Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Battle of Bladensburg (War of 1812)

Secretary of War John Armstrong Jr., a self styled military genius, had a theory that militia fought best at the spur of the moment. Early deployment would only cause militiamen to brood over the horrors of battle.

Armstrong steadfastly refused to do anything to defend the United States capital in 1814. When residents of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, pleaded for help in the face of several British raids, Armstrong replied, “It cannot be expected that I can defend every man’s turnip patch.”

The British landed at Benedict, Maryland on August 19, 1814, achieving complete tactical surprise. Some 4,500 British veterans faced 429 American regulars and 1,500 poorly trained and poorly equipped militia in a set piece battle in the open. Armstrong’s theories about the use of militia did not prove sound against the British.

The British regulars came on steadily, driving the Americans like sheep. After losing ten dead and forty wounded, the Americans fled the field, leaving ten cannons behind. The route was complete, and was derided at the time as the “Bladensburg Races”. The battle has come down to history as, “the greatest disgrace ever dealt American arms” and “the most humiliating episode in American history.”

Later that night the British burned Washington.

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