Letter from Commodore Joshua Barney to the Secretary of the Navy
Farm at Elk Ridge, 29 August 1814
This is the first moment I have had it in my power to make a report of the proceedings of the forces under my command, since I had the honour of seeing you at the camp at the "Old Fields." On the afternoon of that day, we were informed that the enemy was advancing upon us. The army was put under arms, and our positions taken; my forces on the right, flanked by the two battalions of the 36th and 38th, where we remained some hours; the enemy did not make his appearance. A little before sun-set general Winder came to me, and recommended that the heavy artillery should be withdrawn, with the exception of one 12 pounder to cover the retreat. We took up our line of march, and in the night entered Washington by the Eastern Branch bridge. I marched my men, &c. to the marine barracks, and took up quarters for the night, myself sleeping at commodore Tingey's, in the navy yard. About 2 o'clock general Winder came to my quarters, and we
made some arrangements for the morning. In the morning I received a note from general Winder, and waited upon him, he requested me to take command, and place my artillery to defend the passage of the bridge on the Eastern Branch, as the enemy was approaching the city in that direction. I immediately put my guns in position, leaving the marines and the rest of my men at the barracks, to wait further orders. I was in this situation when I had the honour to meet you, with the President and heads of departments, when it was determined that I should draw off my guns and men, and proceed towards Bladensburg, which was immediately put into execution. On our way, I was informed the enemy was within a mile of Bladensburg-we hurried on. The day was hot, and my men very much crippled from the severe marches we had experienced the days before, many of them being without shoes, which I had replaced that morning. I preceded the men,
and when I arrived at the line which separates the district from Maryland, the battle began. I sent an officer back to hurry on my men; they came up in a trot; we took our position on the rising ground, put the pieces in battery, posted the marines under captain Miller, and the flotilla men, who were to act as infantry, under their own officers, on my right, to support the pieces, and waited
the approach of the enemy. During this period the engagement continued, and the enemy advancing, our own army retreating before them, apparently in much disorder. At length the enemy made his appearance on the main road, in force, and in front of my battery, and on seeing us made a halt. I reserved our fire. In a few minutes the enemy again advanced, when I ordered an 18
pounder to be fired, which completely cleared the road; shortly after, a second and a third attempt was made by the enemy to come forward, but all were destroyed. They then crossed over into an open field, and attempted to flank our right; he was there met by three 12 pounders, the marines under captain Miller, and my men, acting as infantry, and again was totally cut up. By this time
not a vestige of the American army remained, except a body of five or six hundred, posted on a height on my right, from whom I expected much support, from their fine situation.
The enemy from this period never appeared in force in front of us; they pushed forward their sharp shooters; one of which shot my horse under me, who fell dead between two of my guns. The enemy, who had been kept in check by our fire for nearly half an hour, now began to out-flank us on the right; our guns were turned that way; he pushed up the hill, about two or three hundred, towards the corps of Americans stationed as above described, who, to my great mortification, made no resistance, giving a fire or two and retired. In this situation we had the whole army of the enemy to contend with. Our ammunition was expended; and, unfortunately, the drivers of my ammunition wagons had gone off in the general panic. At this time I received a severe wound in my thigh; captain Miller was wounded; sailing master Warner killed; acting sailing master Martin killed; and sailing master Martin wounded; but to the honour of my officers and men, as fast as their companions and messmates fell at the guns, they were instantly replaced from the infantry.
Finding the enemy now completely in our rear, and no means of defence, I gave orders to my officers and men to retire. Three of my officers assisted me to get off a short distance, but the great loss of blood occasioned such a weakness, that I was compelled to lie down. I requested my officers to leave me, which they obstinately refused; but upon being ordered they obeyed, one only
remained. In a short time I observed a British soldier, and had him called, and directed him to seek an officer; in a few minutes an officer came, and on learning who I was, brought general Ross and admiral Cockburn to me. Those officers behaved to me with the most marked attention, respect and politeness, had a surgeon brought, and my wound dressed immediately. After a few
minutes conversation, the general informed me (after paying me a handsome compliment) that I was paroled, and at liberty to proceed to Washington or Bladensburg; as also Mr. Huffington, who had remained with me, offering me every assistance in his power, giving orders for a litter to be brought, in which I was carried to Bladensburg; captain Wainwright, first captain to admiral
Cochrane, remained with me, and behaved to me as if I was a brother. During the stay of the enemy at Bladensburg, I received every marked attention possible from the officers of the army and navy.
My wound is deep, but I flatter myself not dangerous; the ball is not yet extracted. I fondly hope a few weeks will restore me to health, and that an exchange will take place, that I may resume my command, or any other that you and the President may think proper to honour me with.
John Brannan, ed. Official Letters of the Military and Naval Officers of the United States During the War with Great Britain in the Years 1812, 13, 14, & 15 With Some Additional Letters and Documents Elucidating the History of that Period. (Washington: 1823), pp. 405-407.