Baltimore’s Riverside Park During the War of 1812

In 1875, the city of Baltimore established Riverside Park in South Baltimore as a municipal park. Like well-known Federal Hill and Patterson Parks near the waterfront, this site too was used during the War of 1812 as a gun battery and observation post. It has over the years been mistaken as Battery Babcock or the Six Gun Battery which today lies under the I-95 overpass near the Gould Street Power Station where a 1914 memorial cannon is displayed.

Battle for Baltimore

In the early 19th century, the site of Riverside Park, known as Look-Out Hill, offered a clear view of the Locust Point Peninsula and the Patapsco River beyond. When the War of 1812 began in June, local militia infantry companies were stationed there to keep a look-out for British warships entering the river. Fort Look-Out provided a panoramic southern view of the shore batteries below Forts Babcock, Covington, Ferry Point, and McHenry and the Chesapeake Bay. In the Spring of 1813, Captain Samuel Babcock of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, who designed and constructed a 180-foot diameter circular battery with earthen ramparts, a ditch with abatis, and an earthen powder magazine, mounted seven 24-pounders naval guns en barbette, making Fort Look-Out an important rallying point should Fort McHenry be taken.

Lieutenant George Budd, U.S. Navy In September 1814, the U.S. Navy assigned Lieutenant George Budd, a native of Bush Town, Harford County, Maryland, from the U.S. Sloop of War Ontario at Fells Point to command Fort Look-Out. On September 13, 1814, while the British army marched towards Baltimore following the engagement at the Battle of North Point (September 12), another attack was taking shape on the west side of the city on the Ferry Branch in South Baltimore.

Shortly after 12:30 a.m. on the morning of September 14, 1814, a British naval offensive of 20 landing barges containing an estimated 1000 Royal Marines as well as HM Rocket Ship Erebus attempted to penetrate the western shore defenses. This attack would provide a diversion as the British land forces east of Hampstead Hill (Patterson Park) attempted an assault at 3:00 a.m., upon the eastern defense redoubts of Rodgers’ Naval Bastion (Patterson Park). The British naval advance of twenty barges on that stormy wind swept night was repulsed by the combined American shore batteries and the attempt to storm the city by land never materialized. A civilian on Federal Hill that night provided the only account of the action taken by Fort Look-Out on that stormy perilous night:

“The night of Tuesday and the morning of Wednesday (til about 4 o’clock) presented the whole awful spectacle of shot and shells, and rockets, shooting and bursting through the air. The well directed fire of the little fort, under Lieut. Budd (late of the U.S. Frigate Chesapeake), and the gallant seamen under his command, checked the enemy on his approach, and probably saved the town from destruction in the dark hours of the night. The garrison was chiefly incommoded by the shells, which burst in and about the fort, whilst they had bomb proof shelter. As the darkness increased the awful grandeur of the scene augmented….”

The British offensive on Baltimore had failed by land and sea and the American shore batteries ceased firing. On land, the British Army also began to return from Hampstead Hill to North Point. With the star-spangled banner bidding its defiance from Forts Look-Out, Babcock, Covington and McHenry, the British Navy sailed down the Patapsco River and began its departure from the Chesapeake, bringing the two-year Chesapeake campaign to a close. Following the war, Budd served aboard the U.S. Frigate Java at Baltimore and continued his naval career until he died in Boston in 1837.

Fifteen years later in 1829, Baltimore landscape and portrait artist Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874) set up his sketch aisle on this site to paint the most famous scene of the Battle for Baltimore, “The Bombardment of Fort McHenry, September 13-14, 1814,” now on view at the Maryland Historical Society. His father, George Miller had served in the Star Fort as a defender. In the 1830’s, Alfred journeyed out west to paint the American west and the native Indians. His artistic watercolors and oil made him one of the most famous documentary artists of the American west.

As we approach the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the Battle for Baltimore, the role of Lieutenant George Budd and Fort Look-Out marine battery at Riverside Park deserves a memorable place and historic marker in Maryland history along with the names of McHenry, Covington, Babcock and Lazaretto, all of which contributed to save the city from certain destruction in September 1814.

– story by Scott Sheads

Mr. Sheads is a well-known historian and author of several books on the War of 1812 and Civil War as well as consultant for the History Channel and Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History. Since 1978 he has served as a park ranger at Fort McHenry and has volunteered aboard the Pride of Baltimore. He lives in Locust Point. This is the first in a series of monthly articles on the history of Locust Point and its neighbors to acquaint old and new residents alike on the history of our neighborhood.