14. The Rocket’s Red Glare: Richard Brown at the Battle of Baltimore

Except for limited notes at the end, all references and additional information on the persons in this entry are given in two volumes. The first is The Omnibus Ancestry (referenced as OA). It updates and corrects, in brief form, a number of works including the more detailed volume, Bowers-Russell Ancestry (referenced as BR). Both are available for download through Lulu.com.

On Flag Day it seems appropriate to recognize the War of 1812 service of my ancestor Richard Brown, of Pipe Creek Hundred, Baltimore (now Carroll) county, Maryland. It is very likely that during his service he witnessed the British shelling of Fort McHenry on the night of September 13th, 1814, that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner [OA, BR].


Richard Brown was born in 1782 or 1783 [6] in Baltimore county, Maryland, the son of John Brown and Elizabeth Davis. He married in 1803 [7] to Catherine Taylor, and in 1810 was listed as a head of household in the combined Pipe Creek and North Hundreds. In a brief county history biography of a grandson published early in the 20th century, it was noted that Richard had been “a valiant soldier in the war of 1812” [OA, BR].

His Service

Two Richard Browns, this man and his namesake first cousin, were clearly the two of the name who rendezvoused at Hampstead, Pipe Creek Hundred, as part of Capt. William Murray’s Co., 36th Regiment, Baltimore county militia, in August 1814. This company was under the command of Lt. Col. Abraham Jessop. The two Richards served from August 25th to October 27th, 1814, one as 4th Corporal and the other as private. It is probable that my ancestor was the Corporal, as he married about 8 years before his cousin, implying that he was older and was thus more likely to have been made a noncommissioned officer. One of these two men, it is not clear which, had previously served in Capt. William Blizzard’s Co., Nace’s Regiment of Maryland Militia from August 19th through September 10th, 1813 [OA, BR].

The Battle of Baltimore

Both Richards were serving in Capt. Murray’s company on the fateful night of September 13th, 1814. The Battle of Baltimore had commenced on the 12th, following the burning of Washington by three weeks. It involved the positioning of a British squadron of ships within 3 miles of Fort McHenry, which defended the water approaches to Baltimore, and a landing of British troops at North Point preparatory to a march on the city. American troops were unsuccessful in opposing the landing, suffering significant casualties. However, the land approach was also protected by Hampstead Hill, overlooking the east side of the city. There American fortifications were furiously dug in anticipation of attack [1].

The crisis started the morning of the 13th when the British ships crept to two miles of the fort and began a spectacular bombardment. While inflicting relatively little damage, one of their shells did smash through the roof of the fort’s powder magazine, only to have its fuse doused before it could detonate [1].

Meanwhile, the British troops from the North Point engagement were on the march. Before noon they were within four miles of Baltimore. But they saw a worrisome sight — the rise of Hampstead Hill two miles away, with thousands of American troops on its crest. It was decided to wait until night [1].

In the end, the British troops never did attack the hill. With their ships unable to neutralize the fort and pass through to Baltimore, they could hope for no naval support. They instead returned to North Point. When morning dawned, the flag was still flying over Fort McHenry as the soldiers re-embarked and the squadron retired [1].

Oh, Say Did He See?

The question is whether Richard Brown witnessed any of these events.

First it is important to note that there is some scope for confusion between the 36th Regiment of Maryland Militia and the 36th Regiment of U.S. Infantry, both of which appear to have been present in the Baltimore area during the battle. It seems generally accepted that the U.S. regulars were posted at Fort McHenry itself [4].

But where was the militia? The answer appears to be provided by the fact that George Timanus, the commanding major of 1st battalion of the 36th Regiment, Baltimore County militia, is known to have been on Hampstead Hill with 12,000 other men [OA]. Timanus’ presence, and the large number of soldiers with him on the hill, is evidence that the 36th Regiment of militia was present. Because Richard Brown was actively serving in it, it seems a reasonable assumption that he was on Hampstead Hill during the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Even from that position, a couple of miles away, the fort’s enormous 30′ by 42′ flag could be seen [1]. The night of the bombardment, it was clearly visible not only to Francis Scott Key, but to the troops on the hill. One soldier located there called it “the handsomest sight I ever saw” [OA]. Author Walter Lord explains why:

The fuses of … great 200-pound bombshells traced fiery arcs across the sky, while flights of Congreve and signal rockets gave a weirdly festive look to this deadly serious night. [1, p. 288]


The accompanying engraving depicts the bombardment from the vantage point of “the Observatory”. This was apparently the marine observatory founded on Federal Hill, Baltimore, in 1795 [5]. It and Hampstead Hill, located out of frame off to the left, were roughly equidistant from Fort McHenry. With some change in perspective the views would have been similar.

The answer is probably though not certainly “yes”: Richard Brown likely did see the events of that night.


Richard Brown subsequently moved to Fairfield county, Ohio, where in 1820 he was taxed on 80 acres of land [OA]. He is my ancestor through his eldest daughter Elizabeth (1804-1889), who married Solomon Russell [OA]. He settled in Harrison township, Cass county, Indiana, in 1834/5, and was still there in 1850 [6, 8]. He probably died in Cass county, although there is no definite record to that effect.

For its part Baltimore was jubilant over its victory. Even today it celebrates Defenders Day annually on September 12th. It is a holiday that began informally with picnicking on battlefield sites, later evolving into a full-fledged patriotic holiday with parades and speeches, and reenactments of the engagements at North Point and Fort McHenry [2]. In 2014 it was celebrated in a weeklong series of events, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner [3].


[1] Lord, W. (1972). The Dawn’s Early Light. NY: W.W. Norton & Co.

[2] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defenders_Day (2015).

[3] Information retrieved from http://starspangled200.org/Events/Pages/StarSpangledSpectacular.aspx (2015).

[4] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Baltimore (2015).

[5] Information retrieved from http://www.federalhillonline.com/history.htm (2015).

[6] 1850 Census of Harrison township, Cass county, Ind.

[7] Dodd, Jordan, Liahona Research, comp. Maryland Marriages, 1655-1850 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2004.

[8] Powell, J.Z. (1913). History of Cass County, Indiana. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., v. 1.

Picture attribution: Public domain.