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Delmarva Heritage Series

* Battle Of Caulk's Field

Salisbury Times - November 14, 1962

In the summer of 1814, when the War of 1812 was drawing to a close, the British undertook what might have been considered a major campaign in the Chesapeake Bay region. When the main units of the British force moved up the Patuxent River for an attack on Washington, the frigate Menelaus with several smaller vessels, under the command of Sir Peter Parker, was sent to

the northern area of the bay. This was done primarily to draw attention of the people of that region from the principal objective.

Sir Peter Parker, on Aug. 20, approached Rock Hill, where he sent ashore several marauding parties. After that they sailed up to Worton Point which was shelled, and a detachment landed to burn some more buildings. On Aug 30th a landing was made at Fairlee, where more buildings where destroyed and a few slaves sized.

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JUST AFTER midnight on Aug. 31st another landing was made with 260 men, under the command of Sir Peter Parker, assisted by Capt Henry Crease and Lieut. Pearce. Led by one of the captured slaves they planned to attack Col. Phillip Reed's 21st Regiment of 175 men, who were encamped about a mile from the shore and nine miles from Chestertown.

The details of the engagement are somewhat confused, because naturally there were two "official" reports of what transpired-the American report and the British report. There is a wide difference in these reports, especially as to relative strength of the opposing forces. Without becoming lost in two arguments, the following narrative is generally accepted as to what happened on that day in August, 1814

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AFTER A night of dancing and drinking, the Britishers made their move to attack, taking a circuitous route with the hope of preventing any retreat or escape of American soldiers. But in the meantime, Col. Reed, a man of considerable military experience, learned of the advancing enemy and their plans. First, Reed had his supplies and baggage moved to the rear, then he formed his troops for defense on a piece of rising ground about a mile from camp. Thus British forces were not favored with the element of surprise.

What follows is part of the report that Col. Reed sent to Brig. Gen. Benjamin Chambers at the close of the engagement:

"About half past eleven o' clock on the night of the 30th ult., I received information that the barges of the enemy, then lying off Waltham's farm were moving in shore. I concluded their man object was to land and burn houses, etc., at Waltham's and made the necessary arrangement to prevent them and to be prepared for an opportunity which I had sought for several days to strike the enemy. During our advance to the point threatened, it was discovered that that blow was aimed at our camp. Orders were immediately given to the quartermaster to remove the camp and baggage, and to the troop to countermarch, pass the road by the right of our camp, and form on the rising ground about 300 paces in the rear and left. I directed Capt. Wickes and his second lieutenant Beck, with a part of the rifle company to be formed, so as to cover the road by which the enemy marched, and with this section I determined to post myself, leaving the line to be formed under the direction of Major Wickes and Capt. Chambers.

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"THE HEAD of the enemy's column soon presented itself and received the fir of our advance party, at 70 paces distance, and, being pressed by numbers vastly superior, I repaired to my post in the line, having ordered riflemen to return and form on the right of the line. The fire now became general along the whole line, and was sustained by our troops with the most determined valor. The enemy pressed our front; foiled in this he threw himself on our left flank, which was occupied by Capt. Chambers' company. Here, too, his efforts were equally unavailing. His fire had nearly ceased, when I was informed that in some parts of our line the cartridges were entirely expended, nor did any of the boxes contain more than a very few rounds, although each man brought 20 into the field .

The artillery cartridges were entirely expended. Under these circumstances I ordered the line to fall back to the conventional spot where part of the line was fortified, when the few remaining cartridges were distributed amongst a part of the line, which was gain brought into the field, where it remained for a considerable amount of time, the night preventing a pursuit.

The artillery and infantry for who there were no cartridges were ordered to this place. The enemy having made every effort in his power, although apprized of our having fallen back, manifested no disposition to follow us up, but retreated about the time our ammunition was exhausted.

"WHEN IT IS recollected that very few of our officers or men had ever heard the whistling of a ball; that the force of the enemy, as the most accurate information enables us to estimate, as double ours; that it was commanded by Sir Peter Parker of the Menelaus, one of the most distinguished officers in the British navy, and composed (as their officers admitted in a subsequent conversation) of as fine men as could be selected from the British service, I feel fully justified in the assertion that the gallantry of the officers and men engaged on this occasion, could not excelled by any troops. The officers and men preformed their duty. It is, however, but an act of justice to notice those officers who seemed to display more than a common degree of gallantry. Major Wickes and his Lt. Beck of the rifle corps, Lt. Ennick and Ens. Shriven of Capt. Chambers' company exerted themselves, as did Capt. Hyson and his Lt. Grant, apt. Usselton of the brigade artillery and his Lts. Reed and Brown. Lt. Tilghman, who commanded the guns of the volunteer artillery, in the absence of Capt. Hands who is in ill health and from home, was conspicuous for his gallantry, his much firmness.

"I am indebted to Capt. Wilson of the cavalry, who was with me, for his exertions, and also to Adjutant Hyson, who displayed much zeal and firmness throughout. To Dr. Blake, Dr. Gordon and to Isaac Spencer, Esq., who where accidentally in camp. I am indebted for their assistance in reconnoitering the enemy on his advance.

'YOU WILL be surprised sir, when I inform you that an engagement of so long continuance in an open field, when the moon shone brilliantly on the rising ground occupied by our troops, while the shade of the neighboring woods, under the protection of which the enemy fought, gave us but an indistinct view of anything but the flash of guns; that under the disparity of numbers against us and the advantage of regular discipline on the side of our enemy, we had not one man killed, and only one private wounded, and those slightly. The enemy left one midshipman and eight men dead on the field, and nine wounded; six of whom died in the course of a few hours. Sir Peter Parker was amongst the slain-he was mortally wounded with a buck-shot and died before he reached the barges, to which he was conveyed by his men.

"The enemy's force, consisting of marines and musketeers, was in part armed with boarding pikes, swords and pistols, no doubt intended for our tents, as orders had been given by Sir Peter not to fire. Many of these arms, with rockets, muskets, etc. have fallen into out hands, found by the picket guard under Ens. Shriven, which was posted on the battle ground for the remainder of the night. Nothing but want of the ammunition saved the enemy from destruction..."

The battle, which had lasted for about an hour, ended when the British sounded the bugle for a retreat. The enemy losses have been recorded, by their own reports, as 14 killed and 27 wounded. Of course, the greatest loss to the British was that of Sir Peter Parker, who while displaying heroic courage was shot in the thigh. Not considering the wound serious, Sir Peter continued to lead the attack until the loss of blood caused him to drop. Thus before proper medical aid could be applied he bled to death.

The news of this victory in Kent county was Cheerfully received by the troops that had been gathering in the meantime for the defense of Baltimore. The courage of the Shoremen strengthened the hearts of the other soldiers, and at the same time was taken as a good omen. And in a way the Battle of Caulk's Field aided in the more famous defeat of the British at Baltimore and Fort McHenry.

On Oct. 18, 1902 ceremonies were held in Kent County to honor Philip Reed and his brave men. And at the occasion there was the unveiling of a stone to mark the Caulk's Field Battle Ground.

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