The Naval War of 1812

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The Cruise of the U.S. Fleet under Commodore John Rogers
Independent Frigate Actions of the United States in the War of 1812
Battle on the Lakes
War on the Chesapeake Bay
The Battle of New Orleans
The Peace of Ghent and the Future of the U.S. Navy
Documents


War on the Chesapeake Bay

After Napoleon's exile to Elba, the British navy was able to give its full attention to the American conflict. In 1814, the Admiralty focused a counterattack on the Chesapeake Bay. Earlier British attacks on the Bay had served as diversions from more serious missions in Canada. Now, with the tides turned at Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, the British sent the fleet to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and attacked the weak and disorganized American defenses.
Battles on the Chesapeake Bay. Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy. Naval Institute Press.
The northern American fleet was commanded by Commodore Joshua Barney and included two gunboats and twelve barges. Barney brought his flotilla down from Baltimore and engaged British Admiral Alexander Cochrane at Drum Point. Barney was quickly pushed back up the Patuxent River, where he became trapped and was forced to abandon his flotilla.
Commodore Joshua Barney. From the collections of The Mariners' Museum.
His defeat was hard proof that the gunboat navy was an inadequate defense against the British man-of-war. Cochrane continued to be active in the Bay and soon had twenty warships backed by four thousand regular British troops under Major General Robert Ross.

By August 19, 1814, British ships had transported troops to Benedict, Maryland, where they began to pose a direct threat to Washington. The Americans were able to muster seven thousand men at Bladensburg with five hundred sailors and marines from Barney's gunboat fleet, but the battle was lost and the British entered Washington, burning large parts of the city. The Washington Navy Yard and the new warships Columbia and Argus were burned by Captain Thomas Tingey to prevent them from falling into British hands.

Bombing of Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland. From the collections of The Mariners' Museum.
Cochrane's ships then took troops farther north to Baltimore. Major General Ross planned to attack the city while Cochrane's ships bombarded Fort McHenry. The fort's defenses could not reach Cochrane's ships, which were kept anchored out of range. Despite heavy bombardment by the British, Fort McHenry could not be taken. This failure and the death of General Ross in battle led to British withdrawal the following morning.



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