War in the Chesapeake

Black and white nautical map of the Patapsco River with an inset of the Severn River.
The Chesapeake's extensive network of navigable waters helped to make the region a vital location for international trade, maritime-related commerce, and shipbuilding.

"This Survey of the River Patapsco and part of Chesapeake Bay," by Lewis Brantz and Fielding Lucas, Jr. 1819, Library of Congress

At the time of the war, the Chesapeake Bay region played a pivotal role in international trade, maritime-related commerce, shipbuilding, and government, much as it does today. Furthermore, the excellent soil, favorable climate, and extensive network of navigable waters provided the foundation for a thriving agricultural and slave-based economy. Because of the region’s prominence, it was selected for the site of the Nation’s Capital, which was relocated to Washington, DC, in 1800.

The Chesapeake region was viewed by the British as a hub of decision-making, political power, and hostility—making it a strategic target. British warships moved into the region in February 1813 and sustained a military presence until 1815. The most concerted military effort in the region was the four-month campaign by the British in 1814. This period of intense military action, known as the Chesapeake Campaign of 1814, included many feints (maneuvers designed to distract or mislead) and skirmishes. During 1814, the British also invaded and occupied the nation’s capital and attempted to capture the city of Baltimore, which had developed an international reputation as a center for privateering.

With a growing population in general, and the second largest population of African Americans in the country, Maryland was torn between a slave-based economy and the free states to the north. The British recognized and took advantage of this vulnerability. They liberated an estimated 4,000 enslaved people and used several hundred in their army in a special unit known as the Colonial Marines. Many of the former enslaved were taken to freedom in British-held colonies in North America (now Canada) and the West Indies. Southern Maryland and tidewater Virginia especially felt the effects of the British strategy to lure enslaved African Americans away from the tobacco plantations.

Learn more about the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Bay below.

1813 Chesapeake Campaign


1814 Chesapeake Campaign

  • Overview of the 1814 Chesapeake Campaign
    Overview of the 1814 Chesapeake Campaign

    The most concerted military effort in the region was the four-month campaign by the British in 1814.

  • Battles of St. Leonard Creek
    Battles of St. Leonard Creek

    The largest naval engagement in Maryland waters–as well as some of the fiercest fighting of the war--occurred on St. Leonard Creek.

  • Battle of Bladensburg
    Battle of Bladensburg

    The Battle of Bladensburg ended in defeat for the US and cleared the way for British troops to invade Washington, DC.

  • Invasion of Washington DC
    Invasion of Washington DC

    Following their victory over the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg, British troops marched on Washington with devastating results.

  • Battle of Caulks Field
    Battle of Caulks Field

    Maryland militia stood their ground during the British night assault at Caulk’s Field August 31, 1814.

  • Battle of North Point
    Battle of North Point

    On September 12, 1814, approximately 3,200 Americans clashed with 4,500 British to delay the enemy advance on Baltimore.

  • Bombardment of Fort McHenry
    Bombardment of Fort McHenry

    One of the longest bombardments in North American history took place in Baltimore, MD on September 13-14, 1814.


Learn more

  • Places

    Every region in the Chesapeake Bay was affected in some way by the War of 1812. Learn about the impact on local places in MD, VA, and DC.

  • The Star-Spangled Banner
    The Star-Spangled Banner

    Learn the history behind the creation of the flag and song known as the "Star-Spangled Banner."

  • Privateers Make Their Mark
    Privateers Make Their Mark

    At the start of the war, the young U.S., with its tiny navy of frigates, started using privately owned vessels to disrupt British trade.

Last updated: August 14, 2023

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