Battle of St. Leonard’s Creek, 10 June 1814


Having faced little naval opposition in the bay during 1813 and early 1814, the British recognized, after the 1 June battle off Cedar Point, that Joshua Barney’s newly organized flotilla was a potential threat to their operations. Rear Admiral George Cockburn decided, temporarily, to divert some of his forces engaged in blockading the mouth of the Chesapeake and harassing coastal towns, to destroying the fledgling American squadron. He ordered the frigate Loire, Captain Thomas Brown, and the brig sloop Jaseur, Commander George E. Watts, to join Captain Robert Barrie’s force in the Patuxent. Barrie required the smaller vessels to pursue the Americans aggressively.


As British reinforcements converged on the Patuxent, Barney recognized that the larger British vessels would hold the advantage in that river’s open waters. In a move of questionable wisdom, Barney withdrew his small barges to St. Leonard’s Creek where he hoped they would outmaneuver the British vessels. A collision was inevitable. A series of skirmishes, all ending in stalemate, preceded the first Battle of St. Leonard’s Creek. On 10 June 1814, Barney drew the following two sketches of the British and American positions on St. Leonard's Creek.

Captain Barrie’s barges sailed up the creek on the morning of 10 June to entice Barney into a fight or to lure him to the mouth of the creek where the larger Royal Navy ships would surely destroy him. (See map, left frame.) But Barney took the offensive upon first sighting the British with such a deadly barrage that the enemy scurried back to the safety of its warships at the creek’s entrance. (See map, center frame.) The larger British vessels were unprepared initially for Barney’s onslaught, and the American flotilla temporarily held the offensive, grounding the schooner St. Lawrence. After regaining their composure, the British soon sent the Americans scurrying back to the head of the creek. (See map, right frame.) While the engagement was inconclusive, it did cause the British to rethink their strategy toward Barney. Captain Barrie chose to blockade Barney rather than engage him, and the Royal Navy redirected its efforts to plundering the tobacco ports along the Patuxent to the horror of its residents.

[Credits for images: Battle of St. Leonard's Creek, 10 June 1814, by Tom Freeman. Owned by Christine F. Hughes; Barney's sketches of St. Leonard's Creek, 10 June 1814. National Archives, RG45, MLR, 1814, Vol. 5, between No. 1 and 2 (M124, Roll No. 64.)]

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