Baltimore and North Point

After crushing the Americans at Bladensburg and invading the nation’s capital, the British targeted Baltimore. If they could capture the city---the third largest in the United States and a commercial and shipbuilding hub---they could likely bring the war to an end. Military and civilians, including free and enslaved African Americans, rallied to fend off the British.

On September 12-14, 1814, the British attacked by land from North Point and by water at Fort McHenry on the Patapsco River. The impressive American defenses and the failure to capture Fort McHenry persuaded the British to withdraw, essentially ending the Chesapeake Campaign of 1814.

Learn about some of regional War of 1812-related locations below.

Baltimore

 
Photograph of the top portion of a monument, featuring a sculpture of a classical female form.
Battle Monument. Kathi Ash/Maryland Office of Tourism

Battle Monument

Baltimore successfully resisted the British assault in September 1814, thanks to thousands of determined volunteer citizen-soldiers. The following year a grateful city laid the cornerstone for the Battle Monument in downtown Baltimore, the first War of 1812 memorial in the nation. Designed by J. Maximilian M. Godefroy, the 39-foot monument, with an unusual mix of Egyptian and Classical designs, recognizes the common soldier and features names those who fell in battle--regardless of their rank-- during the Battles of Baltimore and North Point. “Lady Baltimore,” a classical female figure, tops the monument. The City of Baltimore features the monument on their official Seal.

Bellona Gunpowder Company

“The Bellona Gunpowder Company offer for sale, gunpowder of various descriptions, and of a superior quality, in half barrels, kegs, canisters and pound papers.”
– Baltimore Federal Gazette, August 16, 1814

Bellona Gunpowder Company mills, operating from 1801 to 1856, was located in present-day Lake Roland Park along the banks of the Jones Falls. Bellona was one of several Baltimore powder mills and produced explosives used in the defense of Baltimore. At its peak it produced one-fifth of all the U.S. powder. Gunpowder—a mixture of saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur—fueled all explosive weapons.

Bellona sold 200 barrels of gunpowder to Fort McHenry in June 1814. The explosives were likely used when the British attacked that September.

Fells Point Historic District

Baltimore’s importance as the commercial heart of the Chesapeake region wasn’t the only reason the British wanted to capture the city in 1814. They also wanted to stifle Fell’s Point---the home port for many of the privateers that preyed on British merchant ships. The United States augmented its small navy by licensing privately owned ships to attack enemy vessels. Baltimore privateers captured more than 500 British ships during the War of 1812.

Fort Babcock, Fort Covington, and Ferry Point

“About one in the morning the British passed several of their vessels above the Fort and near to town, but providently they were met by the fire of…marine battery.”
– Eyewitness account in Salem (MA) Gazette, September 27, 1814

Three gun batteries hugging the upper shore of Ferry Branch guarded the west flank of Fort McHenry. They included the makeshift earthworks of Fort Babcock, the incomplete Fort Covington, and a temporary redoubt at Ferry Point. During the bombardment of Fort McHenry on September 13–14, 1814, these Ferry Branch fortifications stopped a surprise British maneuver to attack Fort McHenry from the less well-defended rear. This close call exposed Fort McHenry’s vulnerability to a flanking attack. The fortifications were strengthened and a defensive boom added across Ferry Branch in case the enemy returned.

 
Aerial view of a star fort.
Aerial of Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry

British ships launched an attack on Fort McHenry early on September 13, 1814. The fort defended the water approach to the city of Baltimore. The future of the city and possibly the United States depended on the outcome. After the American defeat at Bladensburg, and the British capture and partial burning of Washington, D.C. a loss here would be devastating.

At "dawn's early light" on September 14, the shelling stopped; the British attack had failed. As the enemy fleet withdrew down the Patapsco River, the defenders hoisted a huge 30x42-foot American flag. The sight of the flag inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that would become America's national anthem.

The site is now Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.

Fort Wood

“The well directed fire of the little fort [Wood] checked the enemy on his approach, and probably saved the town from destruction in the dark hours of the night.”
– Eyewitness account Salem Gazette, September 27, 1814

Known as Lookout Hill, high ground near Fort McHenry served as observation post, military camp, and gun battery. Although unfinished when the British arrived, the battery helped fend off a naval flanking attack September 14, 1814. Had the enemy maneuver succeeded, they could have penetrated the city’s western defenses. The circular battery was later named Fort Wood for an officer killed on the Niagara River.

The site is now part of Riverside Park.

Indian Queen Tavern

“…the song, written the night after we got back to Baltimore, in the hotel…at the corner of Hanover and Market streets, was…a versified and almost literal transcript of our…hopes and apprehensions.”
--eyewitness John Stuart Skinner (recounted in 1849)

After 10 harrowing days aboard ship and witnessing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key spent his first night ashore at the Indian Queen Tavern, September 16-17, 1814. The inn operated until the 1830s. Moved by what he had experienced two days earlier, Key used his time here to complete four stanzas for what would become American’s national anthem. The site is now Hopkins Plaza in Baltimore City.

 
Illustration of a mob of people with a bon fire in the middle of the group.
Gin Riots (c) Gerry Embleton

Hampstead Hill

Gin Riots
Events on October 4, 1808, known as “Gin Riots,” were more rallies than riots. Some 1,300 horsemen, 400 sailors, and thousands of civilians paraded to Hampstead Hill to destroy 720 gallons of Dutch gin. The British, intercepting Baltimore-based Sophia at sea, demanded a tax on each gallon of the gin. When Sophia returned home, citizens—angered that the “infamous tribute” had been paid—ordered the cargo “condemned to flames” in protest. With great ceremony, fires consumed the barrels of gin hanging from makeshift gallows on Hampstead Hill.

The Sophia episode was just one of numerous times the British stopped American merchant ships— sometimes forcing crewmen into the Royal Navy. Many unlucky ships and sailors hailed from Baltimore. The practice of “impressment,” forcing American sailors into the British navy, was one of the causes of the War of 1812.

 
Illustration of four men standing atop earthworks, looking out over the area as smoke rises in the distance.
Thousands of people helped to dig a mile-long line of earthworks on high ground with Hampstead Hill at the center. These well-defended earthworks protected the eastern part of the city. Baltimoreans raised $600,000 to pay for the city’s defense.

(c) Gerry Embleton

Rodgers Bastion

“(Baltimore) was…defended by extremely Strong Works on every Side, and immediately in front of us by an extensive Hill on which was an entrenched Camp and great quantities of artillery, and …at least… 15 to 20,000 Men.”
–British Rear Admiral George Cockburn to Vice Admiral Alexander F.I. Cochrane, September 15, 1814.

After the stinging defeat at Bladensburg and invasion of Washington, Americans rallied to save Baltimore. All available able-bodied men were called to build defenses. Black and white, enslaved and free, united to dig earthworks across Hampstead Hill and adjacent heights. British land forces approaching on September 13, 1814, stopped at the sight of the well-armed defenses. Deciding that storming the American stronghold would be too costly, the British army retreated. Credit for the defenses goes to Major General Samuel Smith and Commodore John Rodgers. Smith coordinated the overall effort; Rodgers commanded Hampstead Hill.

The site is now part of Patterson Park.

 
An illustration of a early American furnace.
Northampton Furnace, NPS/Richard Schlecht

Northampton Iron Furnace

“Mr. Ridgely’s iron being in high estimation in quality than other in the state.”
– Baltimore Federal Gazette, 1798

Northampton Iron Furnace, operating from 1761 to about 1830, played a significant role in the War of 1812. Part of the prosperous Hampton estate, the foundry’s workforce was made up primarily of enslaved African Americans who produced iron, cannons, shot, and camp equipment for the war effort. Charles Carnan Ridgely, ironmaster and owner of the estate, also contributed funds and other supplies for Baltimore’s defense in 1814.

The site is now located in the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed. The former Hampton estate is now part of Hampton National Historic Site.

 
An illustration of a mob with flaming torches walking towards a building.
1812 Baltimore riots, (c) Gerry Embleton

Offices of the Federal Republican

“Another Daring Outrage!...Yesterday the Federal Republican resumed its former circulation, and last evening the lawless mob made an attempt on the house, in Charles Street…by breaking the windows and forcing the doors.”
Annapolis Maryland Gazette and Political Intelligencer, August 6, 1812.

Incited by anti-war editorials in the Federal Republican, an angry mob destroyed the newspaper’s Gay Street office in June 1812. Rioters returned when editor Alexander Contee Hanson resumed publication from the Charles Street site on July 27. Hanson and about 25 supporters were escorted to jail for protection. “A scene of horror and murder ensued” as the mob stormed the jail, killing or wounded the occupants. Never fully recovered from mob-related injuries, Alexander Contee Hanson remained an outspoken war opponent. He served in the U.S. House and then the Senate from 1813 until his death at age 33 in 1819.

 
Illustration of a group of women sewing a large American flag.
Mary Pickersgill and her helpers sew the Star-Spangled Banner at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House.

Star-Spangled Banner Flag House

In 1813 Mary Pickersgill’s flag-making business was commissioned to sew a garrison flag and a smaller storm flag for Fort McHenry. Mary’s mother, daughter, nieces, and African American indentured and enslaved servants helped complete the task in about seven weeks. Too large for her house, the 30 x 42-foot garrison flag was finished on the floor of a nearby brewery. Mary’s helpers included an African American indentured servant named Grace Wisher.

On September 14, 1814, Fort McHenry withstood a 25-hour British bombardment. The garrison flag waving over the victorious fort inspired Francis Scott Key to pen lyrics that became the U.S. national anthem.

Today, the flag house is a museum.

Stodder’s Shipyard

The mouth of Harris Creek was once part of Baltimore’s thriving maritime industry. David Stodder began building ships here in the 1780s. The first U.S. Navy frigate, Constellation, launched from Stodder’s Shipyard in 1797 and played an active role in the War of 1812. Although a British blockade kept it from sea, its cannons and crew protected Norfolk and Portsmouth harbors.

 
Photograph of a white obelisk monument with a small black fence around the base.
Wells and McComas Monument.

Wells and McComas Monument

“And in the glorious list of the patriots, whose blood has consecrated that starry flag, unborn ages of freemen shall read with pride, the names of the Boy Martyrs of Baltimore.”
– Closing lines of The Boy Martyrs, Clifton W. Tayleure, 1858

Daniel Wells, 19, and Henry McComas, 18, made history September 12, 1814, when they allegedly killed British commander Major General Robert Ross. The two sharpshooters fired simultaneously. Both were quickly shot dead by British soldiers. Considered heroes, Wells and McComas were buried together and exhumed twice before finally being laid to rest with great fanfare in 1858. A funeral song and dramatic play commemorated the reburial.

Westminster Hall

Once Baltimore’s most prestigious cemetery, Westminster Burying Ground was the final resting place for many prominent Baltimoreans, including some 25 from the War of 1812. Notable burials include: General Samuel Smith, commander of American forces in Baltimore; General John Stricker, American commander at North Point; and John Stuart Skinner, U.S. prisoner exchange agent. David Poe, Sr., who served at the Battle of North Point, is also buried here. He was the grandfather of writer Edgar Allan Poe.

North Point

 
Photograph of a small obelisk monument.
The Aquila Randall monument today.

Aquila Randall monument

“I can picture to myself the sensation of those who in far distant days will contemplate this monument…and the melancholy event which as caused our assemblage at this spot.”
Captain Benjamin C. Howard dedicating the Aquila Randall Monument, July 21, 1817.

Aquila Randall, a 24-year-old member of the Mechanical Volunteers, 5th Regiment of the Maryland Militia, was a casualty in a skirmish preceding the Battle of North Point on Sept. 12, 1814. While 21 other Americans and British Major Robert Ross died in this skirmish, Randall was the only member of his uint killed. In memory, the First Mechancia Volunteers erected the the Aquila Randall Monument in July 1817. It is the second oldest known military monument in Maryland, the third in the U.S.

 
An illustration of a group of people celebrating with ships in the background and a large American flag being laid out.
1839 Battle of North Point Commemoration, (c) Gerry Embleton

Battle Acre

“Twenty-five years have changed everything, except the undying… spirit which makes us feel that if our country is worth loving, it is worth defending.”
Captain Benjamin C. Howard, keynote speaker, September 12, 1839.

The excitement was palpable as crowds gathered at Battle Acre on September 12, 1839, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Battle of North Point. Officials laid the cornerstone for a memorial to the citizens-soldiers who defended Baltimore against British attack in 1814. The original Star-Spangled Banner was spread across the stage at the event.

Dr. Jacob Houck conveyed this site to Maryland “for…erecting a monument thereon.“ Known as Battle Acre, it was Baltimore County’s first public park. From their position at a log house, the Baltimore Yagers riflemen fired on advancing British troops September 12, 1814. The house, which burned during the ensuing battle, was the approximate location of today’s Battle Acre Park.

Bear Creek

“Brigadier General (John) Stricker took a good position at the junction of the two roads leading from this place to North Point, having his right flanked by Bear Creek and his left by a marsh. He here awaited the approach of the Enemy.”
Major General Samuel Smith to acting Secretary of War James Monroe, September 19, 1814.

The narrow land shaped by Bear Creek, Bread and Cheese Creek, and Back River was the site of the Battle of North Point, September 12, 1814. Some 3,200 Americans clashed with 4,500 British to delay the advance on Baltimore.

When Britain threatened Baltimore a year earlier, Bear Creek was considered a potential landing spot. More than 400 militiamen were positioned at Camp Eagleston where Bear Creek joins the Patapsco.

Bear Creek provided easy access between British ships and the interior of Patapsco Neck. The British used Bear Creek to provide the army with communication and support. After the battle, many of the wounded were transported in small boats down Bear Creek to troopships anchored at North Point.

 
Illustration of people helping wounded soldiers outside a large wooden structure.
Physicians worked at the Methodist Meeting House to treat soldiers wounded in the battle. (c) Gerry Embleton

Methodist Meeting House

"The meeting-house, a place of worship...was converted into an (sic) temporary place of refuge for friends and foes. The temple of God...vibrated with the groans of the wounded and dying."
British Captain James Scott, Recollections, 1834

The Methodist Meeting House that stood near the North Point battlefield saw action September 11-12, 1814. Brigadier General John Stricker camped 3,200 troops here to await the enemy’s advance. When the Americans withdrew, British soldiers camped on the same grounds. The church became a field hospital for both armies. American and British physicians worked side by side to treat soldiers wounded in the battle.

 
Illustration of an aerial view of a battle with opposing troops in red and blue uniforms.
The Battle of North Point (c) Richard Schlecht
 

Ridgely House

“[The Ridgely house is] a very large Brick one, with a steeple like lookout place on top, from whence there is a most perfect view… so that it would be next to an impossibility that any vessel or river boat could approach or pass without being observed.”
– Maj. William B. Barney to Brig. Gen. John Stricker, March 23, 1813

The cupola atop the Ridgely house served as a lookout station in 1813 and 1814 and was operated by Major Josiah Green. The 1767 farmhouse was part of an intricate early warning system that included schooners and gunboats, shore stations, and horse relays. The stations communicated with flags by day and lanterns by night.

A white flag raised on September 11, 1814, indicated that a British fleet was moving toward Baltimore. The warning was relayed to Baltimore’s Federal Hill. General Samuel Smith then ordered alarm guns to fire, signaling troops to muster and citizens to prepare for an attack.

Ruins of the house are located in present-day North Point State Park.

 
Illustration of a man riding a horse with ships in the background.
Courier rides from Todd House, (c) Gerry Embleton

Todd House

“Todd’s is a commodious two story frame house, with a large stable capable of accommodating in it and under its sheds at least thirty horses.”
Major William Barney to Brig. Gen. John Stricker, March 23, 1813

Private Bernard Todd paid dearly for having his home used for military purposes. When the British threatened Baltimore in 1813, it was headquarters for American troops who guarded the Patapsco Neck. Todd’s property also served as a signal house and horse courier station. Three mounted sentries stationed here on September 11, 1814, hurried to announce that the British had arrived. In retaliation, enemy soldiers torched the house on the return march to their ships.

Last updated: June 3, 2020

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Baltimore, MD 21230

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