The glory, pomp and sacrifice will be recalled in the re-enactment of the Battle of Caulk’s Field, marking the day, 200 years ago, when Kent County, Maryland militiamen turned back a British night attack during the War of 1812. The once-in-a-lifetime event will be staged on the very bicentennial day, Aug. 31, 2014, and on the same battlefield where the action took place.
Expect a historic re-creation of the battle, complete with cannons, horses and soldiers, along with fun-filled and associated educational activities in the county seat of Chestertown and on the battlefield. Also expect a poignant ceremony recognizing the human sacrifice that results from war.
The oft forgotten Battle of Caulk’s Field took place in the night of Aug. 30 and early morning hours of Aug. 31, 1814, sandwiched in the week between the burning of Washington and the attack on Baltimore. As part of the British Chesapeake Campaign (1813-1815), Capt. Sir Peter Parker, commander of the frigate HM Menelaus, was ordered to distract American militia regiments on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that otherwise might be used to aid the defense of the administrative and industrial targets on the other side of the bay.
Born in 1785, the son and grandson of naval officers, Parker started serving aboard warships as a teen and was promoted to lieutenant in 1801. He once served under the command of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson before the latter’s death in 1805. And, he had the royal title of baronet. In 1810 he was given the command of the 38-gun-rated Menelaus and early in 1814 he was ordered to support the war against the United States.
While leading an attack on a bay shore plantation, the brash, glory-hungry Parker heard that a company of Maryland militiamen was encamped in the vicinity of Bel Air, now called Fairlee. He determined to launch as large a force as possible, comprised of sailors and the Royal Marines, to attack them.
There could be no delay; in fact, he was unwilling to await the morning sun. So, about 11 p.m. Aug. 30, boats from Menelaus delivered about 140 marines and sailors on what is now appropriately dubbed Parker Point. Their approach, however, did not go unnoticed – a picket of militia cavalry marked their advance, alerting the awaiting 21st Regiment of Maryland Militia and its commander, Lt. Col. Philip Reed.
Born about 1760, Reed was a Revolutionary War veteran field officer of the Maryland Continental Line, one-time county sheriff and former U.S. senator and state delegate. He commanded a force of 174 men divided into seven companies. His men were armed with muskets, most likely 69-caliber 1795 Harpers Ferry pattern flintlocks, along with five six-pounder field artillery pieces and scanty ammunition.
A life-long Kent County resident, Reed knew his turf. When he heard the signal shots of the cavalry vedette, he moved his camp and prepared his men for the oncoming British attack. Few of his militiamen, Reed admitted later, “had ever heard the whistling of a [musket]ball.” Under a bright full moon which cast dim shadows on the ground, Parker led his seasoned British marauders along what is now called Bay Shore Road, turning south on Georgetown Road. While he had started out on foot like the rest of his men, early on they captured a militia horseman who inadvertently rode up on the British column. Parker commandeered the horse and so for a while was mounted.
About 1 a.m. the militia rifle corps, led by Reed and Capt. Simon Wickes, waiting quietly in the path of their opponents, opened fire when Parker and his men came within rifle shot. The riflemen executed a strategic withdrawal, and within minutes, Parker, withstanding withering cannon fire, led his men onto the battlefield and engaged Reed’s carefully positioned main force.
The British soldiers bravely forced their way toward Reed’s main line positioned on a rise, through a hail of American artillery and musket fire. In fact, Parker’s second in command, Lt. Henry Crease, made it into the midst of Reed’s camp and briefly captured one of the cannons. However, the fiercest fighting was on the American left flank, anchored on the main road, as the British attempted a flanking movement there.
But two things happened at approximately the same time, bringing the battle to a rapid halt. Reed’s men began to run out of ammunition and so started an organized withdrawal. And Sir Peter Parker, bravely leading his men into the heat of the fray, was struck in the leg by buckshot. The wound, which severed his femoral artery, was soon fatal.
With their leader fallen, the British halted their advance and hastily retreated the same way that had come, carrying Parker’s body all the way back to the ship.
The battle had lasted about an hour. When the smoke cleared and the sun rose, the grisly tally was taken. Fourteen British soldiers and sailors, including Parker, and 13-year-old midshipman John T. Sandes, had died. As many as 27 were wounded. Three Americans sustained minor wounds. The Americans buried the British dead on the field. A dozen remain buried there today in unmarked graves. (Several years after the battle, Sandes’ family returned his remains to England.)
The field, named for Isaac Caulk, owner at the time of the battle, remains almost unchanged 200 years later. A memorial, dedicated in 1902, is close to the roadside as a reminder of the battle that took place there. Each year since 2012, on the anniversary, a ceremony has honored the fallen. Now two flags, the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes fly there.
The ceremony planned on Aug. 31 this year will again involve British and Maryland military officials and special guests. Two new monuments will be unveiled at that time.
Planning for the battle re-enactment has been under way for more than a year through the Kent County Office of Tourism & Economic Development, in conjunction with the Star-Spangled 200 Chesapeake Campaign. The re-enactment will include nearly as many men portraying both the 21st Regiment of Maryland Militia, and British Royal Marines and sailors. There will also be dragoons and artillery, in order to make the re-enactment as historically accurate as possible. The battle, planned in the afternoon on Aug. 31, will be staged on about 35 acres of the original site, which is now owned by Tulip Forest Farm. Activities on the day of the battle re-enactment will also include encampments, exhibits, demonstrations, music, food, vendors, VIP recognition and living history.
There will be lots of history – the re-enactment comes on the heels of two archaeological surveys undertaken by the state of Maryland — with the cooperation and encouragement of the landowner — in the past two years. The artifacts, along with the corresponding historical review, documents more clearly the paths taken by the British in the attack and the course of the battle.
The re-enactment is supported by Star-Spangled 200 grants, which has also partially funded, with cash and in-kind matches and other grants, the establishment of the Chesapeake Independent Blues, formerly the Eastern Shore Militia, a volunteer living history military interpretive unit equipped to resemble as authentically as possible the uniformed militia companies raised on Maryland’s Eastern Shore during the War of 1812. Augmented by other volunteers from across North America, the Chesapeake Independent Blues will be the core unit taking on the roles of the 21st Regiment of Maryland Militia in the re-enactment. In addition, a grant has also partially funded a “Walk Through Time” array of 10 educational kiosks that will be on the battlefield on Aug. 31.
“The bicentennial commemoration of the Battle of Caulk’s Field will offer the public a rare opportunity to witness and interact with a diversity of interpretive elements representing the War of 1812, including American infantry, field artillery, and mounted dragoons defending their families and communities, British Royal Marines and seamen defending their country’s rights to Canada and command of the oceans, and private merchant ships and privateers that once sailed the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the global seas,” noted Mark Dubin, a weapons safety officer for the Chesapeake Independent Blues and also a member of the county’s Battle of Caulk’s Field 2014 committee.
“Unlike any other period site in the mid-Atlantic region, the uniquely preserved Caulk’s Field battlefield, coupled with eyewitness accounts and a recent state archeological investigation, will enable military living history interpretive units from across North America to faithfully recreate the actions that occurred on that fateful night,” he stated.
Chestertown is also involved in the battle commemoration. On Saturday, Aug. 30, there will be a parade down High Street, with dragoons leading a large cadre of the re-enactors paced by a period fife and drum unit. A 15-star flag raising and wreath laying, at the War of 1812 monument in Monument Plaza will follow.
There will be a militia camp at the 18th-century Customs House, where 1812 military camp life and military drills will be demonstrated for the public. Activities, period music and interpretive programs will be offered at the foot of High Street.
The Historical Society of Kent County is planning a display of Caulk’s Field artifacts and guest speakers, including archaeologist Julie M. Schablitsky, who led the Caulk’s Field surveys. Pride of Baltimore II, and Sultana will be on hand for tours and sails. Other activities are being considered.
The “cash match” portion of the Star-Spangled 200 grants is being accrued with fundraisers, in coordination with the Friends of Kent County War of 1812, the county’s original bicentennial organization. Plans call for a river voyage lecture, by Gene Allen Smith, on April 25, 2014 aboard the River Packet. Smith is the author of “The Slaves’ Gamble – Choosing Sides in the War of 1812.”
A vacation trip raffle is in the planning stage and a limited number of tickets will soon be on sale, with the winner announced at the Aug. 31 battle re-enactment.
A special fundraising reception is being planned for June 28 and will take place at the Caulk’s house, where Isaac Caulk lived.
For more information, contact the Kent County Office of Tourism & Economic Development, 410-778-0416; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Check the website, www.kentcounty.com/1812.