Celebrating 200 years since North Point Battle
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 13:49

Cannoneers, with cotton in their ears, take a break during Defenders Day 2013 at Fort Howard. photo by Roland Dorsey 

 by John G. Bailey

    The official summer-long bicentennial celebration of the Battle of Baltimore and the birth of the National Anthem culminates in September with events at Fort Howard, Fort McHenry, Martin State Airport and other locales.
    Two hundred years ago, British attempts to capture Baltimore by land and by sea during the War of 1812 were repulsed. On Sept. 12, 1814, American militia blunted the advance of British troops  marching towards Baltimore at the Battle of North Point. The following day, the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships began. As the assault failed, Francis Scott Key, who witnessed the event, was moved to pen a poem which later provided the lyrics of the National Anthem.
    Events and activities at the annual Defenders Day celebration of the Battle of North Point at Fort Howard will highlight this year’s special anniversary on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 6 and 7. The pageantry of military pomp and the excitement of the battle recreated as living history by period re-enactors always draws a crowd during the commemoration. This year, military re-enactors from as far as Canada and as close as Dundalk will set up camp and field contesting armies at the old fort. Two battle re-enactments are scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday and the camps will be open to the public throughout the weekend.
    A living history group portraying the 2nd Lincoln Regiment, a British unit that fought in the war, will be arriving from St. Catherine, Ontario, with 32 soldiers, camp followers and children. Formed in 2011, the regiment made its first trip to Defenders Day at Fort Howard last year. The group has also commemorated War of 1812 battles at Queenston Heights, Chrysler’s Farm, Lundy’s Lane and other sites in the Great Lakes region.
    Gigi McAndrews, spokesperson for the 2nd Lincoln, gave a foretaste of what Defenders Day visitors can expect.
    “You can be sure to find us engaged with the public, sharing our historical views, relating first-hand knowledge of firearms, spinning yarns and looking for new recruits,” she said.
    In addition to participating in the battle re-enactments, the regiment will be offering photo opportunities with period headwear that participants can take home.
    Michael McComas of New Hamphire will be journeying south with other re-enactors of 4th Regiment of Foot, a British unit which fought at the Battle of North Point. He is a descendant of Henry McComas, the man who 200 years ago is said to have shot and killed British Gen. Robert Ross as he led the 4th Regiment into battle.
    McComas was inspired to represent the enemies of his ancestor by watching reenactors portraying the British at the  Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord. “The British were so sharp and well-drilled,” he said.
    “Somebody’s gotta be the bad guy.”
    Known historically as the “King’s Own,” the 4th Regiment was a royal regiment sponsored by the crown. Look for red uniforms with royal blue facing at Fort Howard Park.
    “I’ll be the big guy in red,” said McComas.
    Reenactors representing the light infantry of the 3rd Regiment of Foot, known colloquially in the U.K. as “The Buffs,” will be descending on Fort Howard from several states in the Northeast. The historical 3rd Regiment was dispatched to North America to fight in the War of 1812 after fighting with the French in the Napoleonic Wars.
    According to Ian Johns of Mt. Holly, N.J., who portrays a private in the 3rd Regiment, each re-enactor in the unit is responsible for providing his or her own uniform or outfit. Historical accuracy is ensured by adherence to patterns and guidebooks. This year will be the 3rd Regiment’s seventh appearance at Fort Howard.
    Re-enactor groups representing American units include Capt. George Washington McGee’s company of the 16th Regiment Maryland militia from Frederick. The unit was formed three years ago by Roger Roop, a ninth-generation descendent of Jacob Roop, who fought with the company during the war. They muster four times a year at a Carroll County farmhouse that predates the War of 1812. Twenty of the unit’s 42 members are scheduled to attend the celebration at Fort Howard.
    Other participating American units are the Lt. Thomas William artillery company from Virginia and Dundalk’s own Aisquith’s Sharpshooters, which will take to the field clad in their tell-tale hunter green militia attire.
    Fort McHenry ranger and historical interpreter Vince Vaise returns to Fort Howard to provide running narratives of the battle re-enactments. Both entertaining and educational, his blow-by-blow explanations cut through the fog of war to make sense of the mayhem.  
    Before the roar of battle and after the smoke clears, a host of other activities will vie for the attention of visitors.
    The Sky is the Limit Theater will perform Women’s Voices, a play written and directed by Debbie Staigerwald, on both days. Featuring seven players, the play portrays the lives of area women during the Battle of North Point. Staigerwald based the play on the book Never Prod a Hornet and her own research on local families of the era: the Shaw, Jones, Ridley, and Gorsuch families, among others.
    David Hildebrand of the Colonial Music Institute returns to Defenders Day at Fort Howard to peform authentic 1812-era songs. His repertoire includes a popular pre-war British drinking song “To Anacreon in Heaven,” which became the music to which the words of Key’s poem were set after the war.
    Other living history activities include period games and crafts hosted by members of Explorer Post 438 of Dundalk and a first-person  portrayal of the life of Medes Cohen — a Jewish American who fought in the Battle of Baltimore — performed by Grant Cloyd of the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
    The Defenders Day bicentennial at Fort Howard Park is sponsored by the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society. The society will be selling t-shirts and clothespin soldiers dressed in period attire, which were donated by Anna Wilkinson in memory of Charles H. Echols. Vendors will also be selling food and beverages at the event.
    Historical Society-sponsored bicentennial festivities continue on Monday, Sept. 8, at Sparrows Point High School with a military drill at 7 p.m., a concert by the Chorus of the Chesapeake at 7:45 p.m. and a fireworks display beginning at 8:45 p.m. The fireworks  display will feature 4,000 shells and is scheduled to last twice as long as the display during the Firemen’s Carnival in August.
    The principal organizer of this year’s bicentennial at Fort Howard Park is Harry Young, chairman of the Defenders Day Committee at the Historical Society. Young’s many tasks include contacting participating groups, making sure contracts are signed and ensuring that insurance requirements are fulfilled.
    “We’ve got the largest Defenders Day so far planned for this year,” Young said.
    For a more detailed schedule of Defenders Day events at Fort Howard Park, visit the Historical Society website at www.dundalkhistory.org.   
    Activities at North Point State Park (NPSP) on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 6 and 7, will complement the bicentennial celebration at Fort Howard Park.
    Shuttles from Parking Lot B at NPSP to Fort Howard Park will run every 15 minutes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. 
    Living history demonstrations featuring two Maryland militia units take place the at NPSP from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, with artillery demonstrations from Fort McHenry on Sunday only. Other activities include War of 1812-era children’s games led by Friends of Jerusalem Mill volunteers and live wild animal displays from Scales and Tales. Concessions, including bicentennial t-shirts, will also be available for purchase.
    Bus tours of area historical sites will leave the Takos Visitor Center on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon. The tour itineary includes Veterans Park in Edgemere, Todd’s Inheritance, the Shaw family cemetery, unfinished earthworks, the former site of the Gorsuch House, a former blacksmith shop site, the Aquilla Randall Monument, Battle Acre Park and North Point State Battlefield.
    In addition, the new historical interpretive displays at Takos Vistors Center will be open for self-guided tours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
    Volunteers at Todd’s Inheritance will host tours on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 6 and 7, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The original Todd  homestead witnessed the march of British soldiers up North Point Road in September 1814. Re-enactors representing British Royal Marines and a British ship’s company will also conduct living history demonstrations at the site during these times.    
    On Thursday, Sept. 11, soldiers of the Maryland Army National Guard’s 175th Infantry Battalion 5th Regiment will partake in the 200th March of the Defenders from Patterson Park — site of American defense works during the Battle of Baltimore — to Battle Acre Park in Dundalk, one of the earliest examples of battlefield preservation in North America. The procession will recreate the march of the historic 175th, which fought at the Battle of North Point.
    The event begins at 10 a.m. with an Assembly of the Militia at Rodger’s Bastion in Patterson Park, with musical performances and speeches by Gov. Martin O’Malley and historian Vince Vaise. The march begins at 11 a.m., with soldiers following the Star-Spangled Banner National Trail along Eastern Avenue and North Point Road. A remembrance ceremony at 1:30 p.m. at Battle Acre Park will honor both American and British soldiers who died during the Battle of North Point.
    The march will take place rain or shine. To view the opening ceremony, visitors are asked to bring chairs or blankets to the area around the famed pagoda in Patterson Park. Recommended areas for viewing the march are Highlandtown and Greektown along Eastern Avenue and the flea market parking lot and North Point Battlefield Park along North Point Road. There will be standing-room only for non-disabled persons in Battle Acre Park. Wheel-chair accessible areas will be available at Patterson Park and Battle Acre.    
    Also on Thursday, Sept. 11, Maryland State Park rangers with four living history presenters will lead tours of North Point State Battlefield from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Friday, Sept. 12, at the battlefield, a ceremony paying respects to soldiers  who died  in the battle is scheduled from 9 to 11 a.m.
    CCBC Dundalk will present O’er the Ramparts, an original patriotic musical based on the Battle of North Point. For details, see the article on page 12.
    A free performance of 1814: The Rock Opera will be presented Sunday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m. as part of the Hampstead Hill Festival at Patterson Park. The high-energy musical recreates events surrounding the Battle of Baltimore through the characters of Dolley Madison, Maj. George Armstead and other historical figures.
    The Hampstead Hill Festival runs from 10 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Other musical performances include O’Malley’s March (the Celtic rock band led by the governor), Frank Sollivan & Dirty Kitchen  (bluegrass) and Charm City Junction (bluegrass), the Baltimore City Choir and the U.S. Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. Live history performances, including cannon firing and a blacksmithing display, are scheduled throughout the day and a crafts tent will offer hands-on activities for all ages.
    For more information on the festival, visit www.creativealliance.org/1814.
    A full range of bicentennial events planned for the Inner Harbor and Fort McHenry take place from Thursday to Tuesday, Sept. 11 to 16.
    Thirty naval vessels and tall ships from the U.S. and foreign countries arrive in Baltimore on Wedneday, Sept. 10, and depart Tuesday, Sept. 16, with the ships open to the public Thursday to Monday from noon to 5 p.m. Air shows by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels take place Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 13 and 14, over the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River between 2 and 4 p.m. A living flag and historical re-enactments are among other events at Fort McHenry planned from Thursday to Sunday. A fireworks display celebrating the successful defense of Fort McHenry and the birth of the National Anthem begins Saturday, Sept. 13, at 9:30 p.m. The fireworks will be launched from six barges stretching from the Inner Harbor to the fort.
    For a detailed schedule of bicentennial events in the Baltimore area, visit www.
starspangled.com.
    Visitors to Martin State Airport can see the Blue Angels take off and land as part of the Star-Spangled Festival at Martin State
Airport on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 13 and 14, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The festival features displays of U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Maryland Air National Guard aircraft, history booths, crafts and music and more. The Glenn L. Martin Aviation Museum will also be open. Estimated departure and return times for the Blue Angles are 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 4 p.m., respectively, on both days, depending on weather conditions. (Note: The Blue Angels will not be performing airshows at the airport.)
    Clean Bread and Cheese Creek will honor the bicentennial with two cleanups of Battle of North Point historical sites.  On Saturday, Sept. 6, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the group will target trash and debris at Bear Creek Park, site of a British landing, and Charlesmont Park, former location of the Jacob Haulk Pavillion, where Haulk and other battle of North Point veterans held annual reunions. Volunteers are asked to meet at Bear Creek Park. 
    On Saturday, Sept. 27, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the group will clean up Bread and Cheese Creek where it borders the North Point battlefield, as well as the grounds of the former Methodist Meeting House, which was used as a hospital for both American and British troops. Volunteers will convene at 2408 Plainfield Road.
    Volunteers of all abilities and inclinations are needed for both cleanups. Supplies, bottled water and snacks will be provided. Volunteers are asked to bring their own tools if they have them. For more information, contact John Long
at 410-285-1202 or by e-mail at info@
breadandcheesecreek.org.