Southern Maryland’s most prominent hero of the War of 1812 was Commodore Joshua Barney. Barney was successfully engineered and captained the famous Chesapeake Bay Flotilla. Faced with the presence of the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay, and no naval vessels to defend the nation’s capital, Barney spent nine months superintending the construction, purchase, manning, and outfitting of a squadron of simple barges. Each barge boasted oars, one sail, and one cannon. By attacking British landing parties in the shallow estuaries of the Patuxent River, and firing on ships if they tried to pass upriver, Barney slowed British progress up the Chesapeake during the summer of 1814.
Battle of St. Leonard’s Creek
The most significant battle involving Barney and the Flotilla was the Battle of St. Leonard’s Creek. On June 26, 1814, the British attempted to wipe out the Flotilla, and Barney drew them into the shallow estuaries of the Patuxent where the larger enemy ships could not maneuver, scoring a minor victory. Barney was instructed by the Secretary of the Navy that if the British appeared capable of destroying the Flotilla, he should disband and march north toward Washington D.C. to help defend the capital. On August 22, 1814, after the British army began to threaten the flotilla from the shore behind them (rather than risk another waterborne assault), Barney ordered the destruction of the Flotilla. Remains of the Barney’s Flotilla reside within the Calvert Marine Museum.
The end of the Flotilla did not end Barney’s service. As the British invaders marched toward Washington in late August 1814, the American army hastily chose Bladensburg, Maryland, as the place to confront them. Although the seasoned British regulars quickly overwhelmed an American force largely consisting of part-time local militia, it was the Joshua Barney’s militia unit of former flotilla-men who stood their ground longer than any other American unit, either of regulars or militia. Barney was incidentally wounded by a musket ball during the battle and died shortly after; but not before he was able to have influence on Francis Scott Key in his efforts to compose the Star Spangled Banner.
“Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial.” Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial. http://starspangled200.org/ (accessed April 30, 2012).
“The Calvert Marine Museum.” The Calvert Marine Museum. http://www.calvertmarinemuseum.com/ (accessed April 30, 2012).