force, in front of my battery, and on seeing us made a halt. I reserved our fire. In a few minutes the enemy again advanced, when I ordered an 18-pounder to be fired, which completely cleared the road; shortly after, a second and a third attempt was made by the enemy to come forward, but all were destroyed. They then crossed into an open field and attempted to flank our right; he was met there by three 12-pounders, the marines under Captain Miller, and my men, acting as infantry, and again was totally cut up. By this time not a vestige of the American army remained, except a body of five or six hundred, posted on a height on my right, from whom I expected much support from their fine situation."

In this expectation Barney was disappointed. The enemy desisted from direct attack and worked gradually round towards his right flank and rear. As they thus moved, the guns of course were turned towards them; but a charge being made up the hill by a force not exceeding half that of its defenders, they also “to my great mortification made no resistance, giving a fire or two, and retired. Our ammunition was expended, and unfortunately the drivers of my ammunition wagons had gone off in the general panic.” Barney himself, being wounded and unable to escape from loss of blood, was left a prisoner. Two of his officers were killed, and two wounded. The survivors stuck to him till he ordered them off the ground. Ross and Cockburn were brought to him, and greeted him with a marked respect and politeness; and he reported that, during the stay of the British in Bladensburg, he was treated by all “like a brother,” to use his own words.

The character of this affair is sufficiently shown by the above outline narrative, re-enforced by the account of the losses sustained. Of the victors sixty-four were killed, one hundred and eighty-five wounded. The defeated, by the estimate of their superintending surgeon, had ten or twelve killed and forty wounded. Such a disparity of injury is usual when the defendants are behind fortifications; but in this case of an open field, and a river to be crossed by the assailants, the evident significance is that the party attacked did not wait to contest the ground, once the enemy had gained the bridge. After that, not only was the rout complete, but, save for Barney’s tenacity, there was almost no attempt at resistance. Ten pieces of cannon remained in the hands of the British. “The rapid flight of the enemy,” reported General Ross, “and his knowledge of the country, precluded the possibility of many prisoners being taken."

That night the British entered Washington. The Capitol, White House, and several public buildings were burned by them; the navy yard and vessels by the American authorities. Ross, accustomed to European warfare, did not feel Drummond’s easiness concerning his position, which technically was most insecure as regarded his communications. On the evening of June 25 he withdrew rapidly, and on that of the 26th regained touch with the fleet in the Patuxent, after a separation of only four days. Cockburn remarked in his official report that there was no molestation of their retreat; “not a single musket having been fired." It was the completion of the Administration’s disgrace, unrelieved by any feature of credit save the gallant stand of Barney’s four hundred.

The burning of Washington was the impressive culmination of the devastation to which the coast districts were everywhere exposed by the weakness of the country, while the battle of Bladensburg crowned the humiliation entailed upon the nation by the demagogic prejudices in favor of untrained patriotism, as supplying all defects for ordinary service in the field. In the defenders of Bladensburg was realized Jefferson’s ideal of a citizen soldiery, unskilled, but strong in their love of home, flying to arms to oppose an invader; and they had every inspiring incentive to tenacity, for they, and they only, stood between the enemy and the centre and heart of national life. The position they occupied, though unfortified, had many natural advantages; while the enemy had to cross a river which, while in part fordable, was nevertheless an obstacle to rapid action, especially when confronted by the superior artillery the Americans had. The result has been told; but only when contrasted with the contemporary fight at Lundy’s Lane is Bladensburg rightly appreciated. Occurring precisely a month apart, and with men of the same race, they illustrate exactly the difference in military value between crude material and finished product.

Coincident with the capture of Washington, a little British squadron two frigates and five smaller vessels ascended the Potomac. Fort Washington, a dozen miles below the capital, was abandoned August 27 by the officer in charge, removing the only obstacle due to the foresight of the Government. He was afterwards cashiered by sentence of court martial. On the 29th, Captain Gordon, the senior officer, anchored his force before Alexandria, of which he kept possession for three days. Upon withdrawing, he carried away all the merchantmen that were seaworthy, having loaded them with merchandise awaiting exportation. Energetic efforts were made by Captains Rodgers, Perry, and Porter, of the American Navy, to molest the enemy’s retirement by such means as could be extemporized; but both ships and prizes escaped, the only loss being in life: seven killed and forty-five wounded.

After the burning of Washington, the British main fleet and army moved up the Chesapeake against Baltimore, which would undoubtedly have undergone the lot of Alexandria, in a contribution laid upon shipping and merchandise. The attack, however, was successfully met. The respite afforded by the expedition against Washington had been improved by the citizens to interpose earthworks on the hills before the city. This local precaution saved the place. In the field the militia behaved better than at Bladensburg, but showed, nevertheless, the unsteadiness of raw men. To harass the British advance a body of riflemen had been posted well forward, and a shot from these mortally wounded General Ross; but, “imagine my chagrin, when I perceived the whole corps falling back upon my main position, having too credulously listened to groundless information that the enemy was landing on Back River to cut them off."

The British approached along the narrow strip of land between the Patapsco and Back rivers. The American general, Stricker, had judiciously selected for his line of defence a neck, where inlets from both streams narrowed the ground to half a mile. His flanks were thus protected, but the water on the left giving better indication of being fordable, the British directed there the weight of the assault. To meet this, Stricker drew up a regiment to the rear of his main line, and at right angles, the volleys from which should sweep the inlet. When the enemy’s attack developed, this regiment “delivered one random fire,” and then broke and fled; “totally forgetful of the honor of the brigade, and of its own reputation,” to use Stricker’s words. This flight carried along part of the left flank proper. The remainder of the line held for a time, and then retired without awaiting the hostile bayonet. The American report gives the impression of an orderly retreat; a British participant, who admits that the ground was well chosen, and that the line held until within twenty yards, wrote that after that he never witnessed a more complete rout. The invaders then approached the city, but upon viewing the works of defence, and learning that the fleet would not be able to co-operate, owing to vessels sunk across the channel, the commanding officer decided that success would not repay the loss necessary to achieve it. Fleet and army then withdrew.

The attacks on Washington and Baltimore, the seizure of Alexandria, and the general conduct of operations in the Chesapeake, belong strictly to the punitive purpose which dictated British measures upon the seaboard. Similar action extended through Long Island Sound, and to the eastward, where alarm in all quarters was maintained by the general enterprise of the enemy, and by specific injury in various places. “The Government has declared war against the most powerful maritime nation,” wrote the Governor of Massachusetts to the legislature, “and we are disappointed in our expectations of national defence. But though we may be convinced that the war was unnecessary and unjust, and has been prosecuted without any useful or practicable object with the inhabitants of Canada, while our seacoast has been left almost defenceless, yet I presume there will be no doubt of our right to defend our possessions against any hostile attack by which their destruction is menaced.” “The eastern coast,” reports a journal of the time, “is much vexed by the enemy. Having destroyed a great portion of the coasting craft, they seem determined to enter the little outports and villages, and burn everything that floats." On April 7, six British barges ascended the Connecticut River eight miles, to Pettipaug, where they burned twenty-odd sea-going vessels. On June 13, at Wareham, Massachusetts, a similar expedition entered and destroyed sixteen. These were somewhat large instances of an action everywhere going on, inflicting indirectly incalculably more injury than even the direct loss suffered; the whole being with a view to bring the meaning of war close home to the consciousness of the American people. They were to be made to realize the power of the enemy and their own helplessness.

An attempt looking to more permanent results was made during the summer upon the coast of Maine. The northward projection of that state, then known as the District of Maine, intervened between the British provinces of Lower Canada and New Brunswick, and imposed a long detour upon the line of communications between Quebec and Halifax, the two most important military posts in British North America. This inconvenience could not be remedied unless the land in question were brought into British possession; and when the end of the war in Europe gave prospect of a vigorous offensive from the side of Canada, the British ministry formulated the purpose of demanding there a rectification of frontier. The object in this case being acquisition, not punishment, conciliation of the inhabitants was to be practised; in place of the retaliatory action prescribed for the sea-coast elsewhere.

Moose Island, in Passamaquoddy Bay, though held by the United States, was claimed by Great Britain to have been always within the boundary line of New Brunswick. It was seized July 11, 1814; protection being promised to persons and property. In August, General Sherbrooke, the Governor of Nova Scotia, received orders “to occupy so much of the District of Maine as shall insure an uninterrupted communication between Halifax and Quebec." His orders being discretional as to method, he decided that with the force available he would best comply by taking possession of Machias and the Penobscot River. On September 1, a combined naval and army expedition appeared at the mouth of the Penobscot, before Castine, which was quickly abandoned. A few days before, the United States frigate “Adams,” Captain Charles Morris, returning from a cruise, had run ashore upon Isle au Haut, and in consequence of the injuries received had been compelled to make a harbor in the river. She was then at Hampden, thirty miles up. A detachment of seamen and soldiers was sent against her. Her guns had been landed, and placed in battery for her defence, and militia had gathered for the support necessary to artillery so situated; but they proved unreliable, and upon their retreat nothing was left but to fire the ship. This was done, the crew escaping. The British penetrated as far as Bangor, seized a number of merchant vessels, and subsequently went to Machias, where they captured the fort with twenty-five cannon. Sherbrooke then returned with the most of his force to Halifax, whence he issued a voluminous proclamation to the effect that he had taken possession of all the country between the Penobscot and New Brunswick; and promised protection to the inhabitants, if they behaved themselves accordingly. Two regiments were left at Castine, with transports to remove them in case of attack by superior numbers. This burlesque of occupation, one foot on shore, and one on sea, was advanced by the British ministry as a reason justifying the demand for cession of the desired territory to the northward. Wellington, when called into counsel concerning American affairs, said derisively that an officer might as well claim sovereignty over the ground on which he had posted his pickets. The British force remained undisturbed, however, to the end of the war. Amicable relations were established with the inhabitants, and a brisk contraband trade throve with Nova Scotia. It is even said that the news of peace was unwelcome in the place. It was not evacuated until April 27, 1815.