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BATTLE OF BLADENSBURG.
opposition. They might have been delayed on their CHAP. march much longer, if trees had been felled at certain points where the roads crossed swamps, or if the numerous 1814. bridges on the route had been broken down.
Commodore Barney, who was in command of the flotilla of gun-boats, ran them up the Patuxent as far as possible, then set them on fire, and marched with five hundred marines to join the militia concentrating in the vicinity of Bladensburg. Here he was put in command Aug.
22. of some heavy guns brought from the navy yard. The President himself, accompanied by his cabinet, visited the camp, where all was in confusion. The divisions of militia were stationed by General Winder in such positions as to support each other, but these had been changed by self-constituted officers, who accompanied the President. It was ascertained that the enemy was moving toward Bladensburg. Rumor had magnified their number to ten thousand; all veterans. The discreet militia began to retreat, some with permission and some without. On learning this General Winder sent orders for them to make a stand at the bridge and fight. The village was abandoned, and on the other side of the east branch of the Potomac the marines and militia were arranged. Barney had placed his men in a position to sweep the road with the guns. About the middle of the afternoon the enemy appeared, but so excessive had been the heat, that they were completely exhausted. When Ross reconnoitred the militia stationed on the rising ground, he was somewhat alarmed at their formidable appearance. But he had gone too far to retreat ; the order was given to move forward. His alarm was of short continuance. A few Congreve rockets put the Maryland militia to flight ; the riflemen followed ; the artillery, after firing not more than twice, rapidly retreated ; then the Baltimore regiment, on which some hopes were placed, fled also, carry
Aug ing with them the President and his cabinet. The
CHAP: British now moved slowly on until they were checked by
the guns manned by the marines under Barney. Find1814. ing it impossible to force the position of the marines and
sailors in front, detachments filed by the right and left and passed up ravines. At the head of one was stationed the Annapolis regiment, which filed at the first fire. At the head of the other ravine were placed some regulars and militia ; they also showed their discretion by getting out of harm's way as soon as possible. The sailors and marines, thus deserted, and in danger of being surrounded, retired, their guns and wounded companions falling into the hands of the enemy. Owing to the vigorous fire of the marines, the British lost a large number of men, and others died from fatigue and heat, and it was absolutely necessary to wait some hours before they could march on Washington. Thus ended the battle of Bladensburg,– in one respect the most famous in American annals.
In the cool of the evening the British advanced into Washington, which they found almost entirely deserted by its male inhabitants. The enemy proceeded to disgrace themselves by fulfilling the instructions which Admiral Cochrane had previously officially announced, which were
“ to destroy and lay waste all towns and districts of the United States found accessible to the attack of British armaments.” They burned the capitol, and with it the Congressional Library, and the buildings used for the Treasury and State Departments, in revenge, as it was
said, for the Parliament House at York. Many important Aug. papers were lost, but the most valuable had been removed 25.
some days before. Mrs. Madison had left the President's mansion, taking with her the plate and valuables, and also a portrait of Washington—which was taken from the frame and rolled up. The mansion was pillaged and set on fire, as were some private dwellings, and stores were also plundered. A complete destruction followed at the navy yard.
GENERAL ROSS SLAIN-DEFENCE OF FORT M'HENRY.
In the midst of a hostile country, General Ross, with CHAP.
XLIV. a handful of exhausted men, was ill at ease. Perhaps he had read of Concord and Lexington, and was alarmed 1814. lest “ the indignant citizen soldiery” would turn out and harass him on his retreat. Early the following night he kindled the camp fires, and leaving behind him the sick and wounded, he commenced a stealthy retreat to his ships. His alarm was needless ; in a march of four days not the least opposition did he experience. Four days after the taking of the capital, the British frigates, passing by Fort Washington, which offered but little resistance,
Aug came up the Potomac and anchored opposite Alexandria,
29. which town saved itself from a bombardment by paying an enormous tribute.
When his men were refreshed, General Ross moved with the fleet up the Chesa peake, toward Baltimore. The militia of Maryland by this time had assembled for the defence of the city, and also several companies of volunteers had arrived from Pennsylvania. The enemy, eight thousand strong, landed at North Point, at the mouth of Sept. the Patapsco. The land forces commenced their march, and the fleet to ascend the river, intending to capture Fort McHenry, situated two miles below the city. An advance party of Americans were thrown forward. In a skirmish with this party, General Ross was killed, yet the invaders pressed on; the militia, after a spirited encounter, retired in good order. The next morning the enemy advanced, yet hesitatingly, as the neighboring hills were covered with soldiers, field works and artillery, which altogether made a formidable appearance. They were under the veteran General Samuel Smith, the same who so gallantly defended Fort Mifflin in the Revolution. The British hesitated to commence the attack without the cooperation of the fleet, which was then busily engaged in bombarding Fort McHenry, but without much success, as the fort was replying with great spirit. When it was
CHAP. ascertained that the fleet could not pass the fort, the in
vaders silently retired in the night and re-embarked.
It was amid the excitement of this cannonade that Francis Key composed the popular song of the “Star Spangled Banner.” He had gone to ask the release of certain prisoners, and had been detained during the attack on board the British fleet.
From Eastport in Maine to Sandy Hook, the whole Eastern coast was liable to these marauding expeditions. One of the most serious of these, was the bombardment of Stonington in Connecticut, which continued for four days, but after throwing shells and rockets, and several attempts to land, the enemy retired. They were repelled in every instance by the sturdy militia.
Field works, garrisoned by the yeomanry of the country, were thrown
up at all points along the coast likely to be an object of Aug. attack. This was done by the State authorities, the na
tional government being so completely enfeebled, as to be unable to afford the least aid to any of the States.
The people of New England, with very few exceptions, continued to complain of their grievances. Their distress was great; the embargo, enforced by severe penalties, ruined their fisheries and their coasting trade, and had deprived them of many of the necessaries of life. They looked upon
these restrictions as more odious and unfeeling than the Boston Port Bill, which roused the colonies to independence; a gross and palpable violation of the principles of the Constitution, not to be submitted to without a pusillanimous surrender of their rights and liberties,"
Petitions poured in to the legislature of Massachusetts, asking it to take measures to redress these grievances. A
committee to whom these petitions were referred, reported Feb. in terms expressive of the general sentiment of the pe
titioners. They believed that the war, so fertile in failures, and so threatening as to its results, was uncalled for and
DEBATES IN CONGRESS-DANIEL WEBSTER.
wrong in principle. They saw in the future the people CHAP. impoverished, deprived of their comforts, and their hopes blasted. And the committee recommended a convention 1814. of delegates from the commercial States, to obtain amendments to the constitution that would secure them against such evils.
These manifestations of discontent had their effect, and the President himself proposed the abandonment of the restrictive system, not only the embargo, but the nonimportation act. In order to encourage domestic manu- Mar
31, factures, instead of the latter he recommended that for three years after the close of the war double duties be imposed upon imported goods, and that the exportation of specie be prohibited.
The advocates of the war in Congress, annoyed at the failures of the last two years, attributed their want of success to the influence of those opposed to the war ; instead of acknowledging their own imprudence, in thus rushing, without preparation, into hostilities, or ceasing to be infatuated with the idea of conquering Canada. In the discussion on a bill to procure enlistments for the army, Daniel Webster in reply to these charges, no doubt expressed the general sentiment of those opposed to the war.
In those sections of the country where the population was most numerous, the war was unpopular because of its impolicy ;-it was no detraction from their patriotism that they did not join heart and hand in measures which they deemed the extreme of folly. He continued,—“Give up your futile projects of invasion. Extinguish the fires which blaze on your inland frontiers. Establish perfect safety and defence there by adequate force. Let every man that sleeps on your soil sleep in security. Having performed this work of beneficence and mercy on your inland border, turn and look with the eye of justice and compassion on your vast population along the coast. Unclench the iron grasp of your embargo. Take