The Old Defenders stood tall Fighters: By Defenders' Day in 1880, only a handful survived of the men who had saved Baltimore from a British invasion in 1814.

Remember When

September 08, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

They once numbered in the thousands, that hearty band of citizen soldiers who gathered in September 1814 to defend Baltimore against the British invasion.

By 1880, there were only a handful left to join the city's annual Defenders' Day ceremony.

They had answered the call Sunday, Sept. 11, 1814, when news arrived in the city that the British fleet had dropped anchor off North Point and that invasion was imminent.

Ministers interrupted sermons and dismissed anxious congregations. "My brethren," said one, "the alarm guns have fired. The British are approaching. I pronounce the benediction, and may the God of Battles accompany you." Another said, "May the Lord bless King George, convert him, and take him to Heaven as we want no more of him."

And now, 66 years later, they had gathered at Druid Hill Park dressed in their finest. They sat for the ages with stern faces and with beaver hats resting on their knees while a photographer focused his lens.

"All were in full sympathy with the gray-haired veterans, and will long remember the celebration of 1880," The Sun reported.

The Old Defenders taking part in the ceremony that day included Capt. J. J. Daneker, president of the Association of Defenders of Baltimore; Nathaniel Watts, first vice president; Asbury Jarrett, second vice president; Darius Wheeler, marshal; Capt. James McKay; George Boss; William Stiles; Col. E. Stansbury; William Batchelor (ensign and carrier of the original flagstaff of the Fifth Regiment of 1814); James Morford; Henry Lightner (drummer); and Samuel Jennings.

"The Old Defenders started from City Hall at 9:30 o'clock and marched in single file around the Battle Monument with uncovered heads, Henry Lightner, the ancient drummer, 82 years of age, beating the little drum," said the newspaper.

They were then taken by a decorated horsecar of the Baltimore City Passenger Railroad to the entrance of Druid Hill Park, where they were met and conveyed to Boat Lake Grove.

The Sun observed of the veterans that "They were all remarkably upright in carriage, active in mind and vivacious in spirits."

William Batchelor, 93, was the oldest of the group, "but it was a disputed point as to who was the boy of the party, Capt. J. J. Daneker or Henry Lightner, each being 82 years of age."

As a youth, Lightner had strapped a drum across his shoulders and gone into battle at North Point. He followed in the footsteps of his father, who had done the same thing in the Revolutionary War, playing the same drum.

Lightner entertained the audience with renditions of "The Girl I Left Behind Me," and when asked if that "was the old drum," said no, that was home, "but he would take pleasure in showing it to any one who called."

William M. Marine, "orator of the day," reminded the spectators that despite Baltimore's changes over the years, "enough resemblance remains to identify her with the past, and in her eastern limits are portions of the breastworks of those days still visible."

At the conclusion of remarks and photographs, the Old Defenders marched to the Mansion House for a dinner that was described as being an "excellent repast that was enjoyed with good appetites by all the veterans."

While "no strong liquors were on the table," all toasts to the "Day We Celebrate," "Our Departed Comrades," "The President of the United States" and "The Memory of Washington," were executed with communion wine.

R. R. Waters, of Montgomery County, rose to remember the "ladies of Baltimore that moulded bullets, scraped lint and made bandages."

"Baltimore," he said, "made monuments for her friends and graves for her enemies." After "The Star Spangled Banner" was sung, the celebration concluded.

In 1888, James Chamberlain Morford, 94, attended the Defenders' Day dinner at the Rennert Hotel alone, while Nathaniel Watts, 93, was too feeble to attend. They were the last two survivors, and later that year both died.

Morford was the last of the Old Defenders to die, and city flags were lowered in his honor and a day of mourning proclaimed by the mayor.

In 1890, the Rev. Dr. Jesse Taylor, whose grandfather had fought at the Battle of North Point, said in The Sun, "As long as Baltimore lasts I trust that the grass on the graves of the 'Old Defenders' will be kept green.

"I trust that as the city grows the spirit of the past will grow in the breast of her men, so that the 'Star-Spangled Banner' will have patriots to defend it," he said.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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