the British forces under Captain Robert Barrie and his
successor, Captain Thomas Brown, attacked port towns along
the Patuxent to draw Barney’s flotilla out of St. Leonard’s
Creek, the American commodore plotted his escape. By 22
June the Daily National Intelligencer reported
that American land forces—militia, army, and marines—were
marching to the mouth of the creek to support Barney.
Colonel Decius Wadsworth, the army’s Commissary General
of Ordnance, commanded these forces and established a
battery on a high bluff point that commanded the Patuxent
River on its right and St. Leonard’s Creek on its left.
A combined attack from the battery and the flotilla commenced
at daybreak on 26 June. (See map, left frame.) Although
there would be recriminations after the battle about the
conduct of some of the battery forces, in the end, Barney
rowed his way out of the creek and up the Patuxent to
Benedict, to the mortification of the British commander,
Thomas Brown, whose vessel lay becalmed at Point Patience.1 (See map, right frame.)
1814, while Barney’s flotilla sought refuge from the British
further up the Patuxent River, Admiral Cockburn sent squadrons
to harass the port towns along that river and the Potomac.
Cast into a defensive posture, all Barney could do was
report British movements to the Navy Department and speculate
where the enemy might strike next. By the beginning of
August 1814, Secretary of the Navy Jones and Barney held
opposing views on future strategy in the Chesapeake. Jones
thought the British had exhausted their plundering forays
and would blockade Barney in the Patuxent and turn elsewhere.
Barney countered that the headwaters of the Patuxent
were still abundant in tobacco and slaves and the capital
was a strong lure.
the British disembarkation at Benedict on 19 August decided
the flotilla’s fate, as the flotilla was the immediate
target of this invading force. Recognizing that his squadron
was doomed, Barney on 21 August led most of his flotillamen
to join with the land forces, leaving a few of his men
to set their vessels on fire on the approach of the enemy.
This they did the next day in the shoal waters of the
Patuxent River just beyond Pig Point, Maryland. Barney
and his men were the last to hold their positions at the
24 August Battle of Bladensburg, which saw the British
forces overwhelm the American defenders before pushing
on to invade the capital. After his capture and release
by the British, Barney continued to lobby the Navy to
resurrect the flotilla, but with peace ratified on 17
February 1815, Barney spent the spring not engaging the
enemy but disestablishing his flotilla. Perhaps the barge
fleet was doomed from its inception but it did become
a thorn for the British and provided the city of Baltimore
the time to prepare for a successful defense.
[Credits for images: Engraving
of composite illustration of the burning of Washington from
The History of England from the Earliest Periods
by M. Paul Rapin de Thoyras. National Archives.]
Col. Wadsworth’s account and that of Captain Samuel Miller,
commander of the Marine detachment, see the Daily National
Intelligencer, 29 June and 7 July 1814, respectively.