July 13th, 2015
With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 just behind us, it would be a shame if this conflict slips back into the realm of forgotten history. With so many good stories and amazing personalities, this era deserves to be celebrated and remembered as one that belongs uniquely to Marylanders.
On hot summer nights when the heat lightning flickers on the horizon, my thoughts often turn to the battle of Caulk’s Field in nearby Kent County. Though time has changed many things, it hasn’t changed a good story—or the steamy quality of a Chesapeake Bay summer.
Caulk’s Field was one of the smaller battles of the war, a kind of prelude to the much more famous battle of Baltimore that would take place weeks later. Yet it was an example of the dire and dangerous times that Upper Bay residents lived through.
Imagine the British troops slipping ashore, intent on a deadly “frolic” with the Maryland militia camped nearby. Wool uniforms were not the most comfortable outfit to wear on a summer night while marching down miles of country backroads in total darkness. The Royal Marines moved as quietly as possible over the unfamiliar roads, carrying heavy muskets and cartridges, trying to keep their swords and bayonets from clanking together. Sound travels far on the humid air of a summer night, and any noise might alert the American sentries.
The Americans, however, were not about to be surprised. They soon turned the tables on the British and ambushed them in a moonlit corn field. In the first volley of musket fire, 28-year-old Captain Sir Peter Parker was mortally wounded.
On July 21 at 6:30 p.m., I will be giving a talk at the North East Branch Library about the “Heroes and Villains of the War of 1812.” Guess into which category Royal Navy Captain Parker falls? The young officer was hardly a real villain—unless you happened to be a Marylander living around the Chesapeake Bay 200 years ago.
The War of 1812 is rich with stories like the battle of Caulk’s Field, about clever Marylanders who fought back against a powerful invader. More often than not, the British weren’t so easily fooled or defeated—at least not without a fight. Just ask folks in Georgetown or St. Michaels or Havre de Grace or Head of Elk about that! Waterfront towns up and down the Chesapeake Bay were attacked. Even the nation’s capital would be captured and burned in the days following Parker’s death.
Fortunately, Marylanders had their share of heroes to thwart these villains. You have probably heard of the famous heroes like Francis Scott Key, but there are others: John O’Neill, who single-handedly defended Havre de Grace; Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the Star-Spangled Banner flag; and even the boys who helped win the pivotal battle of North Point—and lost their lives as a result.
I think they deserve to be remembered, especially in summertime when so much of the action of the War of 1812 took place. I hope that you can join me this month to rediscover some of these heroes and villains from two hundred years ago, when that rumbling on the horizon wasn’t always thunder, but the sound of British guns.
David Healey is has written several historical novels and nonfiction books on regional history, including “Delmarva Legends & Lore,” “Great Storms of the Chesapeake” and “1812: Rediscovering Chesapeake Bay’s Forgotten War.” His website is www.davidhealey.net.
Photo by David Healey. This cannon in Havre de Grace marks the spot near where Maryland hero John O’Neill defended the town from British invaders in 1813.