ANNAPOLIS – Bombs bursting, the dawn’s early light.
Most know the legacy of popular Maryland landmarks from the War of 1812, as the state hosted the “Chesapeake Campaign” in 1813 and 1814, one of the most important fronts of the war.
But, aside from giving us our national anthem and the iconic Fort McHenry flag, the War of 1812 often falls into obscurity, called “The Forgotten War” by historians.
Set to kick off a three-year celebration of the 200th anniversary of the war, Marylanders are commemorating the country’s second conflict with the British and the state’s key role in the war by celebrating the big and small aspects of the War of 1812.
“It’s not hard to make the argument that this was Maryland’s most important national heritage story,” said Bill Pencek, executive director of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.
In honor of the War of 1812 Bicentennial, the commission is hosting “Star-Spangled Sailabration” June 14-17, as well as debuting the Star-Spangled Banner National Historical Trail, a new documentary, and a book.
Here are five Maryland people and places from the War of 1812 you may not have heard a lot about.
Dr. William Beanes
Francis Scott Key, the author of our national anthem, would not have been at Fort McHenry to witness the rockets’ red glare had it not been for another Maryland resident, Dr. William Beanes.
A wealthy doctor living in Upper Marlboro, Beanes detained straggling British soldiers accused of looting local farms after troops passed through town following the burning of Washington.
Days before, Beanes, who was against the war, had welcomed the troops. An angered British General Ross returned to collect the detained soldiers, taking Beanes with him.
Family and townspeople called upon Key to help free the elderly doctor, and the prominent Georgetown lawyer boarded a British vessel on September 13, 1814, to negotiate the release.
The captors agreed to free Beanes, but held the men on a truce boat for a night during the attack on Fort McHenry. Key was inspired to write a poem after noting the fort’s flag still flying the morning after the bombardment.
Safely returned to Upper Marlboro, Beanes died in 1828. He is buried in a nondescript grave on a hill on the corner of Elm Street and Governor Oden Bowie Drive in Upper Marlboro.
As the British were sailing up the Chesapeake in August of 1813, residents of St. Michaels were forewarned of an attack after a recent battle at Craney Island.
Brig. Gen. Perry Benson, commanding officer of the Talbot County militia, ordered the townspeople to dim their lights, and lanterns were placed in the trees north of town.
The British shot their cannons toward the lights, missing the town almost completely, except for one house. Now known as the “Cannonball House,” the shot left a cannonball embedded in the residence.
The “town that fooled the British,” St. Michaels is proud of its little skirmish, a skirmish that included no American loss and little damage, especially to the town’s shipyard. By a successful blackout, the small town was the site of an ingenious tale in the country’s fight to retain its independence.
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The Battle of Bladensburg
In one of the most significant battles of the war and, arguably, one of the most embarrassing defeats in American history, the Battle of Bladensburg serves as a sore on the War of 1812’s military record.
In August 1814, British troops ventured up the Anacostia River and clashed with Americans at Bladensburg. Despite outnumbering the enemy, the Americans suffered a devastating loss and British troops proceeded to capture Washington that same night, burning most of it to the ground.
The battle was dubbed the “Bladensburg Races,” as the retreat by American forces was more like a race, with even President James Madison fleeing to Virginia.
Though Bladensburg was such a devastating loss, Marylanders defended the capital heroically. The Bladensburg Waterfront Park is now on the site of the battle, showing the bend of the Anacostia, which left the door wide open for capture of the capital.
In 1813, British forces sailed up the Sassafras River between Cecil and Kent County. Burning the towns of Fredericktown and Georgetown in their path, the troops were surprised to face resistance not from a militia, but from a high-society woman and, legends tell, her broom.
Catherine “Kitty” Knight, a wealthy woman living in Georgetown, pleaded with British Adm. George Cockburn to spare two houses from being burned. An elderly woman, too sick to move, was inside one house, she said, and burning it down would take her with it.
Turning instead to the neighboring house, Knight again asked the admiral to stop the fire, as the flames could leap over to the ill woman’s house.
In an act of bravery and spunk, Knight saved both houses and a church from burning, a small yet touching story of heroism by a strong Maryland woman.
The Kitty Knight House, now an inn and restaurant overlooking the Sassafras River, stands as a modern-day testament to Knight’s heroism. Knight died in 1855 and is buried at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Warwick.
In the early 1800s, disagreements between the gentlemen of Washington weren’t restricted to heated debates in the halls of the Capitol.
Arguments were settled in a more permanent way, as politicians, military officers and neighbors came to the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds, in present-day Colmar Manor, in a test of honor and speed.
The land was the place of death of Gen. Armistead Thomson Mason of the War of 1812’s Virginia Militia, by the bullet of Colonel John Mason McCarthy in 1819. Daniel Key, the son of Francis Scott Key, also died there.
The most famous duel held at the grounds was between War of 1812 naval hero Commodore Stephen Decatur and Commodore James Barron in 1820, leaving the former to die from his injuries.
Decatur, born in modern-day Worcester County, commanded fleets of ships essential to the war. His former superior and commander of the USS Chesapeake, Barron, was court-martialed for his surrender of the ship, with Decatur a member of the implicating board.
The two feuded for years and finally settled their arguments, in the most gentlemanly way possible, at the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds.
Now that dueling is out of fashion, the grounds stand quiet, and the place formerly known as “Blood Run” is just a strip of land surrounded by businesses and homes.