Baltimore History, War of 1812

Earned by Virtue: Observing the 200th Anniversary of the Aquila Randall Monument

At 10.00 A.M. this morning, a small but sturdy crowd of people gathered in the grassy area on the northeast side of North Point Road, just above its intersection with Battle Grove. There, amid a suitable amount of pomp and circumstance, the Maryland National Guard and the Society of the War of 1812 in Maryland observed the bicentennial and rededication of the Aquila Randall Monument—one of the Monumental City’s greatest treasures—hidden in a small residential area known as the Wells McComas community, on the eastern neck of Dundalk between Bear Creek and the Back River. The monument, which is a white obelisk on a base, altogether extends about 6½ feet above ground level. It was erected on Monday, July 21st 1817 by the surviving members of the First Mechanical Volunteers—a company which was commanded by Captain Benjamin Chew Howard (1791-1872), and attached to the 5th Regiment, Maryland Militia during the Defense of Baltimore. The monument commemorates two things relating to the Battle of North Point: 1) the memory of Aquila Randall (c1790-1814), a 24-year-old private in Benjamin Chew Howard’s company, who was killed in action defending his homeland, and 2) the slaying of Major-General Robert Ross (1766-1814), commander of the British forces, which occurred—not far from where the monument currently sits—in a pre-battle skirmish between an advanced party of Americans under a detachment commanded by Major Richard Key Heath (1770-1822) of the 5th Regiment, Maryland Militia, and the British column on its march up Patapsco Neck.

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The well-constructed monument, which is simple yet handsome, reads as follows. On the side which faces the northeast (the American left flank):

SACRED
To the memory of
AQUILA RANDALL,
who died in bravely defending
his Country and his Home,
on the memorable
12th of September, 1814.
Aged 24 years.

On the side which faces the southeast (the British line):

In the skirmish which occurred
at this spot,
between the advanced party,
under 
Major RICH K. HEATH

of the 5th Regt M. M.
and the front of the British column
Major General ROSS,
the commander of the British force,
received his mortal wound.

On the side which faces the northwest (the American line):

The First Mechanical Volunteers
commanded by
Captn BENJɴ C. HOWARD
of the 5th Regt M. M.
have erected this Monument
as a tribute of their respect
for the memory of
Their Gallant Brother in arms

On the side which faces the southwest (the American right flank):

How beautiful is Death
when earned by
Virtue.

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One of the coolest parts of this morning’s bicentennial observance was a recitation of the events which took place at the initial ceremony in 1817. The particular account that today’s bicentennial referenced appeared a week after the event, in the Monday, July 28th 1817 edition of the Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, on page two, in columns two and three:

FROM THE AMERICAN.

“Dulci et decorum est pro Patria mori.”

On Monday last, “THE FIRST MECHANICAL VOLUNTEERS,” one of the companies attached to the Fifth Regiment, erected on the spot where the advanced party under Major HEATH was engaged with the British forces, a Monument to the Memory of AQUILLA RANDALL, one of the members, who fell in that skirmish. The company, headed by their commander, Capt. B. C. HOWARD, marched from town at an early hour; and having been joined on the ground at 11 o’clock by Col. HEATH, Lt Col. BARRY, Major STEUART, and several other officers of the regiment, this ceremony of putting up the Monument was then commenced, and in a very short time completed, under the direction of Mr. TOWSON, (Lieut. of the company.)—Indeed, much commenda- tion is due to this gentleman (and no less to Col. SMALL, who assisted in the design) for the style and good taste in which the Monument is executed. He has aimed at simplicity and neatness, and he has not been disappointed.
The Monument is a pyramid of white stone, about four feet high, resting on a well proportioned pedestal, which bears the following inscriptions:

[On the side facing the road,]
HOW BEAUTIFUL IS DEATH, WHEN
EARNED BY VIRTUE.
[On the opposite side,]
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
AQUILLA RANDALL,
WHO DIED, IN BRAVELY DEFENDING HIS COUNTRY
AND HIS HOME,
On the Memorable 12th of September,
1814,
Aged 24 years.
[On the side up the road,]
THE FIRST MECHANICAL VOLUNTEERS,
Commanded by Capt. B. C. Howard,
In the 5th Regiment M. M.
HAVE ERECTED THIS MONUMENT,
AS A TRIBUTE OF THEIR RESPECT FOR
THE MEMORY OF
THEIR GALLANT BROTHER IN ARMS.
[On the side down the road,]
IN THE SKIRMISH
WHICH OCCURRED AT THIS SPOT,
Between the advanced party under
Major Rɪᴄʜᴀʀᴅ K. Hᴇᴀᴛʜ,
Of the Fifth Regiment, M. M.
AND THE FRONT OF THE BRITISH COLUMN,
MAJOR GENERAL ROSS,
COMMANDER OF THE BRITISH FORCES,
RECEIVED HIS MORTAL WOUND.

Having completed the necessary labors of the undertaking, the company was then drawn up in front of the Monument. The officers of the regiment, attending by invitation, were posted in front of the company, and Capt. HOWARD delivered, in a modest, but impressive manner, the Address, an imperfect sketch of which is published in this day’s paper.
The address was remarkably appropriate—It is indeed to be regretted, that in yielding to the request for publication, Capt. HOWARD has not been able to collect from a failing memory, the whole address as he delivered it. But there is enough left to challenge praise; not only for the judicious selection of topics, but also for the beauty and putity of his language.
After firing three vollies over the Monument, the company was dismissed to partake of a handsome collation.

SKETCH OF CAPTAIN HOWARD’S ADDRESS.

My Friends and Fellow Soldiers,
We are assembled on this day for the purpose of completing a design that we have long entertained. It is to perform one of these duties that can happen but seldom in the course of an individual’s life, for wars, thank Heaven, in our country, are not so frequent as to call upon us often to honor the memories of those who fall in her defence. But when it does occur, it is a duty for the performance of which we are bound by more than ordinary ties.—We owe something to those who are dead—something to those who are yet unborn. So strongly do I feel this, that my imagination at this moment flies forward to the future, and my memory back to the past. I can picture to myself the sensations of those who in far distant days will contemplate this monument, while busy memory brings before me the scene which was exhibited here and the melancholy event which has caused our assemblage at this spot. Let us turn our attention for a moment to the year 1814, when a black and portentous cloud seemed threatening to burst upon our country; when it had been vauntingly declared that all assailable places were to be laid waste, and our city, rich with gifts of commerce, and strong with the sinews of war, stood high on the list of proscription—But the spirit of the nation was roused, and the torch of military enthusiasm was lit at the flame of the consuming Capitol. There the list of proscription stopped. With the points of our swords, we erased from it the name of Baltimore, and Baltimore was saved. And whom had we to oppose? not a miserable rabble fighting for their rations alone; not an irregular and undisciplined enemy, but troops that had scattered the armies of France to the right and to the left in their march through Spain; troops inured to carnage and war, and flushed with thinking they had tamed the American pride at that ill-fated, unfortunate Bladensburg—Can we look back upon this contest with any less feeling than pride? Was there any thing in our conduct that should make us avoid recurring to that period? No—Thank Heaven, there was not—here we stood, and here we acted our parts—Here we all shared one common danger, and though the ball that bore the message of death as it sang through the air, took only one from amongst us; yet who is there that might not have shared the same fate? who is there that might not have been that one? it well becomes us therefore to join heart and hand in placing some durable memorial on a spot so consecrated as this. This monument which we are now erecting, will stand as a solemn expression of the feelings of us all, as a solemn determination, that though the life of Randall, was rudely and untimely destroyed, his name shall not perish from the face of the earth.
Our city, I am proud to say, has evinced no backwardness, no cold reluctance, to honor the memories of those who fell in her defence. She has placed in her bosom an ornament to her beauty, and a monument of her gratitude. She has erected in the midst of her busy streets an edifice whose towering column is destined to bear the names of those whose lives were offered up to save her from the hostile tread and the midnight terrors of an exasperated and ungovernable foe. Not a traveller can pass without stopping to admire the gratitude of Baltimore to her defenders. But I regret that the spot, which is made classic by the effusion of blood, the spot where the long line stood unappalled by the system and advances of an experienced and disciplined foe, has been suffered to remain unnoticed. It is here where her citizens stood arrayed in soldiers’ garb, that honors to a soldier’s memory should have been paid. To mark the spot be then our care. Let our monument arise, in humility proportioned to our number, compared with the collected mass. Let the name of Randall be recorded on imperishable stone, on the spot where his life-blood streamed upon the ground I scruple not to say, that though the lofty column does not rise above the tops of the neighboring trees; though plain an unadorned with magnificent and expensive sculpture, the monument which we have this day erected is a proud, a noble, a splendid tribute to his memory. Who is there here, whose heart would not beat faster, whose pulse would not throb quicker, at the prospect of such a monument as this. For myself, I could almost change places with him; I do believe that his death atoned for many a sin, if many a sin he had committed. To defend our country has ever been considered one of the highest, holiest duties that man has to perform. Religious bigotry may tell us, that war is unlawful and a crime; but the honest unperversed feelings of the human heart will always refuse to believe it. What—Has Providence blessed us with a noble country, enriched with all the blessings of civilization and enlightened by the animating principles of liberty, only to surrender it up to the first invader? Shall we not keep what God has given us? He who suffers the fiery death of the warrior, whose soul has burst, and crept forth from its tenement of clay in such a cause as that, has well performed his part in life. The lamp of life, if it be not suddenly extinguished, will waste slowly away; better to be extinguished in the midst of its brightness and leave the memory of its brilliancy behind it, than glimmer for years in the socket.
Near this spot another monument was earned, though ten thousand swords would leap from the scabbards to prevent it from being placed there. It was here that the haughty General who declared he did not care if it rained Militia, atoned with his life for his rash opinion. It was here that they rained such a tempest upon his head as beat him to the ground. There let his memory rest for us. If his Government have done, what it is said they have, they have not only insulted the feelings of the American Nation, but imprinted a foul and shameful spot on the memory of him they wished to honor. To assert that Ross was slain at Washington is as monstrous and inexcusable as to engraft upon his coat of arms the broken flag of the United States. How different is it with us. Truth, simple as the stone and pure as the color that glitters in the day, breathes in every word and action. The honors we pay are those we think due. No more. With that sublime attribute of Heaven, truth, engrafted upon them, they can be looked upon with more pride by those who give them and the friends of him on whom they are bestowed, than the most pompous and lordly testimonials, framed to feed national unity at the expense of history and fact.
My friends—I have done it—We commit this Monument to Destiny and Time.

The inconsistencies found in the above-quoted article are curious. It not only misspells Aquila Randall’s name by giving it a superfluous ‘l’ (i.e., “Aquilla”), but it gives an imperfect transcription of the text on the monument. If these inconsistencies are present in the part of the article that describes the basic facts relating to the monument, it does cause one to wonder how accurate the sketch of Benjamin Chew Howard’s speech really is, and whether or not any parts of it were invented out of whole cloth by the newspaper reporter who covered the proceedings. The bit about Captain Howard being unable to reproduce his speech in full for publication, due to a “failing memory,” is especially interesting. Howard was not an old man, by any means, at the time of the dedication; in July of 1817, he was only 25 years old—just one year older than Randall had been at the time of the battle. So Howard probably couldn’t reproduce his speech because he had never even fully written it down in the first place. Whatever the case, it is a remarkable example of his oratorical skill, and was undoubtedly delivered with masterful elocution. Even 200 years later, in 2017, the words are quite stirring, and hearing them read aloud at the bicentennial rededication was quite a treat.

In all likelihood, this will be the last of the War of 1812 Bicentennial events. What a privilege it was to take part in it. Over the past five years, commemorating the 200th anniversary of America’s Second War for Independence has given many people in the Greater Baltimore Metro Area a lot of joy, and it has certainly provided us with a renewed sense of community and patriotism as we look toward the future. May the Monumental City’s spirit continue to endure, infused with the memory of people like Aquila Randall and his comrades in arms, who gave everything—their lives included—for Baltimore City.

Our city.

Our debt to them truly is, ᴍᴏɴᴜᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʟ.

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