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Rodgers Bastion

Hampstead Hill
(North west corner of Patterson Park),
Baltimore

Bastion: “ . . . work projecting outward from the main enclosure of a fortification, consisting of two faces meeting in a salient angle, usually acute, commanding the foreground and outworks, and two flanks, each able to defend by a flanking fire the face of the adjacent bastion and the adjacent curtain, or wall which joins the flank of one bastion with the adjacent flank of another.”

Webster’s New International Dictionary Unabridged, 2nd Edit. (1944)

Merchant William Patterson, one of the wealthiest Marylanders of his day, donated the land for this area to the City in 1827. He is better known for having, less willingly, donated his daughter Betsy to Prince Jerome Bonaparte, younger brother of the Emperor, Napoleon I.

The bastion is named for Commodore John Rodgers, U.S.N. (1773-1838), of the Havre de Grace family, the ranking American naval officer in active service at this period. Currently commanding the Delaware Flotilla, this steadily successful seaman had relished harassing the British fleet as it withdrew down the Potomac following the sack of Washington City.

Fully a year earlier Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith had begun to fortify this natural strong point in the land defenses of Baltimore, a city of some forty-five thousand inhabitants. On his orders a line of breastworks had been thrown up and an artillery park established boasting some sixty cannon. As his biographer Dr. Cassell maintains, “In both 1813 and 1814 General Smith stood at the center of events. He was the integrating force that meshed Baltimore’s will to survive with the practical necessity of obtaining trained men, arms, and fortifications. The battle of Baltimore was won as much in 1813 as in 1814, and from first to last it was singularly Smith’s victory.”

The General had now placed Rodgers in command of the cannoneers and the Hampstead Hill defenses (also called Loudenslager’s Hill). One may guess at what passed through the Commodore’s mind as he gazed down that long slope at the invaders, some of whom, just this past May 3, had burned and plundered his home town.

After executing their delaying action at North Point, General Stricker’s troops had gradually withdrawn to this prepared position. As they went, they felled trees, to hinder the enemy soldiers. Ascending the hill, the City Brigade settled down to hold it along with their fellow defenders already massed there.

To protect the City at all points General Smith had a total of some 16,300 troops of varying categories and stages of readiness. At this area, which was designated the Eastern Defense Line, he had probably some ten to eleven thousand effectives. Around midnight, Monday-Tuesday, September 12-13 (1814), there came an unprescribed assist in protecting the City: heavy rains.

In the early afternoon of Tuesday, September13, the British forces — totaling about 4,500 men now under command of Ross’ successor, Col. Arthur Brooke, another veteran of the Napoleonic wars — began to accumulate on the open plain at the foot of Hampstead Hill. Instead of an assault Brooke elected to encamp. His reasons for doing so are spelled out by one of his subalterns:

Upon a ridge of hills, which concealed the town itself from observation, stood the grand army, consisting of twenty thousand men [sic]. Not trusting to his superiority in numbers, their general had there entrenched them in the most formidable manner, having covered the whole face of the heights with breast-works, thrown back his left, so as to rest it upon a strong fort, erected for the protection of the river, and constructed a chain of field redoubts, which covered his right, and commanded the entire ascent. Along the side of the hill were likewise fleches and other projecting works, from which a cross fire might be kept up; and there were mounted throughout this commanding position no less than one hundred [sic I pieces of cannon (Gleig, p. 187)

Quite aside from the disparity as to the number of American troops and cannon actually on site, the invaders stood naked in cleared grassland or corn fields, with no cover available against weaponry, either head-on from Hampstead Hill or by cross-fire upon their right flank (from newly positioned elements of Stricker’s and Winder’s commands). That night the rain fell in torrents.

To make matters even more untenable, Colonel Brooke presently learned that his naval support in the Patapsco could afford him no real relief, since it was kept downstream by the hulks the defenders had sunk between Whetstone Point and Lazaretto Point on the east bank of the river’s Northwest Branch. The British commander decided to withdraw.

About 3A.M., Wednesday, September 14(1814), the enemy troops somberly commenced their retreat back down toward North Point. There had been no contest. There had been a confrontation: the Americans had not merely stared down on them; they had stared them down. The Battle of Baltimore was over.

The Friends of Patterson Park lead an effort to restore the Pagoda in 2002. They also help maintain the cannons on the bastion, and provide a paper on the history of the bastion to visitors.

Sources

The monument which you see before you, forward of the Pagoda, was erected in honor of the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by the pupils of the public schools of Baltimore as part of the Centennial celebrations in 1914. It was designed by J[oseph] Maxwell Miller (1877-1933), a nationally known. sculptor of Baltimore birth.

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