Sir James Alexander Gordon

Oil painting of a man with grey hair, dressed in military uniform.
Captain James Alexander Gordon, commander of the British diversion up the Potomac River

Rear-Admiral Sir James Alexander Gordon, 1782-1869; Andrew Morton, 1839
© National Maritime Museum Collections

“The Last of Nelson’s Captains”
--Macmillan’s Magazine honors Gordon’s long career in 1869

Captain James Gordon (1782-1869) had one of the toughest Chesapeake assignments of all. During the 1814 American invasion, the veteran 31-year-old, one-legged Scot led frigates, bomb vessels, and a rocket ship in a diversion up the Potomac to Washington. Gordon was the officer for the job, taking on arduous river shallows and enemy forts and fire ships in stride. He would soon command the same vessels during the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

The captain had been at sea since the age of eleven. Serving aboard at least nine different vessels in two decades, his amazing record throughout the high drama of the Napoleonic era, including losing a leg in battle, made him a model sailor from that time. Some claim that Gordon was the prototype for C. S. Forester’s legendary fictional Captain Horatio Hornblower.

After his celebrated career at sea, James Gordon became the superintendent of naval hospitals and dockyards. His career on land went on for decades and, at age eighty-six, in the emerging age of steam, he was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet. Seventy-five years after he had stepped onto the deck of the 74-gun H.M. ship-of-the-line Arrogant as a midshipman, he was buried at Greenwich Hospital, the last of Lord Nelson’s captains.

excerpt from "In Full Glory Reflected: Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake" by Ralph E. Eshelman and Burton K. Kummerow

Last updated: May 21, 2020

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

2400 East Fort Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21230



Contact Us