WASHINGTON—Representatives from the U.S., British and Canadian militaries gathered at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., Aug. 24, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bladensburg, and the subsequent burning of the capital during the War of 1812.
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Mark Rich, commandant, Naval District Washington, joined U.S. Marine Corps Col. Sean Gibson, British Royal Marines Lt. Col. Edward Moorhouse, and Royal Canadian Navy Cmdr. David Trudeau in laying three wreaths at the memorial in honor of the 300 casualties on both sides of the battle.
Following the defeat of Napoleon in Europe earlier in 1814, the British were able to send more personnel to fight against American forces throughout the U.S. and into Canada. On August 24, 1814, British forces under Gen. Robert Ross clashed with American regular Army, militiamen, Marines and Sailors at the strategic town of Bladensburg, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.
“Bladensburg is now part of the sprawling suburbia surrounding the nation’s capital, but then it was a town on the other side of one of the three northern bridges into Washington, D.C.,” said U.S. Navy Museum Assistant Curator Jennifer Marland during the ceremony.
The British intended the march on the capital to draw American forces away from strategic positions along the Canadian border, she added, but only drew local forces to meet the advance.
American Commodore Joshua Barney, along with 360 Sailors and 120 Marines, offered strong resistance to the attack, but were eventually subdued during the British rout of the Americans as they rolled through Bladensburg and into Washington that night.
“In the Washington Navy Yard, Commodore Thomas Tingey was ordered to set fire to the yard he had created in order to prevent it, and the ships nearing completion, from falling into British control,” Marland said. “In less than 24 hours, the President’s house, the Capitol building, the Treasury, the State, War and Navy buildings had joined the Navy Yard in flames. In Baltimore, the lights of the fire?the conflagration of the city?could be seen. Having achieved the objective of the operation, the British withdrew to resupply and gather greater naval support before pressing on to Baltimore.”
Moorhouse, speaking on the British side of the conflict, said it was never Ross’ intention to burn the entire city, although his men sought revenge for the Americans sacking York?now Toronto?earlier in the war.
Both Marland and Moorhouse marked the anniversary as not only that of the battle, but of the beginning of a new relationship between the U.S. and Britain and a legacy that continues today. Following the defeat at Bladensburg and the loss of Washington, American forces quickly countered with a decisive defeat of the British at Baltimore, which led to the writing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” and the eventual Treaty of Ghent which ended the war in the spring of 1815.
“We pause today to remember the honor, courage and commitment exemplified by Barney’s men, and to celebrate the subsequent two centuries of peace between combatants,” said Marland.
“The legacy of today, and the peace treaty that followed, created something that remains sacrosanct now and into the future,” Moorhouse said. “Standing in your great capital in 2014, we not only commemorate the events that occurred on and around the Chesapeake Bay 200 years ago, but also remember that it is the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, and the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings of World War II. These indeed, are fine landmarks on the linage of this relationship.”
Moorhouse recalled the leadership of both Ross and Barney as military commanders and men of mutual respect, and in particular Ross’ kind treatment of the severely wounded Barney and many of his captured men following the battle.
“It’s the quality shown by these two military forefathers that still underpins the ethos of our militaries, be that in a small hamlet in Maryland 200 years ago, the trenches of Flanders, the beaches of Normandy, or indeed, the Green Zone of Northern Helmand in Afghanistan.”
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