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Who Killed Robert Ross?

Wells and McComas: Pro and con

CON: Baltimore American, Sept. 12, 1901 (p. 13)

An interview with Henry A. Wilson of “Oakenshaw,” Merryman’s Avenue. In August, 1846, while touring in Ireland near the Giant’s Causeway he chanced to encounter a former ADC (unnamed) to General Ross who assured him that the General had been felled by one musket bail and three buckshot. The corpse did not exhibit the regularly shaped wound that would have been inflicted by a rifle (which the American sharpshooters employed). Wilson, moreover, has heard from his uncles, Thomas and William Wilson, who had served at North Point in Capt. A[aron] R. Levering’s “Independent Blues,” that the Captain had ordered his men to drop three buckshot down their barrels over the musket ball. Wilson feels that General Ross was assuredly killed by regular platoon fire.

CON: Baltimore Sun, March 11, 1902 (p. 6)

A summary of Dr. Albert K. Hadel’s speech of the night before at the Maryland Historical Society on the topic, “Who Killed General Ross?” The physician is currently Registrar of the 1812 Society (Md.) and its future president.

It was not the sharpshooters who nailed Ross but unknown members of Captain Howard’s company, the “Mechanical Volunteers.” Major Heath had ordered both Captains Howard and Levering to have their companies deliver a volley, and Howard’s men got theirs off first by a few seconds. It was this volley that hit Ross and some of the British officers in his company. Placed on a commandeered cart, he was carried away from the exposed area, but died about fifteen minutes later while lying sheltered under a tree, still some six miles distant from the gunboats at the debarkation point...

CON: Unidentified news clipping, Baltimore, post March 11, 1902. In Albert K. Hadel’s 1812 Society scrap-book, MS #762, Maryland Historical Society.

An interview with William M. Marine, Historian of the 1812 Society (Md.). He agrees with the conclusions of Dr. Hadel, but adds in a testy tone that he has already said so, considerably in advance of that physician’s pronouncement, in the manuscript of his book The British Invasion of Maryland . . ([Baltimore, 1913; preface dated 18991). He has been researching this work for more than a decade, and now at the conclusion of his labors is having trouble getting it published!

One of Ross’ aides, Colonel Taylor, has remarked in England in later years [‘Taylor is not mentioned in Marine’s published book, tho’ he may be the unnamed aide of Ross encountered by Henry A. Wilson (see above). Wilson’s anecdote is cited in Marine’s book but is placed in England (Marine, op. cit., pp. 192-93)] that Ross was killed by a musket volley. Taylor was a lieutenant at the time. Marine has presented the pros and cons in his MS, and left the decision up to the reader. He is persuaded that it was a musket volley by unidentified soldiers that killed the General — definitely not Wells and McComas.

PRO: Letter to the editor, Sun, March 13, 1902 (p. 5)

George A. Wolf of Baltimore states that some years ago the Baptists were - having a national convention here, the president whereof was Dr. Spencer Cone, the prominent preacher. Cone on this occasion stated that Wells and McComas were members of his own Company, the “Invincible Rifles” [no such unit listed in Nathaniel Hickman’s Citizen Soldiers. . . ], and that they asked his permission to attempt to hit Ross, who was visible not far off on a knoll with several other men. Cone gave permission. The boys advanced and stationed themselves behind a tree, from which vantage they shot the General.

CON: Sun, March 15, 1902 (p. 10)

Rebuttal of Cone, by Dr. Hadel. Cone was not the Captain of the company but its 3rd Lieutenant [Correct, according to the listing in Nathaniel Hickman, op. cit., who carries him as Spencer A. Cone, 3rd Lt., Aisquith’s “Sharp Shooters.”], whose position would normally be at the rear of the troops and not forward. Judge Legrande, orator on the occasion of the cornerstone laying of the Wells & McComas obelisk in 1858, made no claim that they had killed Ross, stating that the evidence was too conflicting. [Correct. Judge John Carroll LeGrand [sic], stating that he himself was not even born at the time of the battle and hence is no expert, cites General Howard’s speech of 1839 at the cornerstone laying at North Point to the effect that Ross was at least slain honorably and not from an unassailable vantage point. (Sun, Sept. 14, 1858, p. 1, giving a lengthy account of the well-attended proceedings and printing the Judge’s remarks in full.)
General Howard’s own speech in 1839 at North Point names no names, but states that the ridiculous story of one of the marksmen being up a tree is absurd. He specifies only that Maj. Richard K. Heath had been ordered forward with a detachment, in order to reconnoiter. ]
Nor does the inscription on the obelisk so state.

Incidentally, Ross’ demise was not even known to the Americans until the morning of September 14, when the information was acquired from newly captured prisoners.

Wolf s statement appears to be news to Dr. Hadel, but he nevertheless affirms that it is incorrect.

CON: Frederick M. Colston, “The Battle of North Point,” Maryland Historical Magazine, 11(1907), 114-15

Supports Henry A. Wilson’s statement, in first Con above, that Ross was slain by a skirmish-line discharge and not by sharpshooters. Upon examination of the bodies of the three American soldiers, it was found that their weapons were loaded with both buckshot and ball.

PRO: Walter Lord, The Dawn’s Early Light (1972), p. 363

“... most British sources including [Admiral] Cochrane’s letter of 9/17 to [Viscount] Melville — say that the General was indeed killed by a rifle.”

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