Situated about a half-dozen miles northeast of the Capitol in Washington, Bladensburg, Maryland seems like an odd choice for where the British Army crossed what we now call the Anacostia River in August 1812. General Ross and his troops, however, had little choice. The American forces had burned others near the southern approaches to the city. At Bladensburg, the waters were shallow enough to march through on their way to attack the Federal City.
It was there on the afternoon of August 24, General Winder and his troops fought Ross and his Army at the Battle of Bladensburg. This morning, a few hundred yards south of that very spot at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park, a new War of 1812 Visitors Center was ceremoniously opened.
Platform guests included Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Jr., and several Prince George’s County executives and elected officials. Also in attendance were dozens of park personnel, a handful of period re-enactors, and a crowd of over 200.
Melanie Hartwig-Davis of Cheverly, Maryland read one of the new markers to a member of her family.
“It’s important history,” she said.
Cindy Cole, a rowing instructor, praised the river’s natural beauty.
“It’s fascinating,” she said, “to hear what used to take place here.”
The mood was festive. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the American side 198 years ago. Initially, General Winder’s militiamen from Washington, Maryland and Virginia put up a good fight. Many of the lads, however, were as green as the grass below them, and their leadership was often lacking. On the other hand, the British were well-trained and many veterans.
The British won the battle that day, but as can happen in these moments, their gleeful behavior went a little too far. When the British soldiers returned to their ships, several plundered the Upper Marlboro farm of Dr. William Beanes.
Beanes arrested them, but in turn, was arrested by Ross and confined to one of their ships. President Madison dispatched Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner to try and secure his release. Ross agreed, but only after the British assault on Baltimore. These circumstances led to Francis Scott Key witnessing the Battle of Fort McHenry and penning the lyrics to our national anthem. Key, then a lawyer in Georgetown, was also at the Battle of Bladensburg.
Tomorrow, the park will hold more activities.
Sources: "A Travel Guide to The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake," by Ralph Eshelman