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Casebook: The War of 1812
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Maj. Gen. Robert Ross
Maj. Gen. Robert Ross
 Maj. Gen. Robert Ross 
Ross, Maj. Gen. Robert
b. 1766 - d. September 12th, 1814

Nationality: British

Allegiance: British

Category: Soldier

Summary:

   Ross was born in Dublin in 1766, the son of Major David Ross, a veteran of the Seven Years War. He joined the British Army as an ensign in the 25th Foot in 1789, became a lieutenant in the Seventh Fusiliers in 1791 and a captain four years later. In 1799, he joined the 20th (East Devonshire Foot) as a major. It was in the 20th Foot that he would make his reputation. He took part in the expedition to Holland under the Duke of York in 1799 and was severely wounded at the First Battle of Bergen that September. Breveted a lieutenant colonel, he was sent to Egypt in 1801 and participated in the capture of Alexandria. Always intent on disciplining his men, this work paid off in 1806 when Colonel Ross led the 20th Foot into battle at Maida in Calabria, southern Italy, turning the battle in favor of the British under the leadership of Sir John Stuart. This action led to Ross earning his first gold medal.

Elevated to the full rank of lieutenant colonel, Ross and his regiment were sent to the Iberian peninsula. The commander and his men distinguished themselves during the retreat from Coruna under Sir John Moore in 1808 earning Ross a second gold medal. He was breveted a full colonel in 1810 and spent time reorganizing and drilling his troops in Ireland. Ross and the regiment were then sent back to Spain to take part in the final offensive organized by the Duke of Wellington. Elevated to the rank of brigadier general in Spring 1813, Ross solidified his reputation as a brigade commander. The 20th Foot distinguished themselves at Pamploma and Sorauren, where Ross had two mounts shot out from under him. On February 27, 1814, Ross was severely wounded in the jaw during the Battle of Orthez, He had barely recoved from this wound when he was given the duty of leading the expedition to the Chesapeake in May 1814, a duty for which he was personally chosen by fellow Irishman the Duke of Wellington.

Ross arrived in the Chesapeake in mid-August with the 4th, 21st, 44th, and 85th Regiments of Foot. Once these troops were added to the Royal Marines provided by commander-in-chief Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, Ross could call on around 4,000 troops for operations against the Americans.

Following a plan suggested by Rear Admiral George Cockburn, Ross and his troops landed at Benedict on the Patuxent on August 19-20, while Cockburn took a flotilla of small boats up the river to search out and destroy a U.S. flotilla commanded by Commodore Joshua Barney. On August 24, Ross successfully routed the Americans at Bladensburg. Although the U.S. commander Brigadier General William H. Winder, U.S. Army, commanded a numerically superior force of around 6,000 troops, they were mainly militia, with around 200 U.S. Army regulars and 400 sailors and U.S. Marines under Commodore Joshua Barney. The troops, moreover, were poorly deployed by Winder. The first American line, made up of Baltimore militia, was deployed just west of the bridge over the Eastern Branch of the Potomac. Ross sent the 85th Regiment under Colonel William Thornton to storm the bridge and after one unsuccessful attempt, the Redcoats succeeded in reaching the other bank of the river. They then began to push back the militia. Winder made the fatal mistake of telling the militia to fall back along the Georgetown Road instead of along the Washington Road where they could link up with Barney's sailors and marines and the District of Columbia militia. When Thornton was seriously wounded attacking Barney's battery, Ross took personal control of the British advance, and successfully outflanked the commodore's position. Barney was wounded and captured but given parole.

Ross led his troops into the capital, Washington, D.C., and he lost the second of his mounts for the day when shots rang out near the Capitol building. This led to a two-day occupation of the city, during which the U.S. Capitol and the Presidential mansion and other buildings were burned allegedly in retaliation for the American burning of the government buildings of York (now Toronto), the capital of Upper Canada, at the end of April 1813. Ross and his troops vacated the city during the night of August 25 and the Redcoats marched back to Benedict. When he reached the shipping, Ross was annoyed to hear that Dr. William Beanes, an Upper Marlboro physician who had entertained Ross and his officers in his home and allowed the British commander to use his house as headquarters, had arrested some British stragglers. He ordered Beanes's arrest which led to the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key who later came out to the British fleet to negotiate the doctor's release and ended up witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Ross was persuaded by Admiral Cockburn and his quartermaster general, Lieutenant George de Lacy Evans, to attempt an attack on Baltimore, known by the British since the days of the Revolution as "a nest of pirates" for its strong privateering industry. The British fleet thus ascended the Bay and reached the mouth of the Patapsco on Sunday, September 11.

The troops began landing from the troopships in Old Roads Bay on the morning of September 12. While Colonel Arthur Brooke superintended the landing of the remaining troops, Ross and Cockburn rode ahead around 7:00 a.m. and breakfasted at the Gorsuch farm. and an unfinished trench the Americans had begun across the peninsula. Here, Ross questioned three American militia dragoons that the British had taken prisoner. Mr. Gorsuch reportedly asked the general if he would be returning for supper. Ross is said to have replied, "I will sup in Baltimore tonight, or in hell!" The American prisoners told the general that there were twenty thousand militiamen in the entrenchments of Baltimore. Ross allegedly replied, "I don't care if it rains militia." Ross's remark about the supposedly inept American militia would cost him dearly. Just after noon, he would be struck down by a bullet in a skirmish near the present-day Aquila Randall monument on Old North Point Road. The British had not counted on the fact that, unlike at Washington, the militia would come out to seek them out. The U.S. commander in Baltimore, Major General Samuel Smith had ordered Brigadier General John Stricker to march down to North Point with 3,200 militiamen the previous day. Ross was struck down in a skirmish between his advance troops and men of the Fifth Regiment of Maryland Militia. On hearing of the general's incapacity, Brooke took over command of the troops. In the Battle of North Point, the two forces exchanged volleys for around an hour when Stricker was forced to retreat, but at a cost to the Redcoats.

Ross, reportedly shot through the lungs, died while being transported on a wagon back to the ships. His body was taken to Halifax for burial. After his death, the British government gave his descendents the title "Ross of Bladensburg" in recognition of his achievements at Bladensburg and Washington. A monument to him may be seen above the crypt in St. Paul's Cathedral, London. In his native village of Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, a one-hundred foot granite obelisk stands on the shoreline. There are plans to restore the monument and feature it on an Irish American culture trail. Another memorial to the general is in the parish church of Kilbroney, Rostrevor.

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Related pages:
  Ross, Robert
       Battles: Battle of Baltimore 
       Battles: Battle of Bladensburg 
       Dissertations: 'Chastising Jonathan': British Views of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake 
       Documents: Brig. Gen. John Stricker to Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith: Report on the Battle of North Point 
       People: Lt. George R. Gleig 
       People: Rear Adm. George Cockburn 

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