“ A Lost Opportunity”: Colonel Jacint Laval & the U.S. Light Dragoons at Bladensburg, August 1814.

In March 1814 Colonel Jacint Laval (1762-1822) took command of the reorganized 1st Regiment of U.S. Light Dragoons at Carlisle, Pa., Since taking command Colonel Lavall had organized, equipped, instructed and mounted his new recruits, some still without horses. On 20 July he was ordered with his two troops of horse (130 men) to Washington leaving Carlisle, Pa., on August 15.  

The two captains under his command were Captains James A. Burd and William M. Littlejohn.  They reached Montgomery Courthouse on August 18 and were ordered by US Brigadier General William Winder to report to Brigadier General Tobias Stansbury of Maryland’s 11th Brigade from Baltimore. On August 20 at 10 a.m., Laval moved across the Eastern Branch Bridge SW of Washington towards Woodyard and Nottingham, Maryland to reconnoiter the advancing British troops under Maj. Gen. Robert Ross.

With the British pressing forward inlarge numbers  Colonel Laval and his troop re-crossed the bridge on August 23 at 11 p.m., much fatigue from counter-movements, hunger and the horses needing water. Like General Stansbury brigade they were maneuvering constantly for three days until returning to Bladensburg only four hours before the battle began.

Laval’s Own Words, the Battle of Bladensburg on 24 August 1814 – “My command consisted of two troops, incomplete, & making in all about one hundred & thirty men, newly mounted. We arrived at Bladensburg nearly at the same time with the enemy, my orders were to report to the General Commanding [William H. Winder], nothing further. My troops were assigned a station in a ravine, which from its crooked situation and depth, it required my leaving to see the enemy. I came out and sat on my horse on the top of the front bank with one of my officers, Lieutenant Brahm, watching an opportunity to dispose of the men to the best advantage. Shortly after, a confusion took place throughout the field, during which one of my captains, his officers and eighty men were disposed or otherwise without my knowledge. So that when I expected to be supported by my whole command, I found it reduced to abut 50 men, with Captain [James A.] Burd and his officers, in a disappointment equal to my situation. What I had planned for 130 men, could not be affected with 50, they nearly all recruits and mounted about 10 days. What could have been done with such a force, under such circumstances, I leave an impartial public to decide. They army had left us, we retreated in order, and arrived at the Capitol where we found not the army as expected….”

So it was that Col. Laval’s two troops of horse were never brought to bear upon the British at a crucial period of the battle – a timely misjudgment on the part of the general staff on the field and an opportunity lost.

Afterwards Lavall followed the Stansbury’s brigade back to Baltimore in time to actually engaged the British in a rear guard action on September 14, 1814 following their removal from Baltimore capturing several soldiers. On 31 October 1814 Lt. Colonel Laval’s dragoons saw their last Maryland action at the skirmish of Kirby’s Windmill, Anne Arundel County on 31 October 1814 in which 300 British Marines and seamen were forced to return to their barges and pull out to the safety of their ships in the bay.

After the war Laval held the post of military storekeeper at the Harpers Ferry Armory, Virginia from May 1821 until his death in 1822. He is buried in Shepherdstown, Jefferson County, (West) Virginia.

Sources: Jacint Laval was born in France and later served as a Cornet of Dragoons in the French army under General Jean-Baptist Rochambeau, Marshal of France in 1780-81 during the American Revolution at Yorktown, Va. Soon thereafter he became an American citizen and enlisted in the U.S. Regiment of Light Dragoons then being organized; 3 May 1809, captain; 15 February 1809, Major; 7 June 1813, lieutenant colonel, and finally colonel on 1 August 1813; Daily National Intelligencer (D.C.), April 24, 1816; “Capture of the City of Washington,” American State Papers, Military Affairs, 23 September 1814, 569-571.

 

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Published in: on August 13, 2012 at 1:49 am  Leave a Comment  

August-September 1814: Lieutenant-General Rowland Hill (1772-1842)

General Rowland Hill

By August of 1814 there were numerous reports of additional 8-15,000 fresh regiments on their way to America, destined as rumors spread, for the Chesapeake to join Major General Robert Ross. To command was to be Lieutenant-General Rowland Hill, the Duke of Wellington’s most trusted officer and like General Ross veteran of the Peninsula campaigns. Hill was held in high esteem by his officer corps as well as the soldiers.

At a London dinner General Hill suggested such a command would be “sufficient to chastise the Yankees, and bring the war to a speedy termination.” Hill though had not desired the appointment “though it will be politic to keep up the idea of a large force going to America.” On 10 August Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State in London informed Hill that it was not to be. However before news would arrive in America the Battle of Bladensburg would have been fought and an attack on Baltimore eminent. The Niles Weekly Register informed its readers on 24 August that Lord Hill was to have “more fresh regiments on the way.”

Baltimore, fearful for a second assault, despite the repulse of the British on 14 September made preparations for a British military reinforcement expedition that never came to be. By 17 September Admiral Cochrane was still expecting reinforcements. Writing to Lord Melville “…the ball is at our feet, – and give me but Six thousand Men – Including a Rifle and Cavalry Regt., and I will engage to master every Town South of Philadelphia and keep the Whole Coast in such a State of Alarm, as soon to bring the Most Obstinate upon their Marrow bones.”  Such were the rumors of the day. Smith kept the militia at Baltimore until 15 November just in case.

Sources: The Life of Lord Hill, G.C.B. Late Commander of the Forces by Edwin Sidney (London: John Murray, 1845); Baltimore Patriot, October 15, 26, 1814.

Published in: on January 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

August 1814: In Want of: Muskets vs. Rifles

On August 15, 1814 in a letter to Lt. Colonel Edward Lloyd, 9th Cavalry District of “Wye House” Maryland Eastern Shore,  Brigadier General William Henry Winder newly appointed commander of the 10th Military District (Maryland. District of Columbia to the Rappannock River (Va.,) on the subject of the want of rifles for the various companies in his district  gave the following:

“There are several rifle companies of this district without arms at all fit for service & since I have received the command of the 10th Military District I have made application to procure them rifles but the number of that arms on hand in the public stores is not sufficient for the supply of the recruits for the regular rifle regiments and the Secretary of War is therefore unable to draw from the stock  given his opinion “that muskets would be much better and more effective for your purpose than rifles,” assigning the accuracy of aim which renders them servicable; the greater range of the musket; the more rapid fire of the latter; it is lighter; requires cleaning less frequently and is adapted to different classes of movements. The advantage of the bayonet is also refered to. Supposses Maryland can supply muskets; if she cannot he will endeavor to supply them from the stores of the United States.”

The want of rifles prompted the two companies of the 1st Battalion of Maryland Riflemen under Major William Pickney, Sr. to enter the Bladensburg battle with only muskets and not the popular arms their battalion name emplies. Given the excited state of military affairs with the expected arrival of a large British invasion fleet and the mobilization of the militia and distribution of arms and supplies many militia were withoutout arms and in the end a want of disciplined resistance to the British on the field of battle.  

Source: William H. Winder Papers, Maryland Historical Society

Published in: on December 12, 2011 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bladensburg Memorial, 1819

In the summer of 1819 a traveller on the road to Bladensburg near the spot where Commodore Joshua Barney’s flotillamen made their stand he came across a 4-mile stone marker, whom he supposed was “to be a monument of that event.”  To his surprize upon the flat stone he saw written with charcoal the following lines. Fearing they would be erased by the weather he wrote the stone’s following inscription:

HERE – fought Commodore Barney,

so nobly and so gallantly,

Against Britain’s sons and slavery,

For a fighting man was he!

THERE – did General Winder flee,

His infantry and cavalry,

(Disgracing the cause of liberty),

For a writing man was he!

July 20th 1819

*  *  *  *  *

Source: City of Washington Gazette, July 23, 1819

Published in: on November 29, 2011 at 2:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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