Dundalk’s Sea Dog: Joshua Barney, Part 8
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 10:22

From Fort McHenry to the Treaty of Ghent and war’s end

The following is this year’s installment in former Dundalkian Blaine Taylor’s series of historical articles about the War of 1812.

    The date was Aug. 24, 1814, and the Americans had been defeated at the climactic Battle of Bladensburg, just outside the capital of the U.S. at Washington, D.C.
    Included among the defeated U.S. forces were the Navy sailors and Marines under the overall command of U.S. Navy Commodore Joshua Barney, who was himself badly wounded in a thigh, a wound that troubled him the rest of his life.
    His wound dressed and he personally given a parole to be released at the British aid station at the Bladensburg Inn afterward, the Commodore was transported by carriage to his estate at Elkridge, Md., to recuperate.

The British entered the capital in triumph, but British army Maj. Gen. Robert Ross had his horse shot out from under him by an American sniper, possibly one of Barney’s own escaped Chesapeake Flotillamen.
    Enraged, Ross and his Royal Navy counterpart — Rear Adm. Sir George Cockburn — authorized the burning of the public buildings only in the District of Columbia: among them, the U.S. Navy Yard at Anacostia Flats, the Capitol Building, and the President’s Mansion.
    This was also done at least partially in revenge for the earlier burning by the Americans of York, Canada. After the war, the President’s Mansion was rebuilt and painted white, thus soon becoming known as The White House, the name it has retained ever since.
    According to his 2000 biographer, Louis Arthur Norton, “On Sept. 12, 1814, the British landed at North Point, [Md.,] intending to mount a raid from the east. Their landing site — on a neck of land [now called Patapsco Neck] east-southeast of Baltimore, was only a mile or two from the boyhood home of Joshua Barney on Bear Creek .… A fleet of British frigates, sloops, and bomb ships entered the Patapsco River to bombard the garrisons that faced the sea” — the main one being Fort McHenry.
   “Within the walls … were two companies of Sea Fencibles, a coastal guard militia comprised mainly of fisherman and boatmen under naval command, and a battery of guns from Barney’s Flotilla…The remainder of Barney’s original Flotilla — now under the command of Lt. Solomon Rutter — was moored at the Lazaretto, a point of land just east of [Fort] McHenry.”
   Here is a period assessment of how Barney’s men performed: “Aided by the darkness of the night and screened by the flame they had kindled, one or two rocket or bomb vessels and many barges — manned by 1,200 chosen men — passed by [Fort] McHenry and proceeded up the Patapsco … a storm of heavy bullets flew upon them from the great semicircle of large guns and gallant hearts” that included Barney’s men at the Lazaretto.
   “The houses in the city were shaken to their foundations, for never perhaps — from the time of the invention of cannon to the present day — were the same number of pieces fired with so rapid succession. Barney’s Flotillamen — at the City Battery — maintained the high reputation they had before earned.”
   Added Norton, “The guns of the City Battery were commanded by Sailing Master John A. Webster, and the Lazaretto was defended by Lts. Rutter and Frazier, all three of Barney’s Flotilla unit.”
   Here is popular American frontier novelist James Fenimore Cooper’s 1844 account:
    “The barges (of Rutter), in particular — though exposed for nearly a day and a night to the shells and rockets of the enemy — maintained their position with unflinching firmness, and when more closely attacked, repelled the attempt with ease. At a most critical moment, several vessels were sunk in the channel, which would’ve completely prevented the enemy from bringing up his ships, had he attempted it. The sunken vessels were barges deliberately scuttled by Barney’s men a half mile from [Fort] McHenry to present a navigational hazard to the British.” Stalled and frustrated, all British forces withdrew.
   The absent Commodore also had a special connection to and with The Star-Spangled Banner, added Norton:
    “Barney’s relationship with the early history of the American flag can be described with only one word: extraordinary. The teenaged Barney was the first to use the banner for naval recruitment in Maryland, and probably in the (other) colonies. He was Master’s Mate on the Hornet, one of the first of a fleet of Continental Navy ships to fly the American flag.
   “He was second in command of the Andrea Dorea when its flag received the first salute from a foreign nation (France). Barney was given the honor of carrying the American flag into the national assembly of France as the new French Republic received its first diplomatic recognition. Finally, he was part of the committee that ordered the fabrication of the [Fort] McHenry standard that became arguably the best-known national icon of the United States. Having participated in any one of these events would’ve been remarkable; to have been part of all five is indeed truly exceptional.”
    Meanwhile. at his Elkridge estate, the Commodore’s leg wound was but slowly and painfully healing, and the 55-year-old veteran of two wars lived with the musket ball lodged in his leg for the rest of his days, also leaving him with a permanent limp. He visibly aged.
   On Sept. 28, 1814, the city of Washington honored Barney with a citation and presentation sword that is today housed at the Daughters of the American Revolution Building in Washington. By October, he was at sea again, however, commanding an American schooner transporting British POWs to Hampton Roads, Va., to exchange for Americans to be returned to Baltimore.
    Attested Norton, “The exchange took place onboard Sir Pulteney Malcolm’s flagship, where the British received the released prisoners with naval pomp and ceremony. During this transfer, Barney was granted freedom from his personal parole obligation,” not to fight the Brits again.
    Devoted to his men’s welfare, Barney backed a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 2, 1814, “to appropriate funds to replace their lost articles” in the previous fighting, but failed to pass the Senate, so they went unpaid. Barney himself, however, was commissioned Captain of the Flotilla, a fleet that no longer existed, having been scuttled both at Pig Point, Md., and at Fort McHenry during the fighting.
   On Dec. 1, 1814, Gen. Samuel Smith suggested to Baltimore’s Committee of Safety and Defense that Barney’s sailors be employed in the raising of all the sunken ships in the harbor. Because Congress refused his terms, the angry Commodore resigned his commission in a huff, and retired yet again to Elkridge, but accepted reappointment when it was reoffered to mollify his hurt feelings: “I do most solemnly pledge myself not to quit the (naval) Service or lay down my sword until death or a peace such as our country ought to obtain — external enemies or internal traitors notwithstanding.”
   Meanwhile, in Belgium, the Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve 1814, and ratified by the US Senate on Feb. 17, 1815. Thus did Commodore Barney’s second naval war with Great Britain end, but not his ongoing wars with the Washington, D.C., political establishment. That, however, is another saga ….
• Freelancer Blaine Taylor served as staff writer at then-Dundalk Community College during 1982-83, and has been East Coast Contributing Editor for International Sea Classics magazine since 1989. His forthcoming three-volume book series collectively entitled The Star-Spangled Banner War of 1812 will be published during the war’s bicentennial years of 2012-14.