For many of us the War of 1812 is a post-it note on the silver-clasped treasury of World History.
There are only a few historic dates I can recall—1066 (there was even a kid’s book, ‘1066 And All That’ that helped with that), 1776 (a bad year for tea and kings), 1861, a bloody crossroads, tragic for everyone…..but 1812?
Did the British hide out in Hudson River tree houses for thirty years and then decide, “best two out of three?” Having just sent Napoleon to Elba, and little more for their warships to do than flex their sails around Cape Trafalgar, did a simmering resent about having been skewered by a bunch of farmers in aprons rise to the surface?
They did not fare much better in the war’s finale at the Battle of New Orleans: British losses, 2036; American losses, 21. Both parties agreed to a non-contested divorce in 1815, ushering in the “Era of Good Feelings,” which lasted three days and lay dormant until Woodstock.
Of course, the events of those three years were far more serious and I do not make light of any human loss, only my lack of knowledge of history. There were many things at play in 1812: British naval impressment of British immigrants in America, British support of Indian raids, restrictions against U.S.trade with France, an interest in annexing Canada. You get the idea. It’s always a constellation of affronts, grievances and pay-backs. Then the guns are drawn.
But between the burning of the Capital in Washington and the unsuccessful siege on Baltimore, history played out a hand on the Eastern Shore: the HMS Menelaus, a 38 gun frigate under the command of Sir Peter Parker, was ordered up the Chesapeake to create a diversion for the Command’s more nefarious plans. He anchored his ship off Fairlee and rowed his royal marines to shore for night raids.
At midnight, August 30, 1814, between Chestertown and Rock Hall, in a field of shadowy figures and muzzle flashes, a 45-minute clash between British royal marines and local militia ended 14 British lives, including that of Sir Peter Parker, captain of the Menelaus. The Kent militia suffered only wounds.
The Battle of Caulk’s Field, while no Bladensburg—a devastating strategic loss for the small American army—is, nonetheless, a unique and significant marker in the field of American History. Its memorial and past ceremonies, performed by U.S. National Guard and British Royal Marines at the battle site, have come to symbolize a mutual respect for the past and highlight a future of shared endeavors.
Here, former editor of the Kent County News Kevin Hemstock and Friends of Caulk’s Field Committee President Steve Frohock discuss the Chesapeake theatre of the War of 1812, the Battle of Caulk’s Field, Peter Parker, and the upcoming weekend of events commemorating the war’s Bicentennial.
No more a post-it note, the War of 1812 is being discovered as a full-fledged chapter in American history.
The video is approximately 15 minutes long but well worth it if you are a local history buff.
To read Kevin Hemstock’s history of Caulk’s Field and to find out more about the Bicentennial events, go here.
For books about the War of 1812: Alan Taylor, Richard Feltoe, and Ralph E. Eshelman are good places to start.
Photo by Kevin Hemstock.