A Letter Home: Rear-Admiral Pulteney Malcolm, RN., to his wife Clementia, 10-16, September 1814.

Sir Pulteney Malcolm

Sir Pulteney Malcolm. Painted by Samuel Lane. Engraved by Wm. Ward, engraver to His Majesty

During the Battle for Baltimore, 12-14 September 1814, Rear-Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm (1768-1838), admiral of the Blue Squadron on board HM ship-of-the-line Royal Oak was anchored off North Point the embarkation site of the British army ten miles below Fort McHenry. At the time he began his letter, making additions as the days passed, the British fleet of 50 warships proceeded up the Chesapeake from their naval base at Tangier Island,Virginia towards Baltimore. Malcolm was third in command at Baltimore following Vice-Admiral Alexander I.F. Cochrane and Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn.

“…we are now going to Baltimore – my principle objection is the sickly season, and its being to[o] short for a Coup de Main – I wish that we had gone to the North for two months and then returned – the Americans in general are very averse to the war[.] they have nothing to do to animate them, and their only pleasure is railing at each other, which they do to perfection – the wind is fair and I shall be at the mouth of the Patapsco [River] to night. I trust we shall succeed, but I fear our information is not sufficiently correct the Admiral [Cochrane] has been over persuaded to change his plan of directions – and I think so has has [sic] the General [Ross] by [Rear Admiral] Cockburn and the Quarter Master General, both dashing, sanguine Men, full of Zeal and enterprise but sail rather fast.

 16th Sept. – We landed on the 12th fourteen miles from Baltimore at North point – I took leave of the General about five or six miles on the road, at two o’clock – at three the Enemy were discovered and just as our Troops were formed an unfortunate Ball struck my esteemed and gallant friend – the only words he spoke – were [“]take me to the Royal Oak and if I die request the Admiral to write my wife,[”] I sincerely lament him[.] I had formed a strong friendship for him and it was reciprocal[.] he was not only a brave, but he was a good man[.]

he was always in the front, at Washington he escaped by miracle, he had two Horses shot under him…. he died on his way to the beach in the arms of a Lieut of the Royal Oak who had always accompanied him, I have had his Body preserved, and we propose burying him at Hallifax and erecting a Monument.

 Our Army defeated the Americans but on their approach to Baltimore they found it defended by a strong entrenched Camp with double their numbers to defend it – we had got within shot of the Batteries – but they had sunk ships to prevent our approach – our Bombs could only throw Shells into the Forts[.] they could not reach the Town – Sir. A. Cochrine [Cochrane] was in the [frigate] Surprise and your friend in the Sea Horse with [Captain James] Gordon as fine a fellow as ever step’d[.]

It became a question wither the Camp should be stormed – it was considered that we might force the works, but that our loss would be more than our little Army could stand – it was therefore resolved to retreat which they did and embarked without molestation – If the General had lived he would have retreated, and there is only this to be said that on approaching Baltimore it was found to[o] strong and we [gave up] the enterprise having beat a superior force on the road – My own opinion it that if it had be[en] attacked in the night by the Bayonet it should have succeeded but it was a greater risk than Col. [Arthur] Brooke was authorized to run – he is a very good officer, we have not lost many men – they all did their duty famously – the Seamen were particularly-steady – six hundred of them were on shore

 …. I begin to hold up my head, but this war must not continue[.] we should make Peace as soon as possible[.] I shall write you by the Packet my kind Love…ever yours Pult. Malcolm

This excerpt is from a wonderful letter in the collections of the Maryland State Archives and is an illuminating insight to our understanding of the Battle for Baltimore and the death of General Ross. The letter was acquired by the Archives as a gift from the Friends of Maryland State Archives made possible by Robert Gordon. The transcription was provided by Maria Day and Jean Russo.

Further evidence concerning the death of Major General Ross that corresponds with the above discovery is from the Captain’s Log of HMS Royal Oak that states on September 12: “At 9 p.m. Lieut. Haynes came on board with the body of Major General Ross Killed in Action with the enemy near Baltimore. Midnight Moderate and Cloudy.”  The lieutenant the letter refers to was a Lieutenant Haynes.

The next day September 13: “…Expended 129 Gallons of Rum to preserve the Corpse of Major General Ross. Midnight. Moderate and Cloudy.” 

SOURCE:  SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Fort McHenry Bombardment Collection) Rear-Admiral Pulteney Malcolm, Near Baltimore, at sea,  Letter to Mrs. [Clementia] Malcolm, No. 2 Upper Harley St., London, Sept 10-16, 1814,  MSA SC 5968-1-1.;  “A Log of the Proceedings of H.M. Ship Royal Oak, Joseph Pearce, Esq. Captain between the 6th September 1814 and 6th March 1815.”  (ADM 51/2760, , Captains Log, HMS Royal Oak, Public Records Office, The National Archives).

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Published in: on October 18, 2011 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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