Battery Babcock, 1813-1814

“I deem it absolutely necessary top erect a small Battery, south of the [powder] Magazine on the [Patapsco]river bank. It mounted six 18-pounder French naval guns behind a four foot high breastwork with a powder magazine in the rear covered with earth.”  Maj. General Samuel Smith, May 1813.

Known as the Six Gun Battery or the Sailor’s Battery, this  half-eliptical earthen gun battery built of sod, was located one and a half miles west of Fort McHenry upon the shores of the Patapsco Ferry Branch, southwest of present day Riverside Park in South Baltimore.

The U.S. was not willing to provide the expense of erecting it, so the City of Baltimore hired Captain Samuel Babcock, U.S. Engineers to lay out a plan requiring twenty or thirty men to dig the foundation. By the summer of 1813 it was completed and was garrisoned  by a company of  U.S. Sea Fencibles under Capt. William H. Addison. In September 1814 during the Battle for Baltimore, Sailing Master John Adams Webster (1786-1877) commanded the battery with seventy-five sailors from the U.S. Chesapeake Flotilla.   His 1853 account  provides a detailed report on the heroic occurences that took place on the night of September 13-14, 1814 when Battery Babcock, Forts Covington and McHenry, repulsed a  British barge offensive, the last action of the Battle for Baltimore.

“…Day and night we were on the alert, until hope was nearly extinct, when on the night of the 13th, about eleven o’clock, the bomb vessels appeared to renew their fire with redoubled energy. It was raining quite fast, and cold for the season. The rapid discharge of the bombs from the enemy’s shipping excited great vigilance among my officers and men. I had the cannon double shotted with 18-pound balls and grape shot and took a blanket and laid on the breastworks, as I was much exhausted.  About midnight I could hear a splashing in the water.The attention of the others was aroused and we were convinced it was the noise of the muffled oars of the British barges. Very soon afterwards we could discern small gleaming lights in different places. I felt sure then that it was the barges, which at that time were not more than two hundred yards off…”

Battery Babcock  soon thereafter opened its fire upon the barges, along with nearby Forts Look-Out, McHenry and Covington. Captain Charles Napier,RN commanding the British flotilla of barges, caught in a whethering cross-fire, soon retreated to the fleet having lost two barges in the attempt. However he had done his duty in providing “a diversion” for the land forces before Hampstead Hill for a midnight assault that never, though planned, materilized. 

In 1914 during the centennial celebration of the battle, a 6-pounder cannon was mounted near the original site on a granite stone monument pedestal.

Sources: The battery site, no longer extant, is located under the I-95 southern approach to the Fort McHenry Tunnel. Samuel Smith to the Committee of Public Supplies, May 4, 1813, Baltimore City Archives, RG 22; John A. Webster to Mayor Brantz, July 2, and August 10, 1853, The [Baltimore] Sun, Sept. 23, 1928. The British Invasion of Maryland, 1812-1815 by William M. Marine (Baltimore: 1913, reprinted by Genealogical Pub. Co., 1977), 177-181.

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Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for providing a name for this important monument to my family. Sailing Master Webster was my Great, Great, Great Grandfather. We recently visited Baltimore for the Sailabration but did not come upon this site until later

    • Wonderful, I’m so proud of you for following up, and for seeing an account verifying what we’ve always held as a family legend.
      Love Dad.


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