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bombardment or battle - is there a difference?

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  • James Yaworsky
    I confess to knowing virtually no details of the British bombardment of Fort McHenry, other than the obvious fact everyone knows - the Star Spangled Banner
    Message 1 of 6 , Jun 7, 2008
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      I confess to knowing virtually no details of the British bombardment
      of Fort McHenry, other than the obvious fact everyone knows - the Star
      Spangled Banner tie-in.

      There were other incidents in the War of 1812 that involved
      bombardments of forts.

      The first major one was Brock's placement of a battery in what is now
      downtown Windsor (a mile or so from where I'm typing this) to bombard
      Fort Detroit. A couple of Provincial Marine ships in the Detroit
      River also joined in. This bombardment caused casualties in Fort
      Detroit - the most famous being the former commander of Fort Mackinac,
      who had been released by the British not that long before. Although
      the guns of Fort Detroit responded, there were no British casualties.
      This bombardment had an effect on Hull's decision to surrender
      Detroit the next day, as Brock's forces, and native allies, crossed
      the Detroit River to "attack" Fort Detroit. But this bombardment has
      never been considered to be a "battle".

      On the day of the battle of Queenston Heights, there was also an
      extensive artillery duel between Forts Niagara and George. I can't
      recollect ever hearing this referred to as a "battle". Since
      Queenston Heights is not that far up river from the two forts, this
      artillery duel had a part to play in the overall strategic situation
      on the Niagara frontier on that occasion, but it is generally not
      linked directly to and considered "part" of the battle at Queenston
      Heights. It really didn't matter at Queenston Heights which fort's
      garrison "won" the bombardment duel.

      There are no doubt other examples of "bombardments" that occurred
      during the war, that are not considered to be "battles".

      So, I'm wondering if the bombardment of Fort McHenry was so
      intricately bound up with the British land force's actions that it is
      "part" of that "battle" (and my understanding is that there *was* no
      battle, the British backed off an assault, based mainly on getting a
      good view of the strength of the relevant section of the city's
      defences)?

      Or is the naval bombardment on a similar par to the Fort Niagara-Fort
      George artillery duel the day of the battle of Queenston Heights-
      related, but not the same action?

      When the British land commander decided to call off the night assault
      on the Baltimore defences, did he even know how the naval attack was
      going? Wasn't it a diversion to attract the attention of the American
      defenders and hopefully increase the chances the land attack would
      succeed? If a diversion, I would assume the fleet didn't press their
      attack all that hard. What were British naval casualties? Were ships
      of the squadron put in mortal danger, pressing the attack closely
      enough to cause really significant damage to Fort McHenry? Were there
      troops available on the ships that could land and capture the fort, if
      its defensive fire had been suppressed?

      Another combined operation that might be relevant here is the Battle
      of Plattsburg. A rather minor land action - it never really got going
      - combined with the hard-fought naval battle which of course proved a
      decisive American win. In this instance, the results of the naval
      battle also definitely decided the land action. But the naval action
      and the land action don't seem to be considered the "same" battle in
      accounts I've seen so far.

      To summarize, was the attack on Fort McHenry a "battle", or "just" a
      bombardment? It would take an analysis of British expectations to
      decide this issue because they were the attackers.

      From the American "defender" perspective, a bombardment would turn in
      to a battle only if the British pressed the attack past a preparatory
      "bombardment" stage. But if the British never did, it would be
      impossible to tell if it was because the "bombardment" stage didn't go
      well enough (and therefore the pending attack was "beaten off"), or
      if they had just experienced a diversionary bombardment that was never
      seriously meant by the British to destroy or capture the fort...

      To put the question another way, how much danger was the Star Spangled
      Banner at Fort McHenry *really* in on the night in question? If the
      attack was a diversion, and the main land attack had succeeded, would
      the Fort have been attacked "for real" the next day?

      Again, what expertise I have on the War is mainly on operations on the
      northern fronts, so if I have revealed my ignorance about the
      Baltimore operations - well, all I can say is if we don't ask
      questions about the stuff we are ignorant about on this e-group, so
      that those members who are knowledgeable on the topic can set us
      straight, then what the heck use is it? ;>)

      I mention this because we are discussing the events that gave the
      world the American National Anthem, which is a topic that deserves the
      utmost respect from all of us. If anything I've written above has
      caused any offense, then please be assured it was unintentional.


      Jim Yaworsky
      41st
    • Dale Kidd
      I certainly claim no special status as a scholar of the particular terminology of the era. That said, in any of my reading on the military engagements of the
      Message 2 of 6 , Jun 7, 2008
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        I certainly claim no special status as a scholar of the particular
        terminology of the era. That said, in any of my reading on the military
        engagements of the period, there seems to exist this same
        differentiation between "bombardment" and "battle". It seems to me as
        though any engagement carried out entirely by artillery, and most
        especially those where the engagement in question was essentially one-
        sided,was considered to be a bombardment. The only exception would seem
        to be in naval warfare, where the artillery naturally provided the
        basis for the entire engagement. On land, an engagement does not seem
        to have been considered a battle unless there was a considerable
        infantry (or perhaps cavalry) involvement. Even where there were less
        considerable infantry engagements, these are generally (and quite
        noteably) recorded as "skirmishes" rather than battles.

        I will leave it to those on this list far more learned in the minutae
        of the period than myself to hypothesize on the reasons for this.

        ~Dale
      • mimathews@comcast.net
        What s in a name? I don t have the answer or frankly find it terribly important. I would observe that the poen first published by Francis Scott Key was
        Message 3 of 6 , Jun 8, 2008
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          What's in a name? I don't have the answer or frankly find it terribly important.

          I would observe that the poen first published by Francis Scott Key was entitled the "Defense of Fort McHenry."

          A song of the time, "The Patriotic Diggers" celebrates the people of all backgrounds rallying to prepare the defenses of Baltimore. Whether the song emerged before the defense of Fort McHenry or as an afterthought is not known to me. If we knew it might suggest what level of importance they placed on the defense. I find that the words of popular songs of the period often tell us more about what was perceived as important to the participants of the time that what we analyze later. For your possible edification:

          THE PATRIOTIC DIGGERS
          (Samuel Woodward)

          Enemies beware. Keep a proper distance,
          Else we'll make you stare at our firm resistance.
          Let alone the lads who are freedom tasting
          Don't forget, our dads gave you once a basting.
          To protect our rights 'gainst your flints and triggers
          See on yonder heights our patriotic diggers.
          Men of ev'ry age, color, rank profession
          Ardently engage, labor in succession.

          cho: Pickaxe, shovel, spade, crowbar, hoe and barrow
          Better not invade. Yankees have the marrow!

          Scholars leave their schools with patriotic teachers,
          Farmers sieze their tools headed by their preachers.
          How they break the soil! Brewers, butchers, bakers
          Here the doctors toil, there the undertakers.
          Bright Apollo's sons leave their pipe and tabor
          Mid the roar of guns, join the martial labor.
          Round the embattled plain in sweet concord rally
          And in freedom's strain sing the foe's finale.

          Better not invade. Don't forget the spirit
          Which our dads displayed andf their sons inherit.
          If you still advance friendly caution slighting
          You may get by chance a bellyful of fighting!
          Plumbers, founders, dyers, tinmen, turners shavers,
          Sweepers, clerks and criers, jewelers and engravers.
          Clothiers, drapers, players, cartmen, hatters, tailors
          Gaugers, sealers, weighers, carpenters and sailors!

          Michael


          --
          A Truism - For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.

          -------------- Original message --------------
          From: "James Yaworsky" <yawors1@...>
          I confess to knowing virtually no details of the British bombardment
          of Fort McHenry, other than the obvious fact everyone knows - the Star
          Spangled Banner tie-in.

          (snip)



          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • BritcomHMP@aol.com
          In a message dated 6/8/2008 1:05:36 PM Central Daylight Time, mimathews@comcast.net writes: What s in a name? I don t have the answer or frankly find it
          Message 4 of 6 , Jun 8, 2008
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            In a message dated 6/8/2008 1:05:36 PM Central Daylight Time,
            mimathews@... writes:

            What's in a name? I don't have the answer or frankly find it terribly
            important.



            -----------------------

            Well Mike, that depends on weather words actually mean things or not. One
            thing we can say for sure is that it wasn't a battle. One fights a battle
            against an army, one lays siege to, or bombards a town city or fortress. The words
            are important because they tell you what a thing is, at least they did 200
            years ago so I think it is not unreasonable to go with the definitions used
            back then.

            Ah but here comes another wrinkle, which SIDE are you on and what is your
            perception? The British may have decided that it was not to be an attack on
            McHenry but only a diversionary bombardment but the defenders can hardly be
            expected to see it the same way when rockets and shells are landing on them. So
            while it is perfectly accurate for the British to say it was a diversion, it
            also accurate for US accounts to call it a serious assault and take pride in
            their survival.

            Perception is everything after all the Battle of New Orleans was fought
            while the war was still going on and it was NOT the last battle of the war! I
            believe there are even people who think the US won, even though non of their
            stated reasons for declaring war were acceded to and the US flag doesn't fly
            over Canada!

            INCOMING !!!!!!!!!



            **************Get trade secrets for amazing burgers. Watch "Cooking with
            Tyler Florence" on AOL Food.
            (http://food.aol.com/tyler-florence?video=4?&NCID=aolfod00030000000002)


            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • Colin
            I love the responses!!The reason I posted in the first place!! I just want to add another comment as well .. I personally see the exchange of fire being a
            Message 5 of 6 , Jun 8, 2008
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              I love the responses!!The reason I posted in the first place!!

              I just want to add another comment as well

              .. I personally see the exchange of fire being a quailifier for "a
              battle". The Americans fired back, causing ships to draw back. The
              diversion up the Ferry Branch also had Americans firing at an enemy
              tactical move. If the Americans just sat their and took the
              hammering (which the fort did for 90% of the time)I would call that
              a siege or bombardment but they did fire back. Is that then a "re-
              bombardment?"
              Was then the 2nd Battle of St. Leonard's Creek a battle for the men
              who were on shore (as it has been established that artillery fire
              between ships is a battle, but not ships and a fort?)?

              Is "small arms" fire the qualifier?

              Again
              YHOS
              Colin Murphy
              USS CON 1812 MG
              USMCHC


              PS Would this all be a part of "The Battle of Baltimore"
              Kinda like the air bombing on the French coast in the days previous
              to D-Day. Tose airmen could say they fought in that battle even
              though no small arms fire would be exchanged until a day or tow (or
              more) later....or am I just grasping at imaginary straws here?

              --- In WarOf1812@yahoogroups.com, BritcomHMP@... wrote:
              >
              >
              > In a message dated 6/8/2008 1:05:36 PM Central Daylight Time,
              > mimathews@... writes:
              >
              > What's in a name? I don't have the answer or frankly find it
              terribly
              > important.
              >
              >
              >
              > -----------------------
              >
              > Well Mike, that depends on weather words actually mean things or
              not. One
              > thing we can say for sure is that it wasn't a battle. One fights a
              battle
              > against an army, one lays siege to, or bombards a town city or
              fortress. The words
              > are important because they tell you what a thing is, at least they
              did 200
              > years ago so I think it is not unreasonable to go with the
              definitions used
              > back then.
              >
              > Ah but here comes another wrinkle, which SIDE are you on and what
              is your
              > perception? The British may have decided that it was not to be an
              attack on
              > McHenry but only a diversionary bombardment but the defenders can
              hardly be
              > expected to see it the same way when rockets and shells are
              landing on them. So
              > while it is perfectly accurate for the British to say it was a
              diversion, it
              > also accurate for US accounts to call it a serious assault and
              take pride in
              > their survival.
              >
              > Perception is everything after all the Battle of New Orleans was
              fought
              > while the war was still going on and it was NOT the last battle of
              the war! I
              > believe there are even people who think the US won, even though
              non of their
              > stated reasons for declaring war were acceded to and the US flag
              doesn't fly
              > over Canada!
              >
              > INCOMING !!!!!!!!!
              >
              >
              >
              > **************Get trade secrets for amazing burgers.
              Watch "Cooking with
              > Tyler Florence" on AOL Food.
              > (http://food.aol.com/tyler-florence?video=4?
              &NCID=aolfod00030000000002)
              >
              >
              > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              >
            • BritcomHMP@aol.com
              In a message dated 6/9/2008 1:57:45 AM Central Daylight Time, usmarine1814@yahoo.com writes: If the Americans just sat their and took the hammering (which the
              Message 6 of 6 , Jun 9, 2008
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                In a message dated 6/9/2008 1:57:45 AM Central Daylight Time,
                usmarine1814@... writes:

                If the Americans just sat their and took the
                hammering (which the fort did for 90% of the time)I would call that
                a siege or bombardment but they did fire back. Is that then a "re-
                bombardment?b

                -----------------------------------------------------------------

                Hmmmmm bit of faulty reasoning there Colin, it is fairly well accepted that
                if one is under siege one can fire back and that doesn't change what is going
                on, nor what it is called. Not of course that this was a siege but a
                bombardment, but in like manner it is fairly well accepted that the attacked fort
                can fire back without the afair being transformed into a battle.

                If you think about it if the fort firing back were the deciding factor there
                would be no sieges or bombardments inhistory, I mean if they are not going
                to fire at you why are you firing at them? just walk in an occupy the place!



                Is "small arms" fire the qualifier?


                Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm don't think so. Most battles have artillery pieces
                involved, in the case of New Orleans the largest gun on the field was a US 32
                pounder! And in many sieges of the period the defenders used rampart guns
                which (I think) qualify as small arms.

                Hey, this IS fun.

                Tim



                **************Get trade secrets for amazing burgers. Watch "Cooking with
                Tyler Florence" on AOL Food.
                (http://food.aol.com/tyler-florence?video=4?&NCID=aolfod00030000000002)


                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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