When I think of war in the days of sailing ships, I envision battles on the ocean. For the War of 1812, I must include the large estuary of Chesapeake Bay and even deep rivers. But a battle on a creek? Especially a creek that family sailboats and cruisers might anchor in for an overnight rendezvous? (More especially, one where my husband and I met with other boaters for a friendly weekend.) But in June of 1814, it did happen.
The British controlled Chesapeake Bay, allowing little trade with other countries. In an attempt to open the bay, former privateer, Commodore Joshua Barney took his fleet of eighteen small gun boats, barges, and sloops down the bay. He was able to harass the British ships, then escape into smaller tributaries. Barney’s Chesapeake Flotilla clashed with the British from June sixth to the twenty-sixth, ending that day where the Patuxent River meets the mouth of St. Leonard Creek. (Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, the unnamed green section in the center of the map above. is located at the site and commemorates the battle.)
During the ensuing battle Barney, with 360 sailors and 120 marines held off an overwhelming force that bettered him ten to one. One source says that President Madison, himself, took control of the land forces when Barney was severely injured. After four hours, beaten, they retreated. Had they won, they might have prevented the burning of Washington.
Note: Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum cooperated with a middle school in a UTube video of a presentation of Commodore Barney’s tale of the battle.