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Spain. Meantime Admiral Cochrane's fleet had proceeded up the Chesapeake, and meeting Commodore Barney's little Baltimore flotilla of gunboats had chased it into the Patuxent River, and was doing blockading service at the mouth of that river.
Here on the 17th of August it was joined by Malcolm's and Ross' force, and the whole body then moved up the Patuxent ostensibly to attack Barney, but really to effect a landing of troops for the march to Washington. Barney, to prevent his vessels falling into the enemy's hands, burned them, and with his seamen and marines and the few guns he could mount, made a forced march across the peninsula to join Winder for the defence of Washington.
All through the night of August 19, 1814, a courier spurred post-haste under the sombre pines, over the heavy sandy roads of tidewater Maryland, toward Washington. At every little post town-Nottingham, Marlborough, Bladensburg—he drew rein at the ancient tavern and cried in stentorian tones : “ The British have landed in force at Benedict and are marching inland. To arms! To arms!” and swept on like an ill-omened spirit of the night. He was in Washington at daylight, where his news created a vast confusion of counsel and effort. President Madison and Colonel Monroe agreed that the capital was the object of attack; and the latter soon set out on a reconnoissance to discover the enemy's force and intentions.
General Armstrong maintained that Baltimore was the point aimed at. “They will strike somewhere,” he said to General Van Ness, who called upon him on behalf of the citizens to urge prompt and energetic measures. “They will strike somewhere, but they will not come here. No, no, Baltimore is the place, sir; that is of so much more consequence.” And at a consultation with the President and General Winder, three days later, he expressed the opinion that Ross' movement was intended simply to cover and aid the armed vessels destined to the attack on Barney's flotilla in the Patuxent, and that if they made an attack on Washington at all, it would be" a mere Cossack hurrah," a rapid march and hasty retreat, coming as he did wholly unprepared for siege and investment. His advice to General Winder was:
"I would assemble my force in the enemy's front, fall quietly back to the Capitol, giving only that degree of resistance that invites a pursuit. When arrived in its front I would immediately put in battle my twenty pieces of artillery, give the direction and management of these to Barney and Peters, fill the upper part of the building and the adjacent buildings with infantry, regulars, and militia, amounting to 5,000 men, while my 300 cavalry held themselves in reserve for a charge the moment a recoil appeared in the British columns of attack.”
General Wilkinson, who was in the city, advised that the roads in the enemy's front should be obstructed, that a force should be sent to make a detour and fall on his rear, while flying parties harassed his flanks and rear, by which means he thought he might be forced to take to his ships.
General Winder still believed that Annapolis was the enemy's ulterior object, and gave many excellent reasons for his opinion.
It is well to bear in mind these adverse opinions and counsels, since they furnish a key to the subsequent disaster. The people of Washington were thrown into the greatest excitement by the news. Men grasped their arms, and women turned pale at the thought of the city's being delivered over to "Cockburn's savages," whose atrocities had filled the country with horror. On the 23d a dispatch from Colonel Monroe was received, saying that the enemy was in full march toward the city, and closing with the significant words: “ Have the material prepared to destroy the bridges. You had better remove the records." A most distressing panic ensued.
Meantime, the enemy was engaged in disembarking his force. This was variously estimated by American reconnoitring parties at from 4,000 to 7,000 men. Colonel Monroe placed it at the latter figure; the Revolutionary veteran, Colonel Beall, at the former. Their total force landed, as appears from official records, comprised the 21st Regiment, 1,003 men; one battalion each of the 4th, 44th, and 85th regiments, 2,180 men in all ; 90 artillerists; 1,500 marines under Admiral Cockburn, and 350 seamen ; a total of 5,123 men. A part of this force
left to garrison Benedict and the towns along the way. About 4,000 men composed the invading army.
Let us see what force General Winder possessed to repel the attack. Of District troops there was a
brigade, commanded by General Walter Smith, of Georgetown, which comprised two regiments of militia and volunteer companies, with two companies of light artillery, having each six six-pounders, and two companies of riflemen. These regiments were well armed and disciplined, and comprised in all 1,070 men.
From Baltimore and its vicinity came a brigade of 2,200 men under General Stansbury, in which were two companies of volunteer artillery with six six-pounders, and a battalion of volunteer riflemen, commanded by the famous William Pinckney, previously Attorney-General and Minister to England, and later Senator. There were two other regiments of Maryland militia, about 1,100 strong; a regiment of Virginia militia of 700 men ; 300 regular infantry under Lieutenant-Colonel William Scott; 520 sailors and marines from Barney's flotilla and from the Navy Yard ; a squadron of United States dragoons; and various companies of volunteers to the number of 300; in all 6,000 men, of which 900 only were regular troops. There were also twentysix pieces of artillery—a force outnumbering the British by 3,000 men, could it have been concentrated on any one point, a maneuvre rendered very difficult from the ignorance of the commander as to where the enemy would strike.
Let us now follow the British advance, and see what means were adopted to check it. Landing at Benedict, as we have seen, on August 19th, on the 20th they began their march toward Nottingham, a small town about fifteen miles farther up the Patuxent, convoyed by Cockburn in his boats
and tenders. On the 21st the column halted for the mid-day meal at Lower Marlborough, about midway between Benedict and Nottingham, where Ross and Cockburn held a council of war. The force then moved on to Nottingham and encamped for the night. On the 22d, at daybreak, it was under arms again, leaving the river now and marching inland by the Chapel road toward Upper Marlborough and Bladensburg The country here was hilly, well wooded, sparsely peopled, and intersected by numerous roads leading to Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, either of which points it was thought the enemy might have in view. It offered good advantages for guerilla warfare had the people rallied ; but the reputation of Cockburn's troops had preceded them, and the planters thought only of removing their women and children to places of safety.
Five miles from Nottingham the road forks, one branch running northward to Marlborough, the other westward to Washington. Ross turned into the Washington road as if that city were his destination; but after halting an hour, reversed his column and took the road to Marlborough, thus further mystifying his enemy, and forcing the American army (which had been hurried out on the Washington road) either to push on and attack him or to fall back within supporting distance of the capital. It took the latter alternative. The British, meantime, pressed on to Marlborough, which they reached at 2 P.M. of the 22d. They remained there until the same hour the next day, when they resumed their march toward Washington, and bivouacked that