27 April 2015

The Baltimore Riot of 1812

"Lighthorse Harry" Lee, Revolutionary War hero
and father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee
“With no hope of flight, the trapped men were punched, kicked, and knifed in the flickering light of more candles brought in from the jailer’s room and passed overhead. Clubs swung and beat against heads, opening deep gashes and splashing blood over capes, coats, and hats… Most victims were dragged out and clubbed at the jail’s entrance by Mumma the butcher. Others were savaged by rogues waiting their turn in the street...

Hanson, Lee, Gen. James McCubbin Lingan, and half a dozen others were knocked down the prison steps and tortured as they lay in a heap of unconscious and semiconscious bodies. Their assailants used penknives to slash and poke at faces and hands. Hoodlums forced open the eyes of other victims to let burning candle-grease drip in
What's going on?  Is this a British attack on Americans?  Quite the contrary.  This account describes how pro-war Americans attacked anti-war Americans as the War of 1812 was beginning. 
In his death groans, the sixty-year-old Lingan cried out for mercy, pleading that he was old and weak. Pitifully, he reminded them how he had fought for their freedom during the Revolutionary war. His tormentors did not care at all. It made no difference that the aging general had survived a British prison-ship…

As Light-Horse Harry Lee lay battered upon the ground, someone tried to slice off his nose but succeeded only in bloodying his face. A knife aimed at Lee’s eye missed its mark and nicked open his cheek. His glorious past was of no consequence now. No one cared that Congress had turned to him to deliver the funeral oration for his friend, George Washington, whom Lee had eulogized as “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Light-Horse Harry, father of Robert E. Lee, then five, was beaten into a limp and bloody casualty for the first time in his long life as a soldier, patriot, and elected public figure…

The war with Great Britain was only forty-one days old, and the bloodletting on the soil of the United States had just begun. But all the victims and every assassin and their accomplices were Americans.
These excerpts are from a very scholarly and comprehensive book entitled The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814, by Anthony S. Pitch (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1998).  I'll have more to say about the book in later posts.  Those with an interest in the Baltimore Riots can read more at Commonplace, and can read contemporary accounts of the incidents at the University of Chicago website.

Photo of Lee found at The Whiskey Rebellion.


  1. Wow. It's hard to read this account. But it should be required reading. Freedom does have a cost. But it's not always paid by those fighting the enemy of freedom.

    (I assume you added the emphasis to the quotes...)

  2. Yes. Emphasis added for those who like to skim my posts.

  3. In the 1800's, Baltimore was known as "Mobtown" because riots were known to spontaneously erupt with great frequency.

    While this event is more heart-wrenching than other riots, it is by no means unique in 19th century B'more (although I believe it is kinda early - the bulk of the rioting came later in the century).


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