First Company of Maryland Pikemen, 1807…“All able bodied young men…”

In the late summer of 1807 following the HM Frigate Leopard naval encounter with the US Frigate Chesapeake on June 22nd, off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, that prompted a near declaration of war with England, the United States and her militia prepared for a conflict that came later with a declaration of war on June 18, 1812.
One of the unusual companies raised in Baltimore was the First Company of Maryland Pikemen commanded by Robert Goodloe Harper, a prominent lawyer who later served as aide-de-camp to Brigadier General John Stricker at the Battle of North Point (Sept. 1814).
Unlike infantry companies who were trained to the use of musket and bayonet, pike-men or lansquenets as they were known in Europe during the Middle Ages, utilized a long 10-25 foot wooden tapered pole with an iron spearhead affixed that exhibited numerous advantageous as a defensive weapon. Against cavalry attacks they were more cost efficient to produce than the short bayonet – having a longer reach with the help of a strong rope that went through a ring near the tip – thus it could be pulled upwards from the base held by the ground in the face of cavalry or advancing infantry at close quarters. It is adapted to many citizens who could not otherwise afford the $20 for a musket, cartridge box, belts, and other necessary accoutrements in carrying a firearm – in all the pike proved a decided superiority.
For artillery defense the usage of pike was indispensable. If enemy cavalry sable or infantry bayonet penetrated to the site of a cannon, the cannon is lost – no cavalry would attempt forcing a body of pikemen, while infantry, the great length of the pike would ultimately win in the contest of “tug of war.”
While the idea of pikes were utilized onboard warships against boarding operations and at fixed fortifications like Fort McHenry, where pikes were used, no records of a company of pikemen were found during the War of 1812 in Maryland.
As for the First Company of Maryland Pikemen in 1807 their existence was not long and soon disbanded. Such companies would have proved a strong defensive phalanx in defending Baltimore’s Hampstead Hill had the British army made the attempt to assault on September 13, 1814. As late as 1815 a Baltimore citizen asked, Would it not be practicable, and highly expedient to raise a force of 2000 men of colour, in this city, to act as pikemen?
Sources: “On the Use of a Pike,” Federal Gazette (Baltimore), July 27, 1807; “Military Hints,” American & Commercial Daily Adv., February 11, 1815; “First Company of Maryland Pikemen,” Federal Gazette, July 27,1807.

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Published in: on February 22, 2014 at 1:38 am  Leave a Comment  

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