On Sunday, September 11, almost three weeks after the Americans’ embarrassment at Bladensburg and the burning of Washington, an estimated fifty British ships were spotted at the mouth of the Patapsco River. While the British “bomb ships” (made famous by the Star Spangled Banner) continued sailing upriver to reach the city, ships carrying approximately 5,000 troops docked at North Point.
North Point, along the marshy Patapsco Neck peninsula, is located approximately 12 miles southeast of the city. It is surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay, Bear Creek, Bread and Cheese Creek, and the Back River. Early European settlers used this peninsula—the first sheltered anchorage for ships sailing from the north into the Patapsco River—as a distribution center for products like tobacco before Baltimore established its commercial port. Captain Robert North set up a trading post on Patapsco Neck in 1793, providing a namesake for the area.
British soldiers and marines under Major General Robert Ross as well as sailors under Rear Admiral George Cockburn anchored at Old Road Bay and disembarked at North Point under the cover of darkness. From 3:00 to 7:00 a.m. on September 12, the men rowed from the ships to the shore. They carried with them their equipment, including field artillery and howitzers, as well as ammunition, blankets, and three days’ rations. Among these men was the Corps of Colonial Marines under Alexander Cochrane, a unit made up of African Americans who had escaped from slavery in Maryland and Virginia. The British had promised them and their families freedom in return for their service.
The British troops marched up North Point Road uninterrupted for about three of the 15 miles towards the city before coming upon defensive earthworks—a signal that the Americans were close at hand. The two forces clashed at the intersection of North Point Road and Philadelphia Road. Though the British outnumbered an estimated 3,200 American militiamen, the skirmishes they encountered on the Patapsco Neck proved devastating. The Battle of North Point left 39 British soldiers dead and 251 wounded, while the Americans suffered 24 losses and 121 wounded. Most significantly, however, was sharpshooters’ fatal aim at their beloved commander, General Robert Ross.The conflict at North Point represented a portion of the battle for Baltimore of equal importance to the defense of Fort McHenry, though often overlooked in the 21st century. The fort received federal designation as a national monument and historic shrine in 1939, eight years after The Star-Spangled Banner became the national anthem, while the site of the land engagement remained largely in private property. The state department of natural resources opened the nine-acre North Point State Battlefield in July 2015 on an undeveloped parcel in present-day Dundalk.