The Man Who Captured Washington | Battle of Bladensburg
page-template,page-template-full_width,page-template-full_width-php,page,page-id-15688,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,columns-4,qode-theme-ver-9.2,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-,vc_responsive

Battle of Bladensburg

Battle of Bladensburg

Above: The Bridge at Bladensburg, the scene of fierce fighting during the battle.

General Ross earned worldwide acclaim at the time for his victory at the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814. The general’s family was awarded the hereditary title ‘Ross of Bladensburg’ by the Prince Regent. At Bladensburg, American militia forces were routed by Wellington ‘Invincibles’ under Ross’ command. The Battle of Bladensburg is notable as the first occasion when the ‘Commander in Chief’ (the US president) was present on a battlefield and under hostile fire. The rout of the American forces famously occasioned a poem entitled the ‘Bladensburg Races’. The embarrassing flight of the American forces from the battlefield, it is worth emphasising, was far from a unique experience at the time. There were several notable examples of regular troops in other conflicts being mocked for fleeing from battlefields. Most strikingly, British troops fled from a combined force of French regulars led by General Humbert and Irish insurgents at Castlebar, County Mayo, in 1798, an event known at the time and ever since as the ‘Races of Castlebar’. Ironically, Humbert also helped to defeat the British at New Orleans in 1815. While American militia performed poorly at Bladensburg for understandable reasons, 120 US marines led by Captain Samuel Miller, fighting alongside 370 US sailors under the overall command of Commodore Joseph Barney, were acknowledged on all sides to have performed heroically, providing inspiration for the further development of the US Marine Corps.  

Victory at Bladensburg paved the way for Ross’ forces to capture Washington DC. During a short sojourn in the city the public buildings were burnt, including the ‘White House’ and the Capitol. Americans at the time were angered that the British government had rewarded Ross’ family with a title for his deeds and there is evidence that this inspired a plan for a US privateer to attack the general’s home village of ‘Rosstrevor’, County Down, Northern Ireland (known as such at the time owing to the Ross family’s ownership of much of the land in the area – though known today as Rostrevor). The plot failed to materialise when the ‘War of 1812’ concluded shortly afterwards. When President John Quincy Adams visited the site of the Battle of North Point and Baltimore in 1827 he raised a toast to veterans of the conflict: “Ebony and topaz–General Ross’s posthumous coat of arms, and the republican militiamen who gave it.”

Above: The Arms of Ross of Bladensburg

Description of the Arms of Ross of Bladensburg


Per fess embattled argent and or, in chief issuant a dexter arm embowed vested gules, cuff azure, encircled by a wreath of laurel, the hand grasping a flag-staff broken in bend sinister, therefrom flowing the colors of the United States of America proper, in base the arms of Ross of Ross Trevor, on a canton of the third pendent from a ribbon, a representation of the cross presented by command of his majesty to the late major-general in testimony of this royal approbation of his services, with the motto Bladensburgh, and for a crest of honourable augmentation in addition to the crest of the family of Ross of Ross Trevor, the following, that is to say, on a wreath of the colors out of a mural crown or, a dexter arm grasping the colors as in the arms.

Above: Ross’ victory at Bladensburg is acclaimed by his old regiment, the XXth, in the monument it erected to his memory in Kilbroney Parish Church, Rostrevor, County Down, Northern Ireland.


UPDATE: July 4, 2009

The grant application to start the archeological research and commemorative planning at the Battle of Bladensburg site has been approved. The grant is from the American Battlefield Protection Program of the National Park Service (NPS), and the archeological research will be done by the Cultural Resource Section of the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) in conjunction with the University of Maryland. The work will be a multi-year program to inventory the historic resources associated with the Battle of Bladensburg, recommend an appropriate preservation strategy, and prepare a long-term Commemoration Plan for the Battlefield site.

John Sower, Co-ordinator,

Friends of the Battle of Bladensburg

W: 202-625-4373

C: 202-257-5871


Lecture by Denny Lynch, from Baltimore in Rostrevor, 24 July 2008.

Dr Edward Furgol, Curator of the National Museum of the United States Navy.

Dr Guy Beiner, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

Niles Weekly Register, Saturday June 14, 1817 consulted at


See also “Birth of a National Icon: Fort McHenry” by Christopher T.George:

“Refurbished Key Monument to Be Site on Star-Spangled Banner Walking Tour” by Christopher T. George:

For an excellent website on Francis Scott Key, see