9.17.2014

Admiral Cochrane reports on the attack on Baltimore


September 17, 1814
Extracts of two different letters from Admiral Cochrane to his superiors describing the British attack on Baltimore; the second is a private letter.

VICE ADMIRAL SIR ALEXANDER F. I. COCHRANE, R.N., TO FIRST SECRETARY OF THE ADMIRALTY JOHN W. CROKER

His Majesty’s Ship Tonnant Chesapeake,
17th Sept. 1814
Sir,
…Major General Ross and myself resolved to occupy the intermediate time to advantage, by making a demonstration upon the City of Baltimore; which might be converted into a real attack should circumstances appear to justify it; and as our arrangements were Soon made I proceeded up this River and anchored off the mouth of the Patapsco on the 11th … when the Frigates and Smaller Vessels entered to a convenient distance for landing the Troops.
At an early hour the next morning the disembarkation of the Army was effected, without opposition having attached to it a Brigade of Six hundred Seamen, under Captain Edward Crofton (late of the Leopard) the Second Battalion of Marines, the Marines of the Squadron and the Colonial Black Marines; Rear Admiral Cockburn accompanied the General to advise and arrange as might be deemed necessary for our combined efforts. So Soon as the Army moved forward I hoisted my Flag in the Surprise, and with the remainder of the Frigates, Bombs, Sloops, and the Rocket Ship passed further up the River to render what co-operation could be found practicable. While the Bomb Vessels were working up in order that we might open our Fire upon the Enemy's Forts at daybreak the next morning, an account was brought to me that Major General Ross when reconnoitering the Enemy had received a mortal wound…

The Skirmish which had deprived the Army of its brave General was a prelude to a most decisive Victory over the flower of the Enemy's Troops. Colonel Brook on whom the Command devolved having pushed forward our Force to within five Miles of Baltimore, where the Enemy, about Six or Seven thousand, had taken up an advanced position Strengthened by Field Pieces, and where he had disposed himself apparently with the intention of making a determined resistance, fell upon the Enemy with Such impetuosity that he was obliged Soon to give way and fly in every direction, leaving on the field of Battle a considerable number of Killed and wounded and two pieces of Cannon. …

 At day break the next morning the Bombs having taken their Stations within Shell range Supported by the Surprise with the other Frigates and Sloops, opened their Fire upon the Fort that protected the entrance of the Harbor; and I had now an opportunity of observing the strength and the preparations of the Enemy—The approach to the Town on the Land Side was defended by commanding heights upon which was constructed a chain of Redoubts connected by a Breast Work, with a Ditch in front, an extensive train of Artillery and a Show of Force that was reported to be from fifteen to twenty thousand Men. The entrance by Sea, within which the Town is retired nearly three Miles, was entirely obstructed by a barrier of Vessels Sunk at the mouth of the Harbor, defended inside by Gun Boats, flanked on the right by a strong and regular fortification and on the left by a Battery of Several heavy Guns—

These preparations rendering it impracticable to afford any essential cooperation by Sea I considered that an attack on the Enemy's strong position by the Army only, with such disparity of Force, tho confident of success, might risk a greater loss than the possession of the Town would compensate for, while holding in view the ulterior operations of this force in the contemplation of His Majesty's Government. And therefore, as the primary object of our movement had been already fully accomplished I communicated my observations to Colonel Brook, who coinciding with me in opinion, it was mutually agreed that we should withdraw.

The following morning the Army began leisurely to Retire; and so Salutary was the affect produced on the Enemy by the defeat he had experienced, that notwithstanding every opportunity was offered for his repeating the Conflict with an infinite Superiority, our Troops reembarked without molestation, the Ships of War having dropped down as the Army retired—

The result of this demonstration had been the defeat of the Army of the Enemy: the destruction by themselves of a quantity of Shipping, the burning of an extensive Rope Walk and other public Erections, the causing of them to remove their Property from the City, and above all—the collecting and harassing of his armed Inhabitants from the Surrounding country, producing a total Stagnation of their Commerce and heaping upon them considerable expenses, at the same time effectually drawing off their attention and Support from other important quarters—…

I have the honor to be Sir your most obedient humble Servant
Alexander Cochrane
Vice Admiral and Commander in Chief-
Second letter:
VICE ADMIRAL SIR ALEXANDER F. I. COCHRANE, R.N., TO FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY VISCOUNT ROBERT SAUNDERS DUNDAS MELVILLE
(private) Tonnant off Baltimore
17 Sept 1814
My dear Lord

Your Lordship will see by My public letter that we have made an Essay at Baltimore, an attempt Contrary to My Opinion, but extremely urged by the General to which I reluctantly consented, but to preserve Unanimity between the two services; 

I have not stated My Objections to the measure in My letter to the Admiralty. I now exceedingly regret My deviation from My Original plan, Although the events that took place have been highly creditable to his Majesty’s Arms which in My Opinion could have been employed with greater Advantage Against Rhode Island, by Attracting the Attention of the Northern States from the Canadas, The Valuable life of the General would have been preserved; and his services continued to his Country, there never fell a More Gallant Man nor a better Officer The only Fault was that of exposing his own Person more than was necessary for a General to do…Colonel Brook his Successor is a Steady Good officer—but from his Rank I conclude that a general officer will be sent out— in a proper Selection will depend the Success or failure of our future Enterprises against the Enemy, …

I need not recapitulate what Your Lordship will find in My public letter I have no doubt that we might have had the Command of the City of Baltimore but not without a loss beyond what our little Army could bear and be in a state to preserve its Superiority over the Enemy.— 

With Two Thousand Additional Troops the Enemy’s Works might have been Turned but with the force we had this measure could not have been attempted without risking the retreat of the Army being Cut off which from the Numerous Militia the Enemy had Assembled they could have done, and still keep Their Lines in a state of defence,
The two Regiments that went to Halifax, when we left Bermuda would have fully answered this purpose and Baltimore either laid in Ashes or Under a heavy Contribution From the Side the Town was attacked. The Forts Could not be assailed nor could we without that Secure the Command of the Harbour.— If Attacked Again, I have seen sufficient of the harbor and Adjoining Country to make me prefer the Opposite or Western Side by it. You have immediate Access to the City and to a hill that Commands the fort at a distance not in my Opinion beyond point Blank range and I am told that the side of the Fort towards the Land is only defended by a Brick Wall fourteen feet high.

We labour and the Want of Many essentials, to place us upon a par with the Enemy in the style of Warfare they pursue. We have neither Cavalry nor rifle Men while they have Abundance of both. The Enemy we have seen will never stand a charge, when Closed in upon they Fly and take up New Ground. Then would be the time for Cavalry to Act, the Other day with 300 Horse, hardly A Man would have returned to Baltimore, and the Same at Bladensburg. Rifles we have none and for want of Troops I am obliged to bring My Seamen into the Line, The Enemy Use Three Buck Shot in Addition to the Ball in each Cartridge, we ought to do the Same but I am for adding a fourth placed on the top of the Three—and these Never to be Used until Close to the Enemy Each Soldier having about Twenty in his pouch to load with when at the proper distance I send your Lordship two (by Capt. Crofton.) that used by the Americans is Marked N 1—that I prepare N 2.— and I beg that A Quantity May be sent out without delay; 

Also the Necessaries demanded for the Troops by frigates so as they may be here early in December—
There is no carrying on any war without the Necessary Means and Government must not expect more from Us than they enable Us to Accomplish, from what I can see the Ball is at Our feet,— and give me but Six thousand Men—Including a Rifle and Cavalry Regt., and I will engage to master every Town South of Philadelphia and keep the Whole Coast in such a State of Alarm, as soon to bring the Most Obstinate, upon their Marrow bones… Our Loss at Washington and the other day, inclusive may be rated at 600 Men. This of Course is A Considerable reduction from our Original Numbers. Nothing could be more Brilliant than the Manner in which Our Troops Routed the American Army drawn up under Cover of A Wood having a strong force in their front and supported by a numerous Artillery— 

The Attack was obliged to be made Across Clear Ground and Contrary to the European System of Warfare, the Troops are freed to fire as they Advance Without Which the Enemy could Suffer but little as they make a Rule to turn tail the Moment they are likely to be charged, when within Fifty Yards Their whole Line Gave way and Fled in all directions—then was the time for Cavalry to Act. As it was they suffered Severely. Their fifth Regt. Composed of the Gentlemen of the Town are said to be totally destroyed. Another has Nearly shared the same fate The Force the Enemy had At Baltimore Consisted of 2000 Seamen and from 15 to 20,000 of Militia but few Regulars Our little Army consisted of Only of 2500 Troops when they landed, to which was Added about 1350—Marines, and 600—Seamen making all say 4000. ……

One of the American Field Officers in the late affair Was Shot upon a Tree rather a Strange place for a Commander of a Regt. but I understand he went there to direct his men how to fire with Most effect, but staying there rather too long he was brought down by a Soldier—

I am sorry to say that the Gallant Conduct of the Seamen here has not been unique— two wretches Attempted to desert to the Enemy who have been Condemned and Will Suffer tomorrow, except them I know of no species of Impropriety having been Committed except such as always follows Military
I ever am My dear Lord Most faithfully and Sincerely Yours
Alexander Cochrane
I enclose for your Lordship a Sketch of our proceedings at Baltimore—in care of Capt. Crofton.

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