Privates Wells & McComas: Unforgettable Baltimore defenders

The Wells McComas monument stands today at Monument Street and N. Aisquith Street

The Wells McComas monument stands today at Monument Street and N. Aisquith Street

As Defenders Day weekend arrives, we are reminded that September 12th has always held a special meaning for Baltimore school children. Over the years, teachers taught many history lessons about the War of 1812 events that led Baltimore to commemorate that day from history: The Battle of North Point, the later defense of Fort McHenry, as well as the scene that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the National Anthem after an intense battle with the British. 

Maryland Fifth Regiment at Battle of North Point; painting by  Dan Troiani  from the  Maryland Guard Heritage Series

Maryland Fifth Regiment at Battle of North Point; painting by Dan Troiani from the Maryland Guard Heritage Series

The story of Private Daniel Wells and Private Henry Gough McComas was told over and over. 

As British land forces marched from the tip of North Point toward Baltimore, the Maryland Militia stood to block their path. 

After the rout of American troops in Washington, British Army Commander Major General Robert Ross had been confident of a quick victory in Baltimore. Ross is quoted as saying that he could take Baltimore “if it rained militia.” When asked by Robert Gorsuch, the owner of the home where he had breakfast that morning, if he would be returning for supper, Ross said, “I shall sup in Baltimore tonight, or in hell.”

General Ross rode forward of the main body of troops to investigate musket fire near the Gorsuch house. As he sat atop his horse surveying the field, he was hit by rifle balls and fell from his horse, mortally wounded.

The shots that killed General Ross were attributed to two young militia men, Daniel Wells and Henry G. McComas. They served in Captain Edward Aisquith's militia rifle company. The British soldiers returned fire, killing both young men. Wells and McComas became heroes of the Battle of Baltimore.

The uniform likely worn by Wells and McComas. Maryland Rifleman, by Herbert Knötel, from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection

The uniform likely worn by Wells and McComas. Maryland Rifleman, by Herbert Knötel, from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection

The Wells and McComas Riflemen guarded the remains of the two heroes after they were disinterred from Green Mount Cemetery and lay in state at the  Maryland Institute . Baltimore residents filed by the coffins for two days.

The Wells and McComas Riflemen guarded the remains of the two heroes after they were disinterred from Green Mount Cemetery and lay in state at the Maryland Institute. Baltimore residents filed by the coffins for two days.

In 1858 the bodies of Wells and McComas were disinterred from Green Mount Cemetery and lay in state at the Maryland Institute, where ceremonies were held to honor these heroes. Their bodies were then buried under the cornerstone of a monument in their honor on the corner of E. Monument Street and N. Aisquith Street.

The school children of Baltimore had many heroes. The Star-Spangled Banner and the story of Privates Wells & McComas is a reminder of the sacrifice of those who came before them to preserve their freedoms.

Note: There is ongoing debate as to who killed General Ross. Some believe that the shots were fired by members of the 5th Regiment, who were armed with muskets and fired buck and ball. We will never know the answer, unless the body of General Ross is exhumed and examined to determine the type of bullet that killed him. 

Vogel, Steve Through the Perilous Fight. New York: Random House,2013.

Lord, Walter The Dawn’s Early Light. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1972.

Pitch, Anthony The Burning of Washington. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998

Image of a newspaper article from the The Baltimore Morning Sun, September 11, 1858. Over two days, the people of Baltimore paid their respects to Wells and McComas.

Image of a newspaper article from the The Baltimore Morning Sun, September 11, 1858. Over two days, the people of Baltimore paid their respects to Wells and McComas.