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From Barney would be expected
no less than the most that man can do, or example effect; but his
pursuit was stopped by the ship and the brig, which stayed within the
Patuxent. The flotilla continued inside the creek, two frigates lying
off its mouth, until June 26, when an attack by the boats, in concert
with a body of militia,--infantry and light artillery,--decided the
enemy to move down the Patuxent. Barney took advantage of this to
leave the creek and go up the river. We are informed by a journal of
the day that the Government was by these affairs well satisfied with
the ability of the flotilla to restrain the operations of the enemy
within the waters of the Chesapeake, and had determined on a
considerable increase to it. Nothing seems improbable of that
Government; but, if this be true, it must have been easily satisfied.
Barney had secured a longer line of retreat, up the river; but the
situation was not materially changed. In either case, creek or river,
there was but one way out, and that was closed. He could only abide
the time when the enemy should see fit to come against him by land and
by water, which would seal his fate.[364]

On June 2 there had sailed from Bordeaux for America a detachment from
Wellington's army, twenty-five hundred strong, under Major-General
Ross. It reached Bermuda July 25, and there was re-enforced by another
battalion, increasing its strength to thirty-four hundred. On August 3
it left Bermuda, accompanied by several ships of war, and on the 15th
passed in by the capes of the Chesapeake. Admiral Cochrane had
preceded it by a few days, and was already lying there with his own
ship and the division under Rear-Admiral Cockburn, who hitherto had
been in immediate charge of operations in the bay. There were now
assembled over twenty vessels of war, four of them of the line, with a
large train of transports and store-ships. A battalion of seven
hundred marines were next detailed for duty with the troops, the
landing force being thus raised to over four thousand. The rendezvous
at Tangier Island gave the Americans no certain clue to the ultimate
object, for the reason already cited; and Cochrane designedly
contributed to their distraction, by sending one squadron of frigates
up the Potomac, and another up the Chesapeake above Baltimore.[365] On
August 18 the main body of the expedition moved abreast the mouth of
the Patuxent, and at noon of that day entered the river with a fair
wind.

The purposes at this moment of the commanders of the army and navy,
acting jointly, are succinctly stated by Cochrane in his report to the
Admiralty: "Information from Rear-Admiral Cockburn that Commodore
Barney, with the Potomac flotilla, had taken shelter at the head of
the Patuxent, afforded a pretext for ascending that river to attack
him near its source, above Pig Point, while the ultimate destination
of the combined force was Washington, should it be found that the
attempt might be made with any prospect of success."[366] August 19,
the troops were landed at Benedict, twenty-five miles from the mouth
of the river, and the following day began their upward march, flanked
by a naval division of light vessels; the immediate objective being
Barney's flotilla.

For the defence of the capital of the United States, throughout the
region by which it might be approached, the Government had selected
Brigadier-General Winder; the same who the year before had been
captured at Stoney Creek, on the Niagara frontier, in Vincent's bold
night attack. He was appointed July 2 to the command of a new military
district, the tenth, which comprised "the state of Maryland, the
District of Columbia, and that part of Virginia lying between the
Potomac and the Rappahannock;"[367] in brief, Washington and
Baltimore, with the ways converging upon them from the sea. This was
just seven weeks before the enemy landed in the Patuxent; time enough,
with reasonable antecedent preparation, or trained troops, to concert
adequate resistance, as was shown by the British subsequent failure
before Baltimore.

The conditions with which Winder had to contend are best stated in the
terms of the Court of Inquiry[368] called to investigate his conduct,
at the head of which sat General Winfield Scott. After fixing the
date of his appointment, and ascertaining that he at once took every
means in his power to put his district in a proper state of defence,
the court found that on August 24, the day of the battle of
Bladensburg, he "was enabled by great and unremitting exertions to
bring into the field about five or six thousand men, all of whom
except four hundred were militia; that he could not collect more than
half his men until a day or two previously to the engagement, and six
or seven hundred of them did not arrive until fifteen minutes before
its commencement; ... that the officers commanding the troops were
generally unknown to him, and but a very small number of them had
enjoyed the benefit of military instruction or experience." So far
from attributing censure, the Court found that, "taking into
consideration the complicated difficulties and embarrassments under
which he labored, he is entitled to no little commendation,
notwithstanding the result; before the action he exhibited industry,
zeal, and talent, and during its continuance a coolness, a
promptitude, and a personal valor, highly honorable to himself."

The finding of a court composed of competent experts, convened shortly
after the events, must be received with respect. It is clear, however,
that they here do not specify the particular professional merits of
Winder's conduct of operations, but only the general hopelessness of
success, owing to the antecedent conditions, not of his making, under
which he was called to act, and which he strenuously exerted himself
to meet. The blame for a mishap evidently and easily preventible still
remains, and, though of course not expressed by the Court, is
necessarily thrown back upon the Administration, and upon the party
represented by it, which had held power for over twelve years past. A
hostile corps of less than five thousand men had penetrated to the
capital, through a well populated country, which was, to quote the
Secretary of War, "covered with wood, and offering at every step
strong positions for defence;"[369] but there were neither defences
nor defenders.

The sequence of events which terminated in this humiliating manner is
instructive. The Cabinet, which on June 7 had planned offensive
operations in Canada, met on July 1 in another frame of mind, alarmed
by the news from Europe, to plan for the defence of Washington and
Baltimore. It will be remembered that it was now two years since war
had been declared. In counting the force on which reliance might be
placed for meeting a possible enemy, the Secretary of War thought he
could assemble one thousand regulars, independent of artillerists in
the forts.[2] The Secretary of the Navy could furnish one hundred and
twenty marines, and the crews of Barney's flotilla, estimated at five
hundred.[2] For the rest, dependence must be upon militia, a call for
which was issued to the number of ninety-three thousand, five
hundred.[370] Of these, fifteen thousand were assigned to Winder, as
follows: From Virginia, two thousand; from Maryland, six thousand;
from Pennsylvania, five thousand; from the District of Columbia, two
thousand.[371] So ineffective were the administrative measures for
bringing out this paper force of citizen soldiery, the efficiency of
which the leaders of the party in power had been accustomed to vaunt,
that Winder, after falling back from point to point before the enemy's
advance, because only so might time be gained to get together the
lagging contingents, could muster in the open ground at Bladensburg,
five miles from the capital, where at last he made his stand, only the
paltry five or six thousand stated by the court. On the morning of the
battle the Secretary of War rode out to the field, with his colleagues
in the Administration, and in reply to a question from the President
said he had no suggestions to offer; "as it was between regulars and
militia, the latter would be beaten."[372] The phrase was Winder's
absolution; pronounced for the future, as for the past. The
responsibility for there being no regulars did not rest with him, nor
yet with the Secretary, but with the men who for a dozen years had
sapped the military preparation of the nation.

Under the relative conditions of the opposing forces which have been
stated, the progress of events was rapid. Probably few now realize
that only a little over four days elapsed from the landing of the
British to the burning of the Capitol. Their army advanced along the
west bank of the Patuxent to Upper Marlborough, forty miles from the
river's mouth. To this place, which was reached August 22, Ross
continued in direct touch with the navy; and here at Pig Point, nearly
abreast on the river, the American flotilla was cornered at last.
Seeing the inevitable event, and to preserve his small but invaluable
force of men, Barney had abandoned the boats on the 21st, leaving with
each a half-dozen of her crew to destroy her at the last moment. This
was done when the British next day approached; one only escaping the
flames.

The city of Washington, now the goal of the enemy's effort, lies on
the Potomac, between it and a tributary called the Eastern Branch.
Upon the east bank of the latter, five or six miles from the junction
of the two streams, is the village of Bladensburg. From Upper
Marlborough, where the British had arrived, two roads led to
Washington. One of these, the left going from Marlborough, crossed the
Eastern Branch near its mouth; the other, less direct, passed through
Bladensburg. Winder expected the British to advance by the former; and
upon it Barney with the four hundred seamen remaining to him joined
the army, at a place called Oldfields, seven miles from the capital.
This route was militarily the more important, because from it branches
were thrown off to the Potomac, up which the frigate squadron under
Captain Gordon was proceeding, and had already passed the
Kettle-bottoms, the most difficult bit of navigation in its path.



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