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Chesapeake Bay Flotilla

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Title: Chesapeake Bay Flotilla  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: War of 1812, Raid on Alexandria, Battle of Craney Island, Raid on Havre de Grace, Chesapeake Bay
Collection: Chesapeake Bay, Naval Battles of the War of 1812, Ship Squadrons of the United States Navy
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Chesapeake Bay Flotilla

Chesapeake Bay Flotilla
Part of War of 1812
Date April, 1814 - February 15, 1815
Location Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, Washington DC, Baltimore
 United States United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Joshua Barney Sir George Cockburn
Sir John Warren
Alexander Cochrane
Robert Ross

19 Ships:
Seven 75-foot (23 m) barges
Six 50-foot (15 m) barges
Two gunboats
One row-galley
One lookout boat and his flagship
One 49-foot (15 m) sloop-rigged
One self-propelled floating battery USS Scorpion,

mounting two long guns and two carronades

96 Ships:
11 ships of the line
34 frigates

52 other vessels
Casualties and losses
Scuttling and burning of Flotilla vessels

The Chesapeake Bay Flotilla was a collection of barges and gunboats that the United States assembled under the command of Joshua Barney, an 1812 privateer captain, to stall British attacks in the Chesapeake Bay, during the War of 1812. The Flotilla engaged the Royal Navy in several inconclusive battles before Barney was forced to scuttle the vessels themselves on August 22, 1814. The men of the Flotilla then served onshore in the defense of Washington, DC and Baltimore. It was disbanded on February 15, 1815, after the end of the war.


  • Formation 1
  • Flotillamen crews 2
  • Operations 3
    • Battle of St. Jerome Creek 3.1
    • Battle of St. Leonard's Creek 3.2
    • Battle of Queen Anne 3.3
    • Battle of Bladensburg 3.4
    • Battle of Baltimore 3.5
  • Flotilla disbanded 4
  • Archeology 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Joshua Barney submitted a plan for the defense of the Chesapeake Bay to Secretary of the Navy William Jones on 4 July 1813. He estimated that a force consisting of gunboats and barges that could be sailed or rowed, manned by sailors and those in the shipbuilding industries, could engage British landing parties in the shallow waters of the Bay.[1] He set sail in April 1814 with these eighteen ships: seven 75-foot (23 m) barges, six 50-foot (15 m) barges, two gunboats, one row-galley, one lookout boat and his flagship, the 49-foot (15 m) sloop-rigged, self-propelled floating battery USS Scorpion, mounting two long guns and two carronades.

Flotillamen crews

The Flotillamen, totaling 4,370 men, at their largest, were motley crews, composed, mainly, of U.S. Navy sailors, merchant seamen, Chesapeake Bay watermen, privateers, free negros, and runaway slaves. Later, when they became shipless and on the march, from Benedict, Maryland, a battalion, of 700 marines, from the Washington Navy Yard, would join them, as they moved north to defend the Capital and make an abortive stand at Bladensburg, against the rapid British advance.


Battle of St. Jerome Creek

On June 1, 1814, Barney's flotilla, led by Scorpion, were coming down Chesapeake Bay when it encountered the 12-gun schooner HMS St Lawrence (the former Baltimore privateer Atlas), and boats from the 74-gun Third Rates HMS Dragon and HMS Albion near St. Jerome Creek. The flotilla pursued St Lawrence and the boats until they reached the protection of the two 74s. The American flotilla then retreated into the Patuxent River, which the British quickly blockaded. The British outnumbered Barney by 7:1, forcing the flotilla on June 7 to retreat into St. Leonard's Creek. Two British frigates, the 38-gun Loire and the 32-gun Narcissus, plus the 18-gun sloop-of-war HMS  Jasseur, blockaded the mouth of the creek. The creek was too shallow for the British warships to enter; the flotilla outgunned, and hence was able to fend off, the boats from the British ships.

Battles continued through June 10. The British, frustrated by their inability to flush Barney out of his safe retreat, instituted a "campaign of terror," laying waste to "town and farm alike" and plundering and burning Calverton, Huntingtown, Prince Frederick, Benedict and Lower Marlboro.[2] Among the British units that participated in the campaign were a battalion of Royal Marines and the Corps of Colonial Marines, a unit that the British had recruited from among former American slaves.

Battle of St. Leonard's Creek

On June 26, after the arrival of troops commanded by U.S. Army Colonel Decius Wadsworth, and U.S. Marine Captain Samuel Miller, Barney attempted a breakout. A simultaneous attack from land and sea on the blockading frigates at the mouth of St. Leonard's creek allowed the flotilla to move out of the creek and up-river to Benedict, Maryland, though Barney had to scuttle gunboats 137 and 138 in the creek. The British entered the then-abandoned creek and burned the town of St. Leonard, Maryland.[2][2]

The British, under the command of Queen Anne, and scuttle the vessels should the British appear. On 22 August the British approached the Flotilla, and Barney ordered its destruction. He then force-marched the men from the flotilla and such cannons as were movable, to Washington D.C. where they were to join the Battle of Bladensburg.

Three active battalions of the Regular Army (1-4 Inf, 2-4 Inf and 3-4 Inf) perpetuate the lineages of the old 36th and 38th Infantry Regiments, both of which had elements that participated in the Battle of St. Leonard's Creek.

Battle of Queen Anne

On August 22, the British attempted to capture Barney's squadron at Queen Anne. In his report of the affair, the tactical commander, Admiral Sir George Cockburn wrote:

Battle of Bladensburg

On August 24, Barney and the flotilla participated in the Battle of Bladensburg. The Flotilla stood their ground and the British suffered heavy casualties at the hands of Barney’s cannoneers. Barney received a serious wound to his thigh from a musket ball and since they were about to be overwhelmed by British regulars, ordered the Flotilla to retreat. The Flotilla, along with the United States Marines from the Marine Corps Barracks at 8th and I Streets in Washington, D.C., commanded by Lt. Miller, were the last two American units to leave the battlefield.

Battle of Baltimore

Approximately 500 of the flotilla men then marched to Baltimore, joining others there, and were assigned to the U.S. Naval Command Second Regiment. They manned the following posts in the defense of Baltimore:

Position Officer in Command Men at Position
Battery Babcock Sailing Master John Webster 50 Men
Gun Barges Lt. Solomon Rutter 338 Men
Lazaretto Battery Lt. Solomon Frazier 45 Men
Ft Mchenry Water Battery Solomon Rodman 60 Men
Lazaretto Barracks ------- 114 Men

The Flotilla manned these positions throughout the Battle of Baltimore, pitting sailor against sailor in fighting the British Fleet. The Flotilla inflicted numerous casualties on the attacking British ships, especially during the attempted night assault on Battery Babcock by a Royal Marine landing party. Lt. Col. David Harris reported that Charles Messenger was killed in action at the Water Battery, and three other flotilla men wounded.

Flotilla disbanded

After the Battle of Baltimore, the Flotilla did not participate in any further engagements. On February 15, 1815, Congress repealed the, short lived, Flotilla Act and the Flotilla was officially, disbanded.[4]


In 1978, a survey of the upper Patuxent River using a proton precession magnetometer located the fleet. Further study of the wrecks, including one vessel dubbed the Turtle Shell Wreck', followed in 1979. The Turtle Shell was lying in the main river channel near Wayson's Corner, and covered by five feet of mud, the ship was well preserved, although it appeared the bow was torn off in an explosion.[2]

When the new Route 4 Hills Bridge was built in 1990, remnants of Barney's ships were found buried more than five feet below the riverbed.

A replica of one of Joshua Barney's gunboats today sits in Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Bladensburg, Maryland.


  1. ^ Manacle,Rick+Brian Auer
  2. ^ a b c d Shomette, Donald (1982). Shipwrecks on the Chesapeake. Centreville, Maryland: Tidewater Publishers. pp. 87–93.  
  3. ^ "Cockburn to Cochrane, August 22, 1814, Cockburn Papers, XXIV". 22 August 1814. 
  4. ^ Rick Mancacle

External links

  • [2]
  • Joshua Barney's Chesapeake Bay Flotilla
  • The Road to Washington
  • The Scorpion - Dictionary of American Fighting Ships
  • Riverine Warfare: The U.S. Navy's Operations on Inland Waters
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