With Baltimore facing an imminent attack by land, Brigadier General John Stricker led the 3rd Brigade of Maryland militia out of the city on September 11, 1814, to meet the advancing British troops. By nightfall Stricker’s men had reached a Methodist Meeting House in the vicinity of an area known as Godley Woods, about seven miles southeast of the city and about halfway to North Point, where the British would begin landing troops in a few hours. This area was the narrowest part of the Patapsco Neck Peninsula with Bear Creek to the south and Bread and Cheese Creek to the north. These creeks along with the thick forest in the area would help protect Stricker’s flanks.
The British Advance
Stricker ordered his rifle battalion and some cavalry to advance a few miles ahead to scout for the British and hopefully strike the first blow to delay the British advance. Commanding the British troops was Major General Robert Ross. Ross and most of the soldiers under his command had come straight to America from the battlefields of Europe. These were the soldiers of Wellington’s Invincibles who had defeated Napoleon just months before.
Ross and his staff, along with Rear Admiral George Cockburn (Co-burn) were among the first to land and organize the army for the assault on Baltimore. Cockburn had been in the Chesapeake Bay for over a year, burning towns and farms, and seizing tobacco and crops. He had also been freeing slaves, giving them the choice of going to the West Indies or Halifax, or the option to join the British military as members of the Royal Colonial Marines. About 500 liberated slaves joined the Colonial Marines.
Ross and Cockburn had worked well together during mid-August in Southern Maryland, successfully attacking Washington City and burning the public buildings. Ross wanted Cockburn along for the attack on Baltimore.
At about 3:00 a.m. on September 12, British troops began landing troops at North Point, the northeastern end of the peninsula. Nearly 4,700 soldiers, sailors, and marines, including some Royal Colonial Marines, would be put ashore for the attack on Baltimore. It was a slow process and the landing would take all night and into the late morning. Ross and Cockburn landed with the first troops and proceeded inland, leaving Colonel Arthur Brooke of the 44th Foot regiment to oversee the landing and move them forward for the attack on Baltimore.
A Devastating Loss
Moving five miles up the peninsula, Ross and Cockburn stopped at the farm of man named Gorsuch and demanded breakfast. While they were eating, three American prisoners were brought into the farmer’s house. Ross asked them about the defenses at Baltimore. How many cannons? How many men are stationed in the city?
One prisoner answered that 20,000 soldiers were positioned in the defenses at Baltimore, but admitted that they were mostly militia. Ross had only fought the Americans once before, at Bladensburg, where many of the militia had fired their muskets a single time and then fled in terror. Showing his disdain for the American forces, Ross replied that he didn’t care if it “rained militia".
Ross and Cockburn, impatient that the disembarking of the troops was taking so long, ordered Colonel Arthur Brooke to speed up the landing and then catch up with the British advance party. Ross then started for Baltimore. Going about two miles up the peninsula, the British come upon two companies of the Maryland 5th Infantry Regiment and Captain Edward Aisquith’s Sharpshooters. A brief skirmish occurred.
Ross seeing the Americans ahead turned in his saddle to call for reinforcements. As he did so, a bullet passed through his right arm and into his chest, toppling him from his horse. It is believed he was shot by Daniel Wells and Henry McComas, two teenage members of Captain Benjamin Chew’s Mechanical Volunteers company of the 5th Maryland. Both were killed later in the skirmish. Upon hearing that the general had been shot, Admiral Cockburn rushed to Ross’s side as some soldiers helped care for the general. Ross, realizing his wound was probably fatal, gave Cockburn his watch and some final words to convey to his wife.
One of Ross’s aides hurried to the rear calling for a surgeon. He was followed by Ross’s horse streaked with blood. As the horse passed by the troops moving inland towards Baltimore, they saw the blood on the saddle and realized their general had been shot. The troops were horrified that something had happened to the man who got them through Europe. The men would, and did, follow him anywhere. Ross was strict but fair, and would not send the men anywhere he would not go himself. Ross died on the way back to the fleet. Brooke was now in command of the British Army, the first time he had commanded more than a regiment. If Ross had battle plans, he had not shared them with Brooke. Brooke waited until the rest of the British army had disembarked and then marched toward Baltimore.
The Americans had retreated to the meeting house at Godley Wood. Stricker’s men heard the firing and set up a line of battle along Long Log Lane, the main route to and from Baltimore, running east to southeast, directly in the middle of the peninsula. The Marylanders’ artillery, consisting of four six-pound cannons of the Union Artillery under Captain John Montgomery, was placed in the middle of the road, facing southeast. Sticker’s flanks were protected by Bear Creek on his right (southwest), and Bread and Cheese Creek on his left (northeast).
The Maryland 5th Infantry, along with a company of Pennsylvania volunteers, were placed to the right side of the road, and the 27th Maryland were placed on the left, with a swamp protecting their left flank.
About half a mile to the rear, the Maryland 51st regiment, the brigade’s largest, was on the right side of the road behind the 5th Infantry. Behind the 27th Infantry was the Maryland 39th along with Captain Quantrill’s company of Hagerstown Volunteers from western Maryland. There was also a company from Hanover, Pennsylvania. Behind Stricker’s main line was Cook’s Tavern. Here the Maryland 6th Regiment was held in reserve. The tavern was also the rallying point should the men retreat. The battle was about to begin.