BLADENSBURG, Maryland –The National Capitol Region, the area encompassing the limestone monuments and structures of the central hub of democratic leadership known as Washington.
Only two centuries ago, the small, Southern Maryland town of Bladensburg was in the War of 1812. Marines, soldiers, sailors and militiamen tried to hold off more than 4,000 hardened British troops.
“Only 500 hundred men served in the [Marine] Corps,” said Gunnery Sgt. Thomas E. Williams, a retired Marine and the Director of the United States Marine Corps Historical Company. “The commandant was a lieutenant colonel, and the Marines who fought there were one quarter of the entire fighting force.”
They fought off the British for two hours giving the citizens and political leaders in Washington the opportunity to flee and save official documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. After the American forces at Bladensburg were defeated, the capital burned as British forces tried to destroy a young United States.
It is commonly accepted by history that the actions of the Marines led to the British forces sparing the Marine Corps Commandants’ Home and Marine Barracks Washington at 8th & I from the fires, which engulfed other federal building.
“Although the Battle of Bladensburg ended in defeat, the accomplishments of the United States Marines, along with the naval battalion, was iconic,” Williams said. “The standing courage and esprit de corps of the Marines, who were involved here, was one of those deciding moments in Marine Corps history.”
Esprit de corps is defined as a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty shared by the members of a particular group. This concept to Marines is what holds many a battle-hardened unit together.
“Part of what I think is important to being a Marine is esprit de corps, and part of that piece is knowing our history,” said Brig. Gen. William F. Mullen, Jr., the Director of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command’s Development Directorate.
A memorial titled, “Undaunted in Battle” was dedicated to these brave Americans for their actions during the Battle of Bladensburg outside of the Bladensburg Waterfront Park, Maryland August 23, 2014.
The monument, designed and sculpted by Joanna Blake, features a bronze sculpture of the end of the battle. It depicts a wounded Commodore Joshua Barney, commander of the Chesapeake Flotilla, Charles Ball, a freed slave and flotilla man, and an unnamed Marine, in honor of the Marines who fought to the bitter end trying to repel British forces.
“I was the Marine they actually chose to be the model for the Marine depicted on the statue,” Thomas said. “She made me quite a bit prettier than I actually am.”
The rainy Saturday morning of the monument dedication was vastly different from the 100-degree temperature when American forces fought in wool uniforms to try to hold back the British.
“This is one place where we were Semper Fidelis—We were always faithful,” Mullen said. “We could have taken off, but we didn’t.”
“We stood there and held our ground for a little while and gave people down in Washington time to do what they needed to do.”
The President’s Own, United States Marine Corps Band provided the music for the event, honoring those who played before them during the War of 1812.
“Everyone had to fight during this war,” Thomas said. “History shows that even the band had to drop their instruments and pick up their rifles.”
The ceremony attracted a crowd from all countries involved in the War of 1812. British, Canadian and United States Armed Services representatives participated in a wreathe laying ceremony at the monument.
“I was invited to come up on behalf of the Marine Corps and participate in the wreathe laying,” Mullen said. “I am a big history buff and have read quite a bit about the War of 1812.
“I have driven past a few times and have always thought I should stop. The opportunity came up and I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
The actions of the Corps during the war of 1812 played a large part in the drafting of the Marine Act of 1834. Congress resolved confusion surrounding the 1798 act, which although creating a post Revolutionary War Marine Corps left the Marines small and with an unclear chain of higher command. The act of 1834 established the Marine Corps as a service answering to naval regulations on land and at sea.
“The War of 1812 set the standard for who we are today,” Thomas said. “This War started the concept of us by land and by sea.”
“The company out of Marine Barracks Washington, during this war, became the first true force in readiness for rapid deployment on land as well as for sea going operations.
Marines and other service members stationed in the National Capital Region have many opportunities to visit many battlefields on United States soil where their predecessors served and many sacrificed everything for America.
“For all Marines, history is important,” Thomas said. “Understanding where we came from and the Marines, who wore that uniform for the last 238 years.
“We are who we are today because of what they have done. We build off that and every generation since has stood on the shoulders of these Marines.”