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Bladensburg, battle of.

In 1814 General Winder warned the President and his cabinet of the danger to the national capital from a contemplated invasion by the British. The obstinate and opinionated Secretary of War (Armstrong) would not listen; but when Admiral Cochrane appeared in Chesapeake Bay with a powerful land and naval force, the alarmed Secretary gave Winder a carte blanche, almost, to do as he pleased in defending the capital. Com. Joshua Barney was in command of a flotilla in the bay, composed of an armed schooner and thirteen barges. These were driven into the Patuxent River, up which the flotilla was taken to a point beyond the reach of the British vessels, and where it might assist in the defence of either Washington or Baltimore, whichever city the British might attack. To destroy this flotilla, more than 5,000 regulars, marines, and negroes were landed at Benedict, with three cannon; and the British commander, Gen. Robert Ross, boasted that he would wipe out Barney's fleet and dine in Washington the next Sunday. The boast being known, great exertions were made for the defence of the capital. General Winder, relieved from restraint, called upon the veteran Gen. Samuel Smith, of Baltimore, to bring out his division of militia, and General Van Ness, of Washington, was requested [357] to station two brigades of the militia of the District of Columbia at Alexandria. Winder also called for volunteers from all the militia districts of Maryland. General Smith promptly responded, but the call for volunteers was not very effectual.

Meanwhile the British, who had pursued Barney up the Patuxent in barges, were disappointed. Seeing no chance for escape, the commodore blew up his flotilla at Pig Point (Aug. 22. 1814), and with his men hastened to join Winder at his headquarters. When General Ross arrived, perceiving Barney's flotilla to be a smoking ruin, he passed on to upper Marlboro, where a road led directly to Washington, D. C., leaving Admiral Cockburn in charge of the British flotilla of barges. To oppose this formidable force, Winder had less than 3,000 effective men, most of them undisciplined; and he prudently retreated towards Washington, followed by Ross, who had been joined by Cockburn and his sailors ready for plunder. That

The Bridge at Bladensburg in 1861.

night (April 23) the British encamped within 10 miles of the capital. At the latter place there was great excitement, and there were sleepless vigils kept by soldiers and civilians. Uncertain whether Washington City or Fort Washington was the intended destination of the invaders, Winder left a force near Bladensburg, and with other troops closely watched the highways leading in other directions.

The anxious President and his cabinet were awake that night, and at dawn the next morning (Aug. 24), while Winder was in consultation with them at his headquarters, a courier came in hot haste to tell them that the British were marching on Bladensburg. Winder sent troops immediately to reinforce those already there, and soon followed in person. The overwhelming number of the invaders put his little army in great peril. He was compelled to fight or surrender; he chose to fight, and at a little past noon a severe contest began. The troops under General Winder, including those from Baltimore (about 2.200) and detachments at various points watching the movements of the British, with the men of Barney's flotilla, were about 7,000 strong, of whom 900 were enlisted men. But many of these were at distant points of observation. The cavalry did not exceed 400. The little army had twenty-six pieces of cannon, of which twenty were only 6-pounders. With these troops and weapons Winder might have driven back the invaders, had he been untrammelled by the Secretary of War and the rest of the seemingly bewildered cabinet. As the British descended the hills and pressed towards the bridge at Bladensburg, they commenced hurling rockets at the exposed Americans. They were repulsed at first by the American artillery, but being continually reinforced, they pushed across the stream (east branch of the Potomac) in the face of a deadly [358] fire. A terrible conflict ensued, when another shower of rockets made the regiments of militia break and flee in the wildest disorder. Winder tried in vain to rally them. Another corps held its position gallantly for a while, when it, too, fled in disorder, covered by riflemen. The first and second lines of the Americans were now dispersed. The British still pressed on and encountered Commodore Barney and his gallant flotilla-men. After a desperate struggle, in which the commodore was severely wounded, Winder ordered a general retreat. Barney was too badly hurt to be removed, and was taken prisoner. He was immediately paroled.

The great body of the Americans who were not dispersed retreated towards Montgomery Court-House, Md., leaving the battle-field in full possession of the British. The Americans lost twenty-six killed and fifty wounded. The British loss was more than 500 killed and wounded, among them several officers of rank and distinction. The battle lasted about four hours. The principal troops engaged were militia and volunteers of the District of Columbia; militia from Baltimore, under to command of General Stansbury; various detachments of Maryland militia; a regiment of virginia militia, under Col. George Minor, 600 strong, with 100 cavalry. The regular army contributed 300 men; Barney's flotilla, 400. There were 120 marines from the Washington navy-yard, with two 18-pound and three 12-pound cannon. There were also various companies of volunteer cavalry from the District, Maryland, and Virginia, 300 in number, under Lieutenant-Colonel Tilghman and Majors O. H. Williams and C. Sterett. There was also a squadron of United States dragoons, commanded by Major Laval.

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