Militia

a modern day photograph of living historians dressed in militia gear with muskets marching together.
Living historians depicting militia units marching together.

NPS/Tim Ervin

Several Militia units from Maryland and surrounding areas were called to defend the city of Baltimore as the British approached. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, able-bodied men in the U.S. between specific ages were expected to enroll in their state militia to serve in a military capacity should their service be required. However, the expectations of militia units were not high due to a decline in formal regulation. Many militiamen received minimal training and were given little in the way of equipment. Prior to the outbreak of war, most militiamen were expected to use their own personal weapons. Despite its shortcomings, the militias offered a key military resource needed to win the war: manpower.
 
A close up of a living historian loading a musket.
A living historian dressed as a militiaman loading a musket.

NPS/Tim Ervin

During the War of 1812, the United States federalized the state militias in April 1813 and again in August 1814. In August, Brigadier General Winder, by direction of the War Department, ordered the designated militia of Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia, to be drafted into federal service under the President Madison's call of July 4th. Three units of Maryland Militia were ordered into the service of the United States under the Articles of War and sent to Fort McHenry. These units were the Baltimore Fencibles Artillery Company under Captain Joseph Nicholson, Washington Artillery under Captain John Berry, and Baltimore Independent Artillery under Lt Commanding Charles Pennington. A total of about 255 men comprised these units and were quartered within the star fort during their service. Private Isaac Monroe of the Baltimore Fencibles recounted being called to defend Baltimore at Fort McHenry during the wake of battle: “We were all immediately rallied, and arrived at the Fort before 12, although the rain poured down in torrents. On our arrival we found the matches burning, the furnaces heated and vomiting red hot shot, and everything ready for a gallant defense.”

 
A handwritten letter with text on the left and a map depicting the Battle of Baltimore on the right.
Jacob Crumbaker, a first lieutenant in the Frederick Militia, witnessed the action from his station at Camp Hampstead. He sketched a drawing of the scene before him on the reverse of this letter including the outbreak of fires and scuttled of vessels.

NPS

The artillery units under Captain Nicholson were assigned to the bastions of the fort during the Defense of Baltimore. Each point of the star is called a bastion. Bastions, or the points of the star in which Fort McHenry was shaped allowed for crossfire, so that the artillerymen could aim the cannon to cover all approaches. Each bastion had four 24-pound cannon that fired over the top of the walls. The men of the Washington Artillery and Baltimore Independent Artillery manned the lower water batteries which featured 18 and 36 pounder guns.

In addition to these militia units, as many as 400 independent militia companies from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Western Maryland poured into the City of Baltimore and surrounding strongholds to aid in its defense. Many stationed at Hampstead Hill quickly began digging entrenchments and setting up artillery redoubts around Baltimore to defend against a land attack.

Last updated: September 10, 2020

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