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.


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

To the memory of
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,

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
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


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:


“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,]
[On the opposite side,]
On the Memorable 12th of September,
Aged 24 years.
[On the side up the road,]
Commanded by Capt. B. C. Howard,
In the 5th Regiment M. M.
[On the side down the road,]
Between the advanced party under
Major Rɪᴄʜᴀʀᴅ K. Hᴇᴀᴛʜ,
Of the Fifth Regiment, M. M.

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.


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.


Baltimore History, War of 1812

The Battle of Baltimore: An Eyewitness Account by Joseph Townsend (1756-1841)

What follows is my attempt to provide a faithful transcription of the four loose front-and-back diary pages, written by Joseph Townsend, describing the Battle of Baltimore in September of 1814. Townsend’s account is not aided by page numbers, so the order of the loose pages is somewhat difficult to discern. This difficulty is further compounded by the fact that some of the pages are missing pieces, along with the words, of course, that go on those pieces! Despite these hazards that have been thrown in my way, I’ve decided to trudge onward, with my transcription hat planted firmly and snugly on my head. Much to my surprise, I found that this account seems to mirror, at least somewhat, the structure of Townsend’s much more famous eyewitness account: that of the Battle of Brandywine, which he witnessed as a 21-year-old in September of 1777—an account which was published five years after his death, by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in 1846. Below is my transcription of Townsend’s recollection of Baltimore in 1814, complete with original spellings (and some minor corrections):

In the year 1814 [title from page five]
When information was received that the Troops / had left the City of Washington & got on board the Fleet / near the mouth of the Potowmac—various were / rumors the conjectures & Ideas entertained respecting their de- / stiny & further depredations, but the general / opinion was, that an attempt to capture Bal- / timore would take place—It therefore became / the duty of the Military department to be / prepared to meet the expected attack— / The Militia belonging to the City who / had marched for the defence of Washington & / had taken an active part in the engagement / at Bladensburg had returned & were kept / in readineſs for the defence of their own / City—& numerous Companies of Militia / from different parts were daily coming / in not only from the State of Maryland but / from the western part of Pennsylvania— / the rumour was generally spread [along the?] whole [begin page two] on the line of Encampment next to Town to / keeping up the fires that were in blast for Cooking / during the past day—that it might not appear / that they were on the Retreat—When the / morning arrived, the ground on which they / had encamped was cleared, & not a person / belonging to their Army to be discovered— // It appeared that there was an understanding / between the Generals on land & the Command- / ers on board the Fleet that if they effected a / landing above the Fort McHenry a sign / was to be given by their firing a rockett tow- / ards or over the City in order to notify the Ge- / nerals on land to rush into it with all their / forces to meet with those that might land from / on board the Veſsels—but if otherwise the Rock- / ett was to be thrown down the River, which / being done the whole Army was in motion / on the water, & progreſsing down to the Fleet at / [?] —being disgraced in the Attempt [begin page three] [The] country appeared to be aroused, & disposed to aſ- / sist in the defence of their Commercial Ci- / ty—Great unanimity was evident on this / interesting occasion— // The British Fleet after receiving the Troops was discovered to be / [in] the bay & appeared to be bound up, which / confirmed the opinion sustained respecting / their object—Fortifications & Batteries Co- / nsidered neceſsary were hastily prepared & Canon mounted / Whereon—a considerable number of Veſsels / were sunk acroſs the channel of the river near / Fort McHenry—& Tar barrels were placed / along the public road to be set on fire in / case of their attempting to march into the / City in the course of the night— // As is customary on such occasions of alarm / the Citizens had generally removed their families to the / Country to be out of the way of danger, which / [was] now to be dreaded, & the military had / surrounded them most of whom were encamped [begin page four] round the Eastern section of the City, but / Intercourse which was kept up with them, / in other respects, it appeared that the place was alive with the bustle & stir that neceſsa- / rily took place— // My family had retired to the Country near [?] on / after the scene of the wounded men [?] the afternoon of the memorable 12th after various ac- / counts had come in that the march of the Brits / was hastening toward the City—a number of / the wounded men had come in, & that the probability / was that the whole of the British Army would / have poſseſsion of the City before the next morn- / ing—I believed it right to remain at home & to / subject to what might occur—the night passed on / without anything extraordinary taking place— // There was considerable stir amongst the Milita- / ry the numbers collected from different parts / were very considerable & were encamped inside / the breast work, that had been hastily thrown up by the [men?] / [along?] the Eastern part of the City—being at a [g-] / [eneral?] view of their Enemy, who were encamped / [indecipherable, bottom of page mutilated] [begin page five] After the destruction at Washington city / the British Troops—they returned & embarked / on board the Fleet which lay in the Chesa- / peak bay & in some of the Rivers emptying / into it, & when collected they proceeded up / the bay to North Point at which place where they / effected their landing, having in view the ob- / struction of Baltimore as their next object in the next place / at this place their force was estimated at / about 6000 regular Troops and a company of blacks—exclusive of those who / manned the Bound Veſsels & Barges—these / Veſsels were sent up the Patapsco River to / attack the Fort McHenry, & the Troops w[ch?] / were landed at North Point were conduct under ed up Patapsco neck by the command of their Generals Roſs / Cockburn & Brooke— until whose object / was to conduct them up Patapsco neck / the east part of the city to be in readineſs to enter part of it as soon [begin page six] [as] a Bomb Veſsel had conquered the Fort / as they marched up on the morning after they had effected Men landing, they were / met with by the American Militia under / the command of Generals Stricker, Stans- / bury &c—who had marched down the / preceding afternoon & were in readineſs / to check their March of the British as they / progreſsed up—the Engagement commenced about noon & a brisk fire was kept up / between them for some, in which General / Roſs received his death wound—as they were / conducting him back to the Fleet on a Litter / they made a halt under the large Poplar tree / opposite to the entrance of Gorsuch’s lane, where / he died—After he fell the British Troops / were conducted by the surviving Generals & the / engagement being over, & night drawing on, they [begin page seven] encamped on the battle ground a little south / of the Methodist meeting house—they next / morning after their wounded soldiers were / sent in barges to the Fleet they marched up / in sight of Town & encamped on / orange f[ields?] & fields adjoining—at this place they remained / during the remainder of the day waiting for / succeſs of the Bomb Veſsels &c to silence Fort / McHenry, having commenced their opera- / tions for that purpose about 8 O Clock in the / morning—they continued kept up a continual fire / & Bombardment during the day without suc- / ceeding & did not decline their exertions / when night came on—about one or two O / Clock in some of their Veſsels & barges paſsed / the Fort in a secret manner & entered the / River with a view to effect a landing on the Peninsula between Boat & the basin—but / [in] this they were [most] grievously disobedient [?] [begin page eight] as their not knowing they had not knowledge of Fort Coventry [Covington] & a six / Gun Battery being prepared to receive them / & which was opened upon them unexpectedly / with a most tremendous fire—the British find- / ing themselves likely to be shattered to pieces & their Veſsels / sinking they there was a most terrifying uproar / amongst them & they hurried out of the River & / paſsed the Fort in greater haste than they did / when she went up—This circumstance with / some others in which they had been engaged through / the course of the day, proving unsucceſsful put / a final end to the expedition & daring attempt / notwithstanding they kept up the appearance of / the engagement until near 8 O Clock the next / morning, which proved to be for the expreſs purpose / of affording time for the land forces to retreat / on board the Veſsels laying at North Point—as they / had commenced their march for the purpose / about [9?] O Clock in the morning, leaving t[hen.] [?]

This is an amazing insight into the defense of the City of Baltimore—penned by one of its most respected residents. Joseph Townsend moved to Baltimore during the fall of 1783, after having spent a year teaching in a school along the Gunpowder. Once a resident of Baltimore Town, in 1784, Townsend founded the school now known as the Friends School of Baltimore. Ten years later, in 1794, he founded Baltimore Equitable Insurance. Friends School and Equitable still exist, and both institutions are thriving. This account just adds another chapter to an already robust historical legacy. What a wonderful gift you’ve given us, Mr. Townsend!