War of 1812Events and Locationsfrench

Battle in the Bay: The Washington Campaign

Further Reading

An Overview of the British Attack on Washington and Baltimore

The Americans Prepare to Defend Washington and Baltimore

The British Attack Bladensburg and Move Onto Washington

The American Defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg

The British Sail Up the Potomac

Washington Burns

The American Defense of Baltimore

George Gleig, British Officer

The British Attack on Baltimore

On September 12, General Robert Ross and his troops land at North Point and begin the 12-mile trek to Baltimore. At the same time, Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane sails up the Patapsco River to try and reduce Fort McHenry, an important part of Baltimore’s defense.

The British soldiers soon encounter a small force of Americans sent out to delay their advance. When Ross rides forward to see what’s happening, a sniper’s bullet kills him.

Colonel Arthur Brooke takes over command of the British troops and meets the enemy forces again at Boulden’s Farm. After a short but intense engagement, the Americans are beaten back. This is a costly victory for the British, who have 46 killed and 300 wounded.

Meanwhile, Cochrane has been busy getting his lighter ships over the Patapsco River shoals. His larger ships simply cannot make it, so he will have to make do with five bomb ships, a rocket ship, four light frigates, and six brigs and sloops of war. Shortly after dawn on September 13, he’s in position to bomb Fort McHenry. He opens fire from two miles away. By 2 pm, thinking that the fort must have been considerably damaged, Cochrane moves closer to the target. His vessels are immediately hit with such intense fire that he has to call them back and resume the long-range attack.

Shortly before midday, Brooke emerges into open country outside of Baltimore and finds himself confronted by the Loudenslager Hill fortifications. To attack, the British will have to cross two miles of open ground and ford a steep-banked creek under enemy fire. After a few probing attacks, Brooke decides he cannot carry off a frontal advance. But he has already formed another plan: Cochrane’s marines will make a night time diversionary attack on “Roger’s Bastion” at the southern end of Loudenslager Hill. While this is taking place, Brooke’s troops will silently form up on the Philadelphia Road opposite the northeast angle of the Loudenslager line. If the marines’ attack is successful, then Brooke’s men will launch a silent bayonet attack on the unsuspecting Americans.

It is a bold plan. Unfortunately for the British, Cochrane’s marines are spotted by the Americans and don’t even get a chance to land. Shortly after 2 am, when Brooke realizes Cochrane has failed, he orders a retreat. The British have lost General Robert Ross and failed to neutralize Fort McHenry. Outnumbered and facing the daunting defenses of the Loudenslager Hill fortifications, the decision to call off the Chesapeake campaign is a prudent one.

This failure to take Baltimore will ultimately have repercussions at the Ghent peace negotiations taking place in Belgium. The British negotiators are counting on military successes to improve their bargaining position. Without these victories the British give up their territorial demands at the talks.