PreviousTable of ContentsNext

Wells and McComas Obelisk

Gay at Aisquith Streets,
Baltimore

The ten-foot base was laid in 1871, the twenty-one foot marble obelisk raised in 1873.

The bodies of the two young men had been removed from their vault in - Greenmount Cemetery and reinterred here on Ashland Square (as the area was then called) on September 13, 1858, with full military honors, a parade, and speakers. Though subscriptions were at once begun for a monument, it ultimately necessitated some assistance from the City before the project was completed. (Eve. Sun, Sept. 8, 1960.)

On the occasion of the youths’ interment here a local poetaster who described himself merely as “one who was a little boy at the time of the Battle of Baltimore” composed a

Wells and McComas Funeral and Monument Song
Baltimore, September 13, 1858
To the Memory of the Brave
WELLS and McCOMAS
Who Shot General Ross

Published by Weishampel’s Bookstore and Circulating Library at 4S4 West Baltimore Street, the dirge was to be sung to the tune of the “Star-Spangled Banner..” (Broadside, Maryland Room, Enoch Pratt Free Library.)

Precisely one year later, on September 12, 1860, the local journalist and actor Clifton W. Tayleur saw production at the Holliday, Street Theatre of his three-act drama, The Boy Martyrs of Sept. 12, 1814. A copy, of this rare play is in the Maryland Historical Society library.

Almost needless to say, ‘Baltimore boasts a Wells Street and likewise a McComas Street. Both are situate in that area so garlanded with Old Defender street names, Locust Point, just west ‘of Fort McHenry. There is ‘also a Wells and McComas Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars. As the inscriptions on the obelisk spell ‘out in loving detail, the slain pair were Henry G[ough] McComas (Sept 20, 1795 - Sept. 12, 1814) and Daniel Wells (Dec. 30, 1794- Sept. 12, 1814). Observe the tender dating of their ages at death, down to the very day.

Before taking up arms the young men are said to have been apprentices in a saddle factory (Eve. Sun, Sept. 12, 1961).. Certain it is that both were Privates in the Sharpshooters Company of Capt. Edward Aisquith in the’ .1st Rifle Battalion, Maryland Militia. On the day of the engagement the Company had been among those detachments that had volunteered to go forward beyond even the American advance elements in order to reconnoiter the enemy, concentrated in the vicinity of Gorsuch’s farm. A rumor had passed down the line, “Remember, boys, General Ross rides a white horse today!” (In fact, Walter Lord tells us, it was a black horse.)

Tradition has it that the British commander had taken over the Shaw family home, not far from the debarkation area, and there spent the night of September 11. Tradition further has it that the next morning during his troops’ advance the General tarried for refreshment at the farm of Robert Gorsuch, a sea captain. When he was asked submissively if he would also require supper to be prepared that evening, he snapped out, “No! I shall sup in Baltimore tonight or in hell!” (Balto. American, Aug. 30, 1897.)

Now, Captain Aisquith’s Company had seen service at the battle of Bladensburg. There young McComas had had a plume shot out of his hat. He had also caught a glimpse of Maj. Gen. Robert Ross; and when he returned h home to Baltimore after the fray, he assured his family that if ever he were to spot the General again, he would know him. When the Company was later ordered to duty as part of the City Brigade, the lad announced breezily to his family, “Here goes for a golden epaulette or a wooden leg!”

Both Wells and McComas had asserted that, if need really be, they would sell their lives dearly. When the order eventually came for Aisquith’s Company to fall back on the American lines, both boys refused to do so. Wells family tradition declares that the youths had concealed themselves in a clump of bushes near a spring and that the British officer had made an easy target when he chanced to approach the same spring for a drink. The tradition of both families also declares that each rifleman took shelter behind separate trees and that each fired almost simultaneously.

British accounts state that General Ross, somewhat to the rear of his advance elements, having heard unexpectedly heavy fire from that quarter, rode forward to see what was occurring. Soon he and his entourage spotted three [sic I American soldiers at not a great distance. One was in a free, picking pears. One was sporting a high hat Of the type worn by civilians. When the Americans detected the invaders, all three riflemen fired together. The General was hit by both buckshot and ball cartridges, and died within a few minutes. A Colonel McNamara by his side had three holes in his coat (Walter Lord says (p. 262) the General “was riding all alone). One of their horses took no less than five buckshot in its chest. Promptly the British skirmish line loosed several volleys and killed all three Americans around the tree where they had first been encountered.

Daniel Wells was slain by a shot in the back of the head. Harry McComas had apparently been trying to reload his weapon: when his body was found, the ramrod was about half-way down the barrel. One of our Society’s past presidents, William Henry Pitcher, a collateral descendant of McComas, recalls his father telling him that a kinsman of theirs happened to be present when the corpse of one of the boys was returned to his residence. The youth was tall, and the wagon not a deep one. As it moved slowly through the streets, the boy’s legs dangled over the end as though he were himself still walking back home.

Sources

PreviousTable of ContentsNext