Battle of St. Leonard Creek — 1814

St Leonards Creek MD mapWhen 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 St Leonards battleoth­er 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.

America At War-1812

My Thurs­day series on the War of 1812 con­tin­ues.

President Madison

Pres­i­dent Madi­son

They called it Pres­i­dent Madison’s War. It was a war to free the impos­si­ble con­di­tions on the Atlantic Ocean—Britain seiz­ing ships and con­script­ing sailors, while both Britain and France declared our ship­ments ille­gal. The coun­try was deep in depres­sion with the Pres­i­dent for­bid­ding trade across the ocean. Although also ille­gal, com­merce con­tin­ued to the north, across the Great Lakes with Cana­da.

But the lack of com­merce and the result­ing Amer­i­can finan­cial depres­sion wasn’t the only rea­son many in the Unit­ed States favored war. Some want­ed to over­come the advan­tage the British had with the Indi­ans who often joined Eng­lish forces against the Unit­ed States. Oth­ers were look­ing to grab land, to add farmable acres, specif­i­cal­ly Cana­da and Flori­da. Thomas Jef­fer­son is said to have remarked that cap­tur­ing Cana­da was, “a mere mat­ter of march­ing.”  There were areas of Cana­da large­ly pop­u­lat­ed by Amer­i­cans. Mean­while, Eng­land believed that Cana­da was ade­quate­ly pro­tect­ed. The Unit­ed States did bat­tle with Cana­di­an and British forces, with vic­to­ries going each way.

One notable Amer­i­can vic­to­ry was at Put-In-Bay when Amer­i­can Com­modore Oliv­er Haz­ard Per­ry turned pos­si­ble defeat into vic­to­ry and cap­tured an entire British fleet. His report became famous. “We have met the ene­my and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.”

Even­tu­al­ly, how­ev­er, the Amer­i­can attack was defeat­ed. The Amer­i­cans in Cana­da didn’t ral­ly around their for­mer coun­try­men. They only want­ed to be left alone. They prob­a­bly num­bered among those who were unit­ed by the Cana­di­an vic­to­ries into the coun­try that, in 2012 cel­e­brat­ed their two hun­dredth anniver­sary of vic­to­ry against their south­ern neigh­bors.

Dur­ing much of 1812, most British ships were too involved fight­ing France to wor­ry about our east coast. The only for­ti­fi­ca­tions on both sides were along our North­ern board­er with Cana­da. Life went on as usu­al on most of the Atlantic coast. Var­i­ous civil­ian mili­tia formed along the water­front and in towns and vil­lages. How­ev­er, no Unit­ed States mil­i­tary forces were placed on Chesa­peake Bay.