Maryland's Eastern Shore

Because the British targeted Washington and Baltimore on the Chesapeake Bay’s western shore, the role of Maryland’s Eastern Shore in the War of 1812 often is overlooked, despite being the location for two battles, seven skirmishes, and at least 14 British raids.
 
Blue and white illustration of a war scene; in the left foreground, soldiers carry one of their dead comrades off the battlefield.
The American militia was victorious in the Battle of Caulk’s Field. Captain Sir Peter Parker, a rising star in the British navy, was killed in the conflict. His men carried his body back to their boats. IMAGE / © GERRY EMBLETON

Caulks Field

“I feel justified in the assertion, that the gallantry of the officers and men on this occasion could not be excelled by any troops.”
– American Lt. Colonel Philip Reed, commander of the militia at Caulk’s Field, to Brigadier General Benjamin Chambers, August 1814

Kent County braced for the return of the British in August 1814. Enemy raiders had destroyed nearby Georgetown the previous year while terrorizing Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Now they were back in an attempt to divert attention from their main operation against Baltimore. They landed on August 30, and marched inland to encounter the American militia at the Isaac Caulk farm.

The Americans stood their ground during the night attack. Heavy British casualties included a popular young officer, Captain Sir Peter Parker. The victory in the Battle of Caulk’s Field boosted American morale following the enemy’s invasion of Washington, D.C.
 

Easton

“The town of Easton, being a place in which many of the public records are lodged, and…there is an armoury of the state, it is of importance that every protection and security which can be afforded to it… should properly be given.”
– Governor Levin Winder to Secretary of War John Armstrong, March 30, 1813

Easton expected to be a British target during the War of 1812. A two-story brick armory in the center of town housed cannon, small arms, and military stores to serve all of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Fort Stoakes, an earthworks built to protect Easton from a waterside attack, reportedly accommodated 500 men. Two armed barges on the Tred Avon River provided additional security.

British raiders terrorized the Eastern Shore in 1813 and 1814. Queenstown, St. Michaels, Fredericktown, and Georgetown were attacked, plus numerous farms and plantations were plundered. However, Fort Stoakes was never tested, and Easton survived unscathed.

Kent Island

“From the landing…of cannon on Kent Island, it appears to be the intention of the enemy to keep possession of it for some time…”
– Captain Charles Gordon, August 7, 1813

Kent Island served as an ideal base of operations for the British in August 1813, as it was already an important link between Maryland’s eastern and western shores. The British took over the Kent Island— Annapolis ferry, including a cargo of cattle, and used the ferry landing as one of several encampments. As many as 3,000 British troops conducted raids along the middle Bay from Kent Island.

As part of a strategy to disrupt the American economy, the British offered freedom to slaves who escaped their masters and joined the British. More than 150 slaves came from the Eastern Shore. The British destroyed many Kent Island plantations in the short time they held the island.

Rock Hall

“The enemy passed...[Rock Hall] early in the morning up the bay, and proceeded above Pool’s Island, where they...sent their barge out in all directions, both in the Western and Eastern Shores.”
– Baltimore Federal Gazette, July 15, 1814

British Captain Peter Parker arrived at Rock Hall in the HMS Menelaus August 20, 1814. The British had terrorized towns in the Upper Bay all summer, but Parker came with a special mission—to divert attention from a strike against the U.S. Capital.

While Parker raided Rock Hall, the main British force began its march to Washington from Southern Maryland.

Parker’s squadron was still anchored off Rock Hall August 25 when the fierce storm that doused the smoldering Capitol Building and White House wreaked havoc across the Bay. The British lost a supply of weapons when the vessel Mary capsized at Swan Point.
 
An illustration of a nighttime battle scene.
When American gunfire at Slippery Hill caused panic among the invaders, a British officer ordered the band of fife and drummers to help restore order.  © Gerry Embleton

Queenstown and the Battle of Slippery Hill

“My picket guard killed two of the enemy and wounded five and their commander in chief Sir Sidney Beckwith had his horse killed.”
--Major William H. Nicholson to Governor Winder, August 20, 1813.

The British set out from Kent Island to attack Queenstown on August 13, 1813. The land and water contingents numbered 300 troops each. Intending to surprise the Queen Anne’s County militia, they mistakenly fired, warning the Americans. British barges missed their intended landing point at Bowlingly, arriving at Blakeford instead. These errors enabled the militia to escape to Centreville. The British retaliated by ransacking Bowlingly, a prominent home in Queenstown.

The skirmish that foiled the surprise became known as the Battle of Slippery Hill. British and Americans exchanged fire on Queenstown Road. An American militiaman shot the horse out from under British commanding officer Sir Sydney Beckwith, escalating the confusion among the British ranks.
 
Illustration of an aerial view of a battle, with smoke covering most of the land.
The British's second attack on St. Micheals came on August 26, 1813. The enemy forces landed and dispatching 1,800 troops to march on the town. The local militia, numbering about 500, confronted the advancing forces. After a few shots were volleyed, the British departed. (c) Gerry Embleton
St. Michaels

“We were fortunate enough not to have a man hurt, although the grapeshot flew like hail in the town, and their balls passed through a number of houses.”
– Excerpt from a letter from St. Michaels quoted in Baltimore’s Niles’ Weekly Register
Local lore hails St. Michaels for “fooling the British” during the War of 1812 by using lanterns to misdirect enemy gunfire high above the town. It is certain that this shipbuilding village successfully fended off two enemy assaults in 1813.

On August 10 British forces landed and overtook the gun battery at Parrott’s Point. After spiking the cannon and returning to their vessels, they exchanged cannon fire with the town’s militia before withdrawing down the Miles River. The British reappeared on August 26, landing at Wades Point and dispatching 1,800 troops to march on the town. The local contingent, numbering about 500, confronted the advancing forces. After a few shots were volleyed the British departed.

The British may have targeted St. Michaels because it was a shipbuilding center known for producing privateers—sleek Chesapeake schooners that preyed on British ships. Several gun barges for the U.S. Chesapeake flotilla were also built here.

 
Three men stand on ice, shooting at a ship on the water.
The last engagement of the war in Maryland took place February 7, 1815, near Taylor’s Island. © Gerry Embleton

Taylors Island and the Battle of the Ice Mound

“After an engagement kept...for about two hours, suddenly the whole party of the enemy appeared upon deck and cried out for quarters, waving their handkerchief.”
– American Private Joseph Fookes Stewart, February 19, 1815

Local militia attacked a British raiding party whose vessel was icebound near James Island February 7, 1815. Protected by a breastwork of ice, the Americans continued firing until the crew of 20 surrendered.

The two-hour skirmish, the “Battle of the Ice Mound,” was the last engagement of the war in Maryland. Ratification of a peace treaty occurred 10 days later.

The victorious militia took the British crew as prisoners and confiscated the boat, a 12-pounder carronade, and other weapons. Later the militiamen shared $1800, awarded by Congress for capturing an enemy vessel.

Tilghman and Poplar Islands

“The enemy in the Chesapeake have taken possession of Tilghman’s Island with the apparent view of fixing winter quarters there.”
– Baltimore Niles’ Weekly Register, October 29, 1814

The British overtook Tilghman and Poplar islands in the spring of 1813 and again in October 1814. The islands offered ready-access to Annapolis, Baltimore, and other potential targets.

A regiment of a thousand men began building winter barracks on Tilghman in 1814, but within the month the British troops were gone.

Turners Creek

“…what had passed at Havre, George Town, and Frederickstown had its Effect, and led these People to understand…they had more to hope for from our Generosity than from…opposing us.”
– British Rear Admiral George Cockburn to Admiral John B. Warren, May 6, 1813

On May 6, 1813, the British landed barges at Turner’s Creek—a village of about 60 people and an active port for grains and flour. Resident John Stavely was forced to lead the enemy vessels to Fredericktown and Georgetown. After destroying those towns, the British returned to Turner’s Creek. They released Stavely unharmed, obtained supplies, and left peacefully. The British claimed they paid the owners “full value” for supplies obtained at Turner’s Creek.

Along the Sassafras River and elsewhere, British Admiral Cockburn made good on his threat to punish resistance. Choosing not to resist, Turner’s Creek residents were left unharmed, and the British were “well pleased with…their mode of receiving us.”

Worton Creek

“A small body of our men reached Worton Creek...in time...to save much devastation in that quarter, they attacked the advanced barge of four...and forced the whole of them to leave the creek.”
Baltimore Federal Gazette, July 15, 1814

In raids along the Eastern seaboard and the Chesapeake Bay, the British used barges to maneuver into coastal towns. In April 1813, during a surge of British attackson the Eastern Shore, a sizable force anchored off Worton Creek and conducted raids at nearby Plum Point, Still Pond, and Howell Point.

The enemy's second intrusion on Worton Creek came in July 1814 with the arrival of four British barges. This time, local militia sprang into action. They ambushed the barges and forced them out of the creek. The Americans claimed they killed about 15 of the 20 enemy soldiers without losing any of their own in the skirmish.

Last updated: June 2, 2020

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