'Hands-on history' delights public at re-enactment of Battle of North Point

September 08, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene

An article in The Sun yesterday about the Battle of North Point incorrectly reported the number of British and American soldiers who died. There were 24 Americans and 46 Britons killed in the battle, which occurred Sept. 12, 1814, several miles from what is now Fort Howard Park.

The Sun regrets the error.

Musket blasts echoed and filled the air with smoke as thousands gathered in Fort Howard Park yesterday to relive the 1814 Battle of North Point -- a skirmish, some say, that saved Baltimore from being sacked by the British.

Just as it happened 177 years before, King George's redcoats met their match in the rag-tag group of American militiamen portrayed in yesterday's re-enactment of the battle, the highlight of the annual Defenders' Day celebration.


A number of British soldiers were felled by a hail of make-believe bullets -- including the British general, Robert Ross, who clutched his chest early in the battle and lay dying beneath an elm tree.

Daniel Wells and Henry G. McComas, two young Baltimore marksmen, are credited with shooting down the general before being killed themselves. Nearby roads still bear their names.

"This is so real, so colorful," said Dr. Alfred Ossmus of Guilford, who watched the battle with others from a hillside. "I've lived here all my life, and I've always known about Wells and McComas and the Battle of North Point, but to see it makes it so much more real."

The scene in the park seemed taken right out of a history book, as Marylanders delighted in the sights of the early 19th Century.

In a nearby clearing, a blacksmith hammered hot steel into a sharp weapon, and the aroma of baked beans simmering in big pots and turkey and smoked ham roasting on spits drifted across the field.

Women dressed in cotton skirts and bonnets displayed the early American crafts of making candles and dolls, weaving wool, patching quilts and preserving fruits and vegetables. Others entertained spectators with music and games.

"This is hands-on history," said Jim Roane, a former park ranger from Ellicott City who described for the curious how early settlers used broad axes and planes to build log cabins. "When you go to a museum, everything is under glass. You can't know what it's like unless you touch it and use it," he said.

Not far away, a group of bearded men dressed in rough linen clothes, their rifles and powder packs slung low across their backs, practiced military maneuvers before a cluster of canvas tents and wood fires.

The Battle of North Point on Sept. 12, 1814, is a significant part of Baltimore's heritage and the particular pride of those who still live in the Patapsco Neck area of eastern Baltimore County.

That day, American militiamen were far outnumbered by British troops who -- after burning and sacking Washington just three weeks before -- planned to march from North Point to Baltimore.

The British had hoped to storm Baltimore by land and sea and, while there, put down the band of pirates who had long wreaked havoc with British merchant ships.

But the British did not count on the 3rd Brigade of the Baltimore militia under the command Brig. Gen. John Stricker, who had been waiting to ambush them upon their arrival at what is now Fort Howard Park.

The battle lasted six hours, and more than 300 British were killed, twice the number of Americans. The 3rd Brigade fought gallantly, but was pushed back as the British fought their way toward what is now Patterson Park.

However, the British, weary and without their leader, were confronted by 10,000 more American soldiers and quickly retreated.

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