Do you always fight to win at all costs? When do you retreat?
Time today to look at our own backyard - the War of 1812, and a Navy leader that - to my great shame - I knew nothing about until this year.
This is what got my attention,
Aboard a pontoon boat chugging past the marshland of Maryland's upper Patuxent River on a recent Saturday, Ralph Eshelman pointed to the spot where the muddy brown water hides a shipwreck nearly two centuries old, part of the American flotilla that defended the Chesapeake Bay when the British burned Washington during the War of 1812.That only hints at the story.
Before we get to the War Story, let's look at the man - and the questions his story asks.
When do you stop serving your nation? When your nation is in peril - is any job beneath you? Do you have an idea that can take your "low" position - and make it great? How flexible are your Sailors? How flexible is your leadership?
During the Revolutionary War, Barney became the youngest Commander of a Continental Navy frigate. Tales of his capture by the British and his daring escape were well known. After the defeat of England in America, Barney traveled to Paris to deliver peace documents to Benjamin Franklin. While in France, he was introduced at court and met Marie Antoinette. In 1795, he accepted a position as commander for the French Navy which he held for five years before returning to his home in Maryland. In 1812, Joshua Barney was fifty-three years old and living in Elk Ridge, Maryland. Because of his previous service to France, Barney was not allowed a leading position in the U.S. Navy, but accepted command of the schooner Rossie.....and so a great man gets to work for his nation.
By December of 1812, the Royal Navy was raging across the Tidewater region blockading towns, looting and plundering. The Chesapeake and Delaware Bays were blockaded. The first defeat the British suffered was at the mouth of the Elizabeth River in Virginia when they failed to take Norfolk, but their wrath was so great they sacked the city of Hampton for revenge. As the British invaded the Eastern Shore, the American army was concentrated in Canada and the strategic Chesapeake was relatively undefended. Although something had to be done, America's forces had few reinforcements and little money.Note the nature of his vessels. Do you see the seed of the PT boat? The PGM? Dare I say - irregular warfare - littoral warfare? Nothing is new, only the people and the tools they use are.
In response, Joshua Barney designed a plan entitled "Defense of the Chesapeake," and submitted it to President Madison. The detailed plan included sketches of gunboats similar to barges, with oars, light sails and one large gun. The small, quick barges, manned by local men would be tricky targets, could keep watch over the enemy and sail into the shallow Chesapeake waters where the larger British gunboats would not dare enter. They were relatively inexpensive to construct, and Barney believed the barges could be sold after the war for commercial use.
In August 1813, Barney was appointed commander of the Chesapeake Flotilla and local shipyards began constructing the barges. Bounties were offered to entice men who would otherwise continue to privateer to enlist. News of the flotilla spread quickly and the British began constructing their own barges on Tangier Island. Although stymied by a shortage of men and supplies, Barney's Chesapeake Flotilla with seven 75' barges, six 50' barges, two gunboats, one row galley, one lookout boat and the flagship Scorpion set sail in April 1814 investigate the Potomac and check any defects in the flotilla.
With eighteen ships and barely a month's supplies, the flotilla sailed from Baltimore on their first mission, to attack Tangier Island and destroy the British barge fleet under construction. Like all able commanders, Barney adjusted his tactics to his terrain and his strength, becoming a waterborne gadfly. Obviously he could not challenge Cockburn's heavyweights ship-for-ship. But he knew the Chesapeake: its deep water, its shoals, its numerous shallow creeks and estuaries into which he could fly for safety. So he buzzed, rather than assaulted, the enemy; waiting until a likely victim came too close to his watery sanctuaries, whereupon his flotilla, led by his appropriately named flagship, the sloop-of-war USS Scorpion, mounting eight carronades and one long gun, plus a furnace for heating shot, would sally forth to inflict damage on them. He never hoped to sink them, but he did make Sir George pay attention.Someone think "hybrid Sailors" is anything new?
On June first the flotilla encountered the British schooner, HMS St. Lawrence and her seven boats, between the mouths of the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers near Cedar Point. The flotilla pursued, firing away, until the beleaguered schooner came under the protection of the huge 74-gun line-of-battle ship HMS Dragon. When Dragon's big guns opened up, Barney's gunboats put about and ran for shallow water with the British ship lumbering in futile pursuit. This spirited engagement was known as the Battle of Cedar Point. Because of Barney, Cock burn's hopes of renewing in 1814 the pillage of the previous year were frustrated, and instead of repeating such atrocities as he had inflicted on the town of Havre de Grace, Maryland, he was reduced to pig-sticking and tobacco-pilfering operations.
Thus began a series of darting attacks, retreats and tardy reinforcements, evident on both sides, that ultimately locked the entire Chesapeake Flotilla within the confines of the Patuxent River. But this story is not without its moments of sheer terror, true leadership, frustrations and small victories that proved the men, and their Commodore, to be some of the great American heroes of the War of 1812. "The bravery of the 500 flotillamen and marines was proven time and again as they turned back wave after wave of the numerically superior foe seeking to destroy it ..." says the introduction to Flotilla Battle for the Patuxent. ...
On June 7th .... The British Commander Barrie of the HMS Dragon blockaded the mouth of the Patuxent and waited for reinforcements from the eighteen gun Jaseur and the thirty-eight gun HMS Loire. Barney continued to retreat up river and landed on the shores of St. Leonard's Creek. Outgunned by more than four to one, Barney had little hope for victory. But, the shallow waters of St. Leonard's Creek and the surrounding high grounds were an excellent location to mount a defense.
The mouth of the creek was blockaded by two British frigates, HMS Loire of 38 guns and HMS Narcissus of 32 guns, plus the sloop-of-war, HMS Jasseur of 18 guns. For three days the British Navy launched wave after wave of assaults against the U.S. forces, often employing Congreve rockets to destroy the flotilla, but the Commodore and his men stood fast. On each occasion the British boats came up until they caught sight of Barney's flotilla, and were promptly chased off by the Americans, who took care, however, not to meddle with the larger vessels.
Colonel Wadsworth, commanding a force of American artillery on shore, offered to cooperate from the shore while Barney assailed the two frigates with the flotilla. Assisted by a force of U.S. Marines, commanded by Captain Miller, the joint attack took place most successfully on June 26th. The Loire and Narcissus were driven off, although not much damaged, and the flotilla rowed out in triumph into the Patuxent.
In mid-August, arrival of a large portion of the Royal Naval fleet commanded by Admiral Cock burn, and four thousand veteran soldiers of "Wellington's Invincibles" under Major General Robert Ross, made their appearance in the Chesapeake, escalating an already desperate situation.That is leadership.
The District of Columbia formed a part of the Fourth Military District, in which the effective troops, under Brigadier General William H. Winder, numbered about two thousand, scattered over widely separated points, some as far away as Nor folk. A company of the Marines was at the barracks in Washington, and a company of Artillery in Fort Washington. General Winder had warned the government that imminent peril threatened and had asked for troops with which to meet it, but it seemed impossible to convince the authorities that he was right, or that any circumstances could arise that would place the capital in peril. General Winder was personally convinced that Annapolis was the real British objective, but most other military and government officials believed that Baltimore must be where the British troops were heading.
Commodore Barney moved his flotilla up the Patuxent as far as Nottingham, about 40 miles from Washington, where he reported to the Navy Department that the enemy had entered and were ascending the river. "The British are in the Patuxent," Commodore Barney wrote Navy Secretary Jones on Friday, the 19th. The Admiral, he was told, planned to destroy Barney's flotilla and "dine in Washington on Sunday." The orders of Secretary Jones were to run the flotilla as far up the river as possible, and upon the enemy landing, to destroy it and march to join General Winder.
On August 19th and 20th the British invasion forces landed at Benedict, Maryland and directed the march of their forces upon Washington on the 21st, following the Patuxent River both by water and by land. The advancing British troops numbered five thousand, including one thousand Royal Marines. Following his orders, the Commodore retreated upriver to about five miles north of Pig Point. There he landed with four hundred men, leaving about a hundred men to blow up the flotilla. On the morning of August 22nd the British were astounded to see an orderly line of American row galleys and merchant ships extending before them upriver, blown up in quick succession. More than sixteen ships of the Chesapeake Flotilla sank in the Patuxent within a few minutes.
General Winder's militia were scattered here and there, and when it became known that a large land and naval force had landed at Benedict, only a small body of men were at hand to checkmate the movement, and General Winder had slight confidence in them. The General found himself with five hundred regulars and two thousand undisciplined militia -- mostly farmers, many armed only with shot-guns. Learning on the 22nd that the British had camped the previous night at Nottingham, General Winder began to believe that they might indeed be heading for Washington rather than Baltimore or Annapolis. But he sent orders to his various military units to wait at various "half-way points," in order to ensure at least some defense at each possible objective. The General knew that a sizable British naval force was proceeding up the Potomac, and feared that they would be joined by the British troops to attack Fort Washington, an easy march directly west from Nottingham. Attacking across the bridge over the Eastern Branch of the Potomac at Bladensburg seemed a fairly remote possibility.
The General's scouts continued to report on the activities of the British, now in Upper Marlboro. One report said they were on the road to Annapolis; another that they were heading for Fort Washing-ton; another that they were again on the road to wards Bladensburg. At 10 AM the morning of August 24th, a scout came galloping in with news that the British had been marching for Bladensburg since dawn and were nearly halfway there!
Commodore Barney's little force of five hundred flotillamen proceeded by forced march to Bladensburg, accompanied by Captain Samuel Miller and 120 U.S. Marines, and five pieces of heavy artillery from his flotilla and from the Washington Navy Yard. Following were two ammunition wagons which he had hastily procured.
General Winder had drawn up his forces to cover the road for some distance west of town, on the west bank of the eastern branch of the Potomac, in a fine position to defend the bridge over which the British must pass. President Madison, Secretary of War General Armstrong, and Secretary of State James Monroe were also there, but they hindered far more than they helped by giving conflicting orders.
Arriving at 1 PM, at the same time the British had begun attacking General Winder's forward line, he arranged his artillery in battery at the center of the second line position on the west bank of the eastern branch of the Potomac. The Commodore himself directed the artillery (2 eighteens and 3 twelve-pounder ship's guns mounted on carriages), while Captain Miller of the Marines commanded the rest of the force -- 120 Marines and 370 flotillamen armed as infantry.
As at Bunker Hill, the two first attacks of the British were bloodily repulsed, chiefly by Barney's guns. By his own account, "At length the enemy made his appearance on the main road in force and in front of my battery, and on seeing us made a halt. I reserved our fire. In a few minutes the enemy again advanced, when I ordered an 18-pounder to be fired, which completely cleared the road. Shortly after, a second and a third attempt was made by the enemy to come forward, but all were destroyed. They then crossed over into an open field, and attempted to flank our right. He was met there by three 12-pounders, and Marines under Captain Miller, and my men acting as infantry, and again was totally cut up. By this time not a vestige of the American army remained, except a body of five or six hundred posted on a height on my right, from which I expected much support from their fine position."
As the British attempted their flanking movement, the Commodore ordered Captain Miller and the flotillamen-infantry to charge, while he poured a destructive fire upon their flank. The charge was executed with great celerity and determination; the veterans of the 86th and 4th -- the "King's Own Regiment" -- giving way before it, pursued by their assailants, the sailors crying out to "board `em." They were driven back to a wooded ravine 3, leaving several of their wounded officers in the hands of the Americans. Colonel William Thornton, who bravely led the attacking British column, was severely wounded, and General Ross had his horse shot under him.
It would have been well for the honor of America if all who were present on that day had behaved with the same decision and effect as Commodore Barney and his command. Their heroic resistance saved the combat at Bladensburg from being an unqualified disgrace to American arms. "It was a magnificent stand; the slightest follow-up of Barney's counterattack might have produced an American victory. As it was, the road to Washington now lay open." But while they were sustaining the credit of their country, the other troops had disappeared, and in the confusion of their retreat, the wagons containing the ammunition for the cannon and small arms had been carried off. The British light troops acting en tirailleur had, in consequence of the total absence of any support, gained positions on his flanks near enough to produce effect with their fire, and to wound and kill several of his best officers. Captain Miller had been wounded in charging the enemy; and Commodore Barney himself, after having had his horse killed under him, received a musket ball in the thigh.
The force of the enemy was constantly increasing, for the lack of ammunition for Barney's artillery ended the only effective resistance to the British advance. When it became evident that a reinforcing column of Virginia militia could not arrive in time to aid the gallant flotillamen, who were obstinately maintaining their position against fearful odds, and that further resistance would be useless, General Winder ordered a general retreat. The retreat order was never passed to Barney's command, but with no ammunition, flanked on the right and deserted on the left, the Commodore knew that the end had come. He ordered the guns spiked and the men to retreat. The officers and men who were able to march effected the retreat in excellent order; but the Commodore's wound rendered him unable to move, and he was made prisoner.
General Ross, who had lost nearly three hundred men before getting across the river, gave great attention and care to the wounded Commodore; he so admired the bravery of the "blue-jackets" that he paroled all the flotillamen, including the Commodore, on the spot. The General ordered that he be taken at once into the city and his wounds treated.
I took a lot of text, from here and here, but that story needed to be read without interruption. If this doesn't get you going - I don't know what will. Want to know what is behind the phrase, "Finest traditions of the Naval Service?" That should help.
I need you USNA guys to help me a bit here.
The British have a great tradition - they do battlefield tours. From Flanders to Afghanistan - they dedicate days to unit battlefield tours, and use them as both a training opportunity and a way to inculcate the traditions of their military and lessons of the giants who served before.
Now, all the above took place in Annapolis's backyard. Please tell me there is some kind of classroom or even better - shipboard "battlefield tour" set-up involving Barney's example.
Imagine taking one of the USNA's sailing yachts and following the path of the Chesapeake Flotilla - at sea and on land. A Navy version of the Nijmegen march - if you will.
There - chew on that. Give that idea to a good JO and a couple of 1/C MIDN and let them run with it.
...and speaking of shame - think of all the "people and things" we have named our ships after this decade; know this - we have not had a USS Barney since 1992.
One final note of caution - like I always say - you are irreplaceable until you leave; then you are forgotten.
Joshua Barney returned to his home in Anne Arundel County and began petitioning Congress for compensation for his men. The wound he received at the Battle of Bladensburg was a bullet deep in his thigh which could not bq removed and which he lived with for three years before it caused a fever that caused his death on December 1, 1818.