The War of 1812
On August 24, 1814, British forces broke camp at Melwood Park and moved northwest to Bladensburg. The Baltimore militia, under the command of General Tobias Sansbury, was positioned west of the Anacostia River along the Bladensburg-Washington Road in the area of present day Cottage City, Colmar Manor, and Fort Lincoln Cemetery. Marching in the intense heat along the river road paralleling today's Kenilworth Avenue, the British arrived in Bladensburg about noon and attacked the American defenders shortly thereafter.
When the British forces led by Major-General Robert Ross entered Bladensburg by marching down Lowndes Hill, American riflemen fired. However, Ross's infantry continued undaunted toward the bridge over the Anacostia, which the ill-prepared Americans had not yet destroyed. American General Winder's men had since moved behind Stansbury's as brigades from Annapolis arrived from the east.
Seized by fear of exploding British Congreve rockets and uncertain of any rear-line support from Winder, the Americans rushed to the rear of the battle line. Here, Ross dealt a crushing blow by bringing up another regiment that forded the stream and confronted a Baltimore regiment. The rest of the American forces retreated to the rear, thus opening the turnpike leading to Washington for the British. The only resistance came when Commodore Barney and his 500 sailors engaged the British.
Commodore Barney and his seamen made a heroic stand in Bladensburg against overwhelming odds. Even after several thousand supporting militiamen had fled in the face of British bayonets and fire, Barney's men stood their ground. Armed with hand pikes and cutlasses, they launched a successful counterattack against the British infrantry with cries of "Board'em! Board'em!" Only when hopelessly surrounded did Barney, by then seriously wounded, order his officers to disarm their guns and retreat. At their commander's insistence, they reluctantnly left him lying next to one of his cannons to await capture. After being captured by the British, Barney was congratulated for his bravery and released.
With the American forces vanquished and in full retreat, the British marched into the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., and sacked and burned significant portions of the city, including the Capitol and the White House.
Text with lower-middle picture: A contemporary British illustration depicting the invasion and burning of Washington, D.C., in August of 1814. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Text with upper-right photo: British Rear-Admiral Cockburn joined forces with Major-General Robert Ross for the Battle of Bladensburg. Courtesy of The National Maritime Museum, London.