War of 1812: Battle of North Point

Battle of North Point during the War of 1812
Battle of North Point. Photograph Courtesy of the US Army

The Battle of North Point was fought as the British attacked Baltimore, MD on September 12, 1814, during the War of 1812. As 1813 came to an end, the British started to shift their attention from the Napoleonic Wars to the conflict with the United States. This commenced with a surge in naval strength which saw the Royal Navy widen and tighten their full commercial blockade of the American coast. This crippled American commerce and led to inflation and shortages of goods.

The American position continued to decline with the fall of Napoleon in March 1814. Though initially cheered by some in the United States, the implications of the French defeat soon became clear as the British were now freed to enlarge their military presence in North America. Having failed to capture Canada or compel the British to seek peace during the war's first two years, these new events put the Americans on the defensive and changed the conflict into one of national survival.

To the Chesapeake

As fighting continued along the Canadian border, the Royal Navy, led by Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, mounted attacks along the American coast and endeavored to tighten the blockade. Already eager to inflict destruction on the United States, Cochrane was further encouraged in July 1814 after getting a letter from Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost. This asked him to help avenge the American burnings of several Canadian towns.

To oversee these attacks, Cochrane turned to Rear Admiral George Cockburn who had spent much of 1813 raiding up and down the Chesapeake Bay. To support this mission, a brigade of Napoleonic veterans, commanded by Major General Robert Ross, was ordered to the region.

On to Washington

On August 15, Ross' transports entered the Chesapeake and pushed up the bay to join with Cochrane and Cockburn.

Assessing their options, the three men decided to attempt a strike on Washington DC. This combined force soon cornered Commodore Joshua Barney's gunboat flotilla in the Patuxent River. Moving up the river, they eliminated Barney's force and landed Ross's 3,400 men and 700 marines on August 19. In Washington, President James Madison's administration struggled to meet the threat. Unwilling to believe that the capital would be a target, little had been done in terms of preparing defenses.

Overseeing the defense of Washington was Brigadier General William Winder, a political appointee from Baltimore who had been captured at the Battle of Stoney Creek in June 1813. As the bulk of the US Army's regulars were occupied in the north, Winder 's force was largely comprised of militia. Meeting no resistance, Ross and Cockburn marched quickly from Benedict to Upper Marlborough. There the two elected to approach Washington from the northeast and cross the East Branch of the Potomac at Bladensburg. Following the defeat of American forces at the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, they entered Washington and burned several government buildings. This done, British forces under Cochrane and Ross turned their attention north towards Baltimore.

The British Plan

A vital port city, Baltimore was believed by the British to be the base of many of the American privateers that were preying on their shipping. To take Baltimore, Ross and Cochrane planned a two-prong attack with the former landing at North Point and advancing overland, while the latter attacked Fort McHenry and the harbor defenses by water. Arriving in the Patapsco River, Ross landed 4,500 men at the tip of North Point on the morning of September 12, 1814.

Anticipating Ross' actions and needing more time to complete the city's defenses, the American commander at Baltimore, American Revolution veteran Major General Samuel Smith, dispatched 3,200 men and six cannon under Brigadier General John Stricker to delay the British advance. Marching to North Point, Stricker arrayed his men across Long Log Lane at a point where the peninsula narrowed.

Marching north, Ross rode ahead with his advance guard.

Armies & Commanders:

United States

  • Major General Samuel Smith
  • Brigadier General John Stricker
  • 3,200 men

Britain

  • Major General Robert Ross
  • Colonel Arthur Brooke
  • 4,500 men

The Americans Make a Stand

Shortly after being warned about being too far forward by Rear Admiral George Cockburn, Ross' party encountered a group of American skirmishers. Opening fire, the Americans critically wounded Ross in arm and chest before retreating. Placed on a cart to carry him back to the fleet, Ross died a short time later. With Ross dead, command devolved to Colonel Arthur Brooke. Pressing forward, Brooke's men soon encountered Stricker's line. Nearing, both sides exchanged musket and cannon fire for over an hour, with the British attempting flank the Americans.

Around 4:00 PM, with the British getting better of the fight, Stricker ordered a deliberate retreat north and reformed his line near Bread and Cheese Creek. From this position Stricker waited for the next British assault, which never came. Having suffered over 300 casualties, Brooke elected not to pursue the Americans and ordered his men to camp on the battlefield. With his mission of delaying the British accomplished, Stricker and men retired to Baltimore's defenses. The following day, Brooke conducted two demonstrations along the city's fortifications, but found them too strong to attack and halted his advance.

Aftermath & Impact

In the fighting, the Americans lost 163 killed and wounded and 200 captured.

British casualties numbered 46 killed and 273 wounded. While a tactical loss, the Battle of North Point proved to be a strategic victory for the Americans. The battle allowed Smith to complete his preparations for defending the city, which halted Brooke's advance. Unable to penetrate the earthworks, Brooke was forced to await the outcome of Cochrane's naval attack on Fort McHenry. Beginning at dusk on September 13, Cochrane's bombardment of the fort failed, and Brooke was forced to withdraw his men back to the fleet.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "War of 1812: Battle of North Point." ThoughtCo, Dec. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/war-of-1812-battle-of-north-point-2360812. Hickman, Kennedy. (2017, December 5). War of 1812: Battle of North Point. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/war-of-1812-battle-of-north-point-2360812 Hickman, Kennedy. "War of 1812: Battle of North Point." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/war-of-1812-battle-of-north-point-2360812 (accessed January 16, 2018).