Book Review: The Man Who Captured Washington: Major General Robert Ross and the War of 1812


by John McCavitt & Christopher T. George

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 298. Illus., maps, table, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0806151641

The British Side of the Chesapeake Campaign

Despite the title, this is not primarily a biography of Robert Ross (1766-1814). Of course, the authors give us an excellent overview of his impressive career in the British Army. Ross was almost continuously on campaign from 1799, fighting at Aboukir, La Coruña, Vitoria, and the Pyrenees. A man willing to take the initiative, make tough decisions, and lead from the front, Ross was one of Wellington’s best division commanders. This is well told, with a lot of interesting nuance, such as the influence of “purchase” on a soldier’s career.

But the bulk of the book is about Ross’s role in the campaign in the Chesapeake Bay region in 1814. Ross commanded the British column that fought at Bladensburg, burned Washington, and threatened Baltimore. The authors give us what is perhaps the best account of this episode from the British perspective.

They discuss the background to the American defeat at Bladensburg, by no means as one-sided as is usually depicted, and even get President Madison off the hook for cowardice. There is considerable detail on the subsequent occupation of Washington, a town of about 500 buildings, and the infamous burning of the Capital and the White House. They then follow with the British advance on Baltimore, during which Ross was killed while making a reconnaissance, ending with the Battle of North Point and the unsuccessful attempt to bombard Ft. McHenry.

A volume in the Oklahoma “Campaigns and Commanders Series,” this is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in the Napoleonic Wars or the War of 1812.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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