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In Memoriam

On August 24th, 1813 America may have suffered its greatest embarrassment in war.  Days before, U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong insisted that the British were going to attack Baltimore instead of Washington in spite of all indications.  He stubbornly stuck to this unsupported view which left Washington unguarded.  He ignored the request of the President to call up the militia and to review the coastline defenses, never trained the militia in Maryland, and even refused supplying the militia once they arrived.  It took President Madison’s personal intervention to provide food, shelter, and ammunition. 

The President personally reprimanded Armstrong for ignoring the advances of the British and the President’s requests.  Armstrong reacted by doing even less.  When the White House servants gathered the portrait of George Washington per Dolly Madison’s request on the 23rd of August, Armstrong mocked them for their haste.  The next day the inexperienced militia that was congregated at Bladensburg, Maryland would stand momentarily as the last and only line of defense for the nation’s capitol.  They were routed at the Battle of Bladensburg by Gen. Robert Ross. 

Madison was forced to flee to Virginia while British soldiers dined at the White House and at the President’s last prepared supper.  Admiral Cockburn sat in the place of the Speaker of the House in the Capitol Building and held a mock vote to burn down Washington.  They would follow through.  Witnesses as far away as Baltimore could see the city’s burning light.  General Ross had captured Washington almost effortlessly.  With almost all of the public buildings set ablaze, and a restocked fighting force (due to the looting of Washington), Ross set his gaze on Baltimore, and like his family’s crest now displays, he felt he had the Stars and Stripes in his grasp.  America was demoralized, defeated, and failing.

Militia officer Major General Samuel Smith assumed command of Baltimore’s resistance.  He quickly deployed 3000 troops to meet the British advances in an attempt to stall them enough to improve the city’s defenses.  It was in this Battle at North Point on September 12, 1814, where America’s future may have been determined.  A now forgotten militia sharp shooter climbed into a tree, took aim, and killed General Ross, the man who sacked Washington and gave orders to burn down the White House.  Col. Arthur Brooke, a far inferior officer, took control of the British forces and subsequently retreated from Fort McHenry to New Orleans. 

This stance at Fort McHenry emboldened America and became a symbol of pride and encouragement for the Americans.  It was the observation of this stand that inspired Francis Scott Key to write his poem “Defense of Ft. McHenry” which would later become the “Star Spangled Banner”.  The Battle of Baltimore was the first turning point in the war for America, and it all started with a single well-aimed bullet from a forgotten militia man. 

It is unfortunate that John Armstrong is remembered for his blunders that lead to North Point’s necessity.  Had he not been so stubborn he may have stopped the burning of Washington and negated the requisite for Baltimore’s defense.  It may have circumvented the need for a young militia man to climb into a tree and become an easy target for British muskets.  One man’s name is remembered, the other remains a nameless, faceless standard for what it means to be an American soldier. 

The Battle of New Orleans, Bull Run, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Operation Enduring Freedom and many more have claimed the lives of American soldiers.  Their names may be lost, but their heroics are not.  Today we celebrate our freedom in memory of them. 
Have a blessed Memorial Day.


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  • John Carey May 30, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    Great post Right. I know this story that is all but forgotten. Have a great Memorial Day.

    • RightHandMan
      RightHandMan May 30, 2011 at 1:23 PM

      Sorry to step on your toes. I hope you don’t mind.

  • Silverfiddle May 30, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    Thanks for the history lesson! I had forgotten that the National Anthem was not written during the revolutionary war.
    Silverfiddle recently posted..Supermans Dead- Happy Memorial DayMy Profile

  • RightHandMan
    RightHandMan May 30, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    Thanks Silverfiddle. It wasn’t the Revolution, but just important a war.

  • Jim at Conservatives on Fire May 30, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    RHM, thanks for the re-education. It’s a shame that we don’t have a name to go with this particular hero. As it is, many of our heroes are nameless, but we can still keep our memory of their heroic acts alive.
    Jim at Conservatives on Fire recently posted..ApologiesMy Profile

  • RightHandMan
    RightHandMan May 30, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    I think it is sort of fitting that he is nameless. How many names do we know from Normandy, the Bulge, or Iwo Jima? The fact is that our soldiers don’t do their work for fame or glory…that is left to politicians or politically motivated officers. This man was a militia man, the quintessential American soldier – a volunteer willing to risk it all for his country. He is the mold that is, thankfully, not broken.

  • Steve Dennis May 30, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    Great post! I knew that the National Anthem was written about Fort McHenry but I did not know that a single sharp-shooter killed the man who burned down the White House–interesting stuff. I hope tha you had a wonderful Memorial Day.
    Steve Dennis recently posted..Memorial Day 2011My Profile

    • RightHandMan
      RightHandMan May 30, 2011 at 11:06 PM

      Thanks Steve. You should now read about how those Washington fires were put out. 🙂

  • Matt May 30, 2011 at 9:40 PM

    Great history lesson. It’s always interesting to see how one single event can change the course of history.
    Matt recently posted..Memorial Day – A Thank you for the Ultimate SacrificeMy Profile

    • RightHandMan
      RightHandMan May 30, 2011 at 11:07 PM

      Thanks Matt. Indeed, one man can make the largest of differences – even one not remembered.