Monday, July 15, 2013

Samuel Smith of Baltimore

Sorry for the long hiatus! Summer is a busy time for archaeologists and it's sometimes hard to keep up with blogging and fieldwork at the same time. But never fear, we have several weeks of interesting history, archaeology, and other stuff coming your way. Today: getting to know Samuel Smith, hero of two wars and exceptional Marylander.

Portrait of Samuel Smith by Rembrandt Peale
The people who stepped up to fight the British during the War of 1812 were, sometimes, the same people who had already done so once before. Their names may not be widely celebrated for their service during the Revolution - after all, George Washington was basically the Michael Jordan of Revolutions, and his star power was pretty intense. No offense to GW, I'm sure he didn't mean to, but he tends to overshadow a lot of his contemporaries. Happily, he had several young officers who possessed a flinty brand of military resourcefulness that came in really handy when the British invaded Maryland again in 1814.

One of these rugged veterans was Samuel Smith, and man, this guy was a seriously tough customer.

On September 23, 1777, at the tender age of 24, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith of Maryland was given his marching orders by General Washington. Washington told Smith to take command of Fort Mifflin, between Mud and Hog Islands, on the Delaware River below Philadelphia.

"The keeping of this fort is of very great importance, and I rely on your prudence, spirit and bravery for a vigorous and persevering defense,'' Washington explained.

Forts Mifflin and Mercer, both located along the Delaware River, were of huge importance to Washington's plan to starve the British army out of newly captured Philadelphia. It’s a bit of a long story, but suffice it to say that although Smith did not ultimately succeed in defending the fort, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Even when it became apparent that the fight was lost, Smith stubbornly refused to abandon the fort. He was struck by a cannonball and grievously injured, and he STILL didn’t give up. Five days after Smith was hit with the cannonball, the fort was set on fire and finally, Smith was forcibly evacuated to New Jersey. This was a guy who understood the meaning of “a vigorous and persevering defense.”

In 1779, Smith resigned and went home to Baltimore to make a fortune as a privateer and take part in politics, but his civilian service was short-lived. In the War of 1812, he took charge of the defenses of Baltimore. The British once again fired cannons at him, and Smith was, once again, totally unfazed by that nonsense.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, British forces landed in Maryland, routed the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814, and burned Washington, D.C. The British command then decided to advance on Baltimore. Smith immediately began preparations, mobilized the militia of Baltimore, and ordered additional fortifications built. By early September, Smith had 15,000 men under his command.

The British, led by Major General Robert Ross (until his death; more on this in a later post), landed on North Point on September 12, 1814 with 4,000 soldiers and encountered a delaying force led by Brigadier General John Stricker. It would have been nice if they had been a decisively victorious force, but delaying was enough. Stricker retreated to Hampstead Hill, a fortified position east of Baltimore, where Smith had stationed thousands of militiamen. Smith foiled British attempts to execute a flanking maneuver, and then positioned his troops so that a British frontal assault would be exposed to crossfire. The British retreated on September 14th.

The British were simultaneously attempting a naval assault. Admiral Cochrane bombarded Fort McHenry throughout the day on September 13th (you’ve probably heard about this before), but McHenry and its covering forts (Covington and Babcock) resisted ably. The following day, Cochrane rejoined the troop transports holding the unsuccessful British army and left for the West Indies.

You can visit Samuel Smith’s statue today in Federal Hill. This monument was dedicated on July 4, 1918 and was created by sculptor Hans Schuler. From 1918 to 1953 the statue was located in Wyman Park at Charles and 29th Streets. It was moved in 1953 to Pratt Street and Light Street, and finally moved again in 1970 to its current location.
Do not mess with General Sam Smith
Smith is also remembered on the city’s Battle Monument, located on North Calvert Street between East Fayette and East Lexington Streets.

So, after he finished defending Baltimore, and America, from the British, Sam Smith retired to his country home, Montebello, where he pottered around and dabbled in beekeeping for the rest of his days.

Just kidding. Smith liked to stay busy. According to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, this is a rundown of his activities before, during, and after the War of 1812:
 attended a private academy; engaged in mercantile pursuits; served in the Revolutionary War as captain, major, and lieutenant colonel; engaged in the shipping business; member, State house of delegates 1790-1792; at the time of the threatened war with France in 1794 was appointed brigadier general of militia and commanded Maryland’s quota during the Whisky Rebellion; during the War of 1812 served as major general of militia in the defense of Baltimore; elected to the Third and to the four succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1793-March 3, 1803); did not seek renomination in 1802, having become a candidate for Senator; chairman, Committee on Commerce and Manufactures (Fifth through Seventh Congresses); elected as a Democratic Republican to the United States Senate in 1802; reelected in 1808 and served from March 4, 1803, to March 3, 1815; served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Ninth and Tenth Congresses; elected to the Fourteenth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Nicholas R. Moore; reelected to the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Congresses and served from January 31, 1816, to December 17, 1822, when he resigned, having been elected Senator; chairman, Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Treasury (Fourteenth Congress), Committee on Ways and Means (Fifteenth through Seventeenth Congresses); elected in 1822 as a Democratic Republican (later Crawford Republican and Jacksonian) to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of William Pinkney; reelected in 1826 and served from December 17, 1822, to March 3, 1833; served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Twentieth and Twenty-first Congresses; chairman, Committee on Finance (Eighteenth through Twenty-second Congresses); mayor of Baltimore, Md., 1835-1838; retired from public life; died in Baltimore, April 22, 1839; interment in the Old Westminster Burying Ground.
Even this fairly exhaustive summary of Smith's exploits fails to do him justice. What they don't mention here is Smith organized yet another militia effort in 1835, to help stop the Baltimore Bank Riots. He was 83 years old at the time, and he still did not put up with nonsense. He marched out of his house and took over as Mayor before the entire city government could succumb to an angry mob. After all, how can a simple mob intimidate you when you've been hit with a cannonball and survived?  

Samuel Smith always strikes me as someone who ought to be better known, and more appreciated, than he is. So, spread the word and maybe Samuel Smith's legacy will one day equal his contributions to the country in general and the State of Maryland in particular. 

BEFORE YOU GO: We invite your contributions and questions! Know anyone who's doing 1812-ish archaeology? Let them know that we'd love to have a post about their work. 

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