Report of the Special Committee of the 1816 Baltimore City Council for Commemoration of the Repulse of British Forces, September 13th and 14th, 1814
This is a transcription of a report made by the Special Committee, First Branch City Council, Baltimore, Maryland, respecting the measures necessary to be adopted to commemorate the repulse of the British Forces before Baltimore on the 12th and 13th of September, 1814.
The report was found in the Archives of Baltimore City, Reference 1814-298-A.
IN THE FIRST BRANCH OF THE CITY COUNCIL
The joint committee appointed by the two Branches of the City Council to report what measures are "necessary to perpetuate in a suitable manner the remembrance of the signal repulse and defeat of the late Enemy before Baltimore on the 12th and 13th of September 1814" beg leave to submit tire annexed Resolve together with such observations as in their opinion the occasion calls for.
Your Committee are of opinion that there are in the affairs of nations, of cities, and communities, certain important era which naturally call for some commemmorative institution. When a people are rescued from the grasp of despotism - when their condition is ameliorated by some momentous revolution - or when they have escaped some heavy impending calamity through the intervention of a benign Providence, the human mind in all ages, has sought as well to record them continually in view by monumental remembrances. For the latter of these purposes were the arts of sculpture, architecture and painting introduced amongest men. These present the subjects intended to be commemorated before the eyes of thousands who may not have time or opportunity to consult the volume of history, and produce a more lively impression on the minds of those who are not so debarred. To our youth, they furnish the most solemn and impressive lessons, and kindle a noble ardor to imitate these great examples. A brief review of that never to be forgotten period in the history of this City, when all America trembled for her fate, will show with how much reason we regard it as important. Never can it pass from our memories, while gratitude holds her seat in our hearts, or while we continue to honor the brave citizens, who bled and died in her defence.
The Country had been filled with anguish, astonishment and dismay, at the successful attack upon our Capital; we forgot for a moment that it was but a straggling (sic) Village, defended by an inadequate force - by militia hastily drawn together a few hours before, fatigued and worn down by extraordinary exertions, and we felt, as if a vital blow had been struck at our national existence. It was discovered that our foes had thrown aside the restraint of civilization and were resolved on the most cruel and barbarious warfare. This was unequivocally displayed in the wanton destruction of private property and in the mutilation of the most splendid monuments of the arts which this new world might boast. In their hasty retreat from the conflagration of Washington, it was easily perceived that Baltimore was destined to be the next victim. When the name of that hero and Statesman, whose illustrious example is no longer the exclusive right of any portion of the Globe, but belongs equally to the whole human race, could afford no protection, what was to be expected by Baltimore the peculiar object of their enmity - their most active and enterprising foe? The return of our fellow citizens from the unsuccessful attempt to defend the unfortunate Capital, brought to us the afflicting account which spread a gloomy panic over our city now thought to be already in the deadly grasp of her unsparing enemy. It is not to be wondered at that the first sensations experienced on this awful occasion were those of despondency. A powerful fleet and a veteran army, urged on by the prospect of booty, were every moment expected to make their appearance before our City, at that moment in a state almost defenseless. In this situation of the public mind appalled as it was by terrors, from which there appeared no possible escape, our citizens determined on a defence; each endeavored to dispel the feelings of despondency by the example of his own resolution; new energy was inspired, and we were taught that a people contending in defence of their families and their homes, ought never to despair! The period of despondency was not of long duration. It soon yielded to the busy and anxious note of dreadful preparation. Ignoble and coward thoughts vanished and each one with alacrity took the post assigned him. Much was to be done in order to place a large open town in a situation to be defended by inexperienced militia. Excepting the Fort which defended the entrance to the harbor, this City which had grown up in an interval of peace, was without a single military work. What an interesting spectacle did she exhibit in the sudden transition of the employments of her industrious inhabitants from the avocations of a peaceful life to the turbulent scenes of war! The merchant, the mechanic, the professional man labouring together in the same trench, serving the same piece of artillery or exposed to the most inclement weather and performing the duty of veterans. Such was the scene which Baltimore exhibited previously to the powerful attack by the forces of Great Britain. We behold a peaceful city transformed on a sudden into a martial camp; its inhabitants throwing off their civic habits and feeling all at once the ardor of the patriot soldiers of Greece or Rome. Instead of mercenary hirelings, fighting for their pay, we behold friends and neighbors, brothers and even father and son, old men and boys scarcely able to wield a musket, mingled in the same company, united in the defence of all that is dear to the human heart. Notwithstanding this determined attitude which Baltimore assumed, the contest was yet regarded as most doubtful its probable result was indeed against her. Assailed by land and sea, by so powerful a force, to contend with troops flushed by recent victory, under perfect discipline, and impelled by the hope of obtaining a rich booty, with preparations of defence made in the greatest possible haste, her situation, had she taken a moment to weigh the chances of war must have appeared desperate indeed. The defence thus manfully undertaken under circumstances so discouraging cannot but heighten the merit of success. Scarcely had there been time allowed for these hasty preparations for the reception of the Enemy, when on the llth of September, 1814, he made his appearance at the mouth of the Patapsco with a fleet of ships of war and transports amounting to fifty sail besides a great number of smaller vessels. On the same day the land forces to the number of at least seven thousand men, the veterans of Wellington, debarked at North Point, and on the following day advanced toward our city. The Baltimore Brigade composed of citizens of the place, claimed the honor of being the first to meet the invader and check his insolent march. They accordingly went forth to give him a foretaste of the manner and spirit with which he might expect to be received. The Enemy was unexpectedly met by an advanced party of the Brigade,and in a skirmish which ensued, their Commander-in-Chief General Ross, was killed. At first disconcerted, then exasperated by this unforeseen and signal misfortune, they rushed forward under the orders of the next in command, to revenge the death of their leader. The Brigade, although not more than fourteen hundred stronger, received with coolness the onset of a force so superior in numbers and discipline. They maintained a brave fight and made a considerable slaughter amongst the enemies of our Country, holding their ground until that Enemy approached within twenty paces, which prudence dictated that they retire to the post assigned them in the general line of defence. Many of our most worthy and now lamented fellow citizens, on that day, offered up their lives as a sacrifice on the altar of their country, for the protection of our firesides and to secure to us that safety and prosperity which we now enjoy. Shall those brave men ever be forgotten? Shall we show ourselves ungrateful by neglecting to pay due honor to their memories? Or rather what honor can our gratitude devise, commensurate with the blessings they have procured us?
One Hundred and Sixty-Three of our fellow citizens, nearly one eighth of the force engaged, bled on that occasion! This is no summer parade of patriotism. The immediate consequences of this affair was to check the progress of the British army, and to prove to them that a resistance was to be expected very different from that which they had anticipated. Their accounts of the battle show in what lights it was regarded by them. They magnified our forces to "six thousand men" and vauntingly told of their having "put over thousand 'Hors de combat". Their loss was double ours, according to the most reasonable estimates, and it was greater even according to their own acknowledgements; so that, when we add to this, the loss of their Commander, they could boast of but a barren victory. But to us, it was attended with all the effects of a real victory, it infused now courage and confidence in our troops too much disposed to marnify the progess of their foes; their chief was no more; the invincibles of Wellington had been withstood by raw militia. The affect of this affair on the result of the contest was signally beneficial. The Enemy cautiously approached the entrenchments lined by freemen, and after viewing their positions, and having already formed some estimate of the resolution with which they were animated, deemed it prudent to retire.
Our City was still more awfully threatened from another quarter. But for the unexampled defence of Fort McHenry, all our efforts on the land side would have been vain. On the 13th of September, 1814, the most eventful day that Baltimore ever knew, the enemies ships formed a crescent round the Fort and commenced a tremendous bombardment which continued with little interruption for twenty four hours; during which time upwards of fifteen hundred large shells were thrown weighing each two hundred pounds beside a vast number of round shot and rockets. The Fort was defended by a gallant officer, and manned by citizen soldiers of Baltimore in conjunction with a small body of seafencibles and regulars. The throb of anxiety which then agitated the bosom of every inhabitant of this City will never be forgotten, nor the joy which we hailed on the return of day the glorious, the beloved flag of our country, still waving in proud defiance to our assailants. We have had (sic) also to lament the loss of some of our most respectable townsmen, who fell at their posts. The invader, baffled in all his attempts, was compelled at last to retire, and our City once more lifted up her head in gladness.
The effects of this signal and almost unhoped for repulse raised the character of Baltimore throughout the whole union. The conduct of her citizens was cited as worthy of imitation, and the misfortunes of our army at Washington were for the time forgotten or considered as retrieved. The event was the most consoling and encouraging to the whole nation, at that moment much embarrassed and depressed, and it is not too much to say that this affair together with that of Plattsburg was productive of the most important effect upon the ultimate results of the War. From that day, Baltimore assumed a proud rank amongst the American Cities, and her future hopes were fixed upon imperishable foundations. But why do we en- umerate all those facts, still recent in the memories of our fellow-Citizens? Because the simple recital of the story of the preservation, nay of the second birth of Baltimore, will most forcibly impress us with the importance of the event, and will constitute the best argument in favor of a suitable commemoration. When a people are so sunk in apathy, so lost to generous feeling, as to suffer such transactions to pass away unnoticed and unmarked, it is an evidence that they are in a fair way of losing the spirit which produced them. We arc neither wanting in public spirit, nor in individual enterprise and we are fully conscious that there is still something thing higher due to the noble feelings of humanity; to those exalted sentiments which show a people to be possessed of more generous incentives to action, than the mere sordid interested desire of gain. Occurrences of less moment have given rise to solemn festivals and to pompous celebrations, Baltimore has laid the foundations of a monument to the memory of our fellow citizens who fell on the memorable and thirteenth of September, 1814, and it is proposed on this occasion, at the Public expense, to illustrate the events of those important days on which the fate of our City was so critically suspended by instituting some suitable memorial. This is proposed to be done by two paintings, the one of the battle of North Point, where our follow citizens first met the Enemy, and the other of the bombardment of Fort McHenry where an awful attack was resisted with the most glorious success. Your Committee are of opinion that more admirable subjects never offered themselves to the genius of the painter. Where can we find a more touching and we may say sublime spectacle, than that of a peaceful city, thus threatened with utter destruction by a force deemed invincible, resolving on her defence In a moment of general panic, and without experience in war. A city filled with women and children and old men equally alarmed by the dangers impending over themselves and by those which threatened their beloved soldiers - their defenders, their stay and support and dependence in peace as well as in the hour of battle. What spectacle amongst men can have more of sublimity than that exhibited by these citizen soldiers marching forth from their homes and from the bosom of their families, cheerfully to devote themselves in a cause sanctified by every earthly endearment! The appearance of a regiment moving under such circumstances must impress every generous heart, with sensations very different from the sight of the mercenary hireling who fights for his pay, to gratify the guilty ambition of a master, with a savage ferocity in the contemplation of his prey. View it as we may, all modern history may be challenged to produce a subject more finely adapted to the most elevated efforts of the painter for it is not the conflict merely that we are to consider, important as it is, but the great example, the admirable lesson, the fine trait of history conveyed to future times standing on equality with the noblest of antiquity. It is by such traits, that the history and characters of nations are formed. It is these occurrences, Which bestow upon them an independent and distinctive existence. The brave defences of Baltimore will no doubt be recorded in history with all the honor which it merits, but as a community, we ought to do something to show that we are not insensible to the glory of the achievement. What Baltimorean, What Americen will not feel a generous glow of exultation and pride of Country when he beholds these monumental testimonials of the valor and virtue of his countrymen? Nothing contributed so much in the bright days of Greece and Rome, to keep alive their patriotic feelings and public spirit, as their national monuments.
The American Republic but just in its infancy - but just beginning to acquire a character and a name, for this can only be the result of a series of noble actions, demands that every exploit of her sons should be carefully monumented. It is important even with a view to the permanent Union of the States. The day will come when our Orators, our painters and poets will find ample matters for the exercise of their respective talents in the national achievements of our own Country. It is due then to that Country, to this City, to the brave men who fought, to the living and the dead, to our children who may be called on some future day to emulate the example, that some suitable measure be adopted to commommorate and mark those events so highly interesting to the City of Baltimore, and to the American People.
On the Part of the lst Branch
RICHARD B. MAGRRUDER
On the Part of the 2nd Branch
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