Bi­og­ra­phy of­fers new look at Bri­tish gen­eral

The Dundalk Eagle - - FRONT PAGE - By BLAINE TAY­LOR

Book re­view: “The Man Who Cap­tured Wash­ing­ton: Ma­jor Gen­eral Robert Ross and the War of 1812” by John McCavitt & Christo­pher T. George, Nor­man, OK: The Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa Press, $ 29.95

This is the long awaited and very much an­tic­i­pated first ever full-scale mag­nif­i­cent bi­og­ra­phy of Bri­tish Maj. Gen. Robert Ross, not only in Mary­land and United States War of 1812 bat­tle his­tory, but of all Bri­tish mil­i­tary an­nals as well. I can­not say enough good things about this over­all su­pe­rior work through­out.

Hav­ing taken 60 pages of hand­writ­ten notes, I si­mul­ta­ne­ously kept a run­ning tally of pro (32) and con (10) fea­tures. There­fore, the ayes have it. I doubt very se­ri­ously if this stel­lar ef­fort will ever be suc­ceeded by an­other bi­og­ra­phy, much less equaled or sur­passed. It will stand the test of time as the very best.

With­out doubt, the au­thors have done their in­ves­tiga­tive home­work, pro­vid­ing as well an out­stand­ing full-color por­trait on the dust jacket front cover. In ad­di­tion, there are 25 pe­riod and mod­ern en­grav­ings, pho­to­graphs, cartoons and paint­ings in­side, plus a trio of good maps.

An­other ti­tle sub­head could’ve been, “And — oh, yes! — also the Napoleonic Wars!”

Un­like most pre­vi­ous 1812 chron­i­cles, both Bri­tish and Amer­i­can, their sub­ject’s preMary­land/Amer­i­can mil­i­tary saga is cov­ered in great de­tail as well. This ably sets the stage for Ross’ ex­ploits in Mary­land dur­ing the late sum­mer of 1814.

Thus, the first 66 pages cover his pre-1814 ca­reer in Hol­land, Egypt, the Ibe­rian Penin­sula and France, while pages 67-219 present in great de­tail the last month of this very able sol­dier’s record and life, ended at North Point. This is topped off with notes spread across pages 221 to 268, and an ex­ten­sive bib­li­og­ra­phy over pages 269 to 292. It’s all here in chap­ter and verse, lit­er­ally.

This ter­rific his­toric achieve­ment is the end re­sult of a trans-At­lantic au­tho­rial part­ner­ship be­tween a pair of Bri­tish scribes, the lat­ter be­ing our very own nat­u­ral­ized Amer­i­can cit­i­zen Christo­pher T. George, whom I met more than 15 years ago at a War of 1812 sym­po­sium at the Univer­sity of Bal­ti­more.

His name will be rec­og­nized in­stantly, too, by all long­time (and more re­cent) War of 1812 Bi­cen­ten­nial fans as the pre­vi­ous au­thor of the splen­did cam­paign tome “Ter­ror on the Ch­e­sa­peake: The War of 1812 on the Bay.” He’s also the found­ing edi­tor of The Journal of the War of 1812, pub­lished in the Free State from some years ago. I have read both.

The pri­mary au­thor John McCavitt is a Fel­low of the Royal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety whose pre­vi­ous ti­tles are “Sir Arthur Chices­ter: Lord De­fender of Ire­land, 1605-16,” and “The Flight of the Earls.” Pre-North Amer­ica, their sub­ject Ross was renowned through­out the Bri­tish mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment as, “Not a bet­ter of­fi­cer at the head of any reg­i­ment in His Majesty’s ser­vice...adored by all the men who’d ever served un­der his com­mand.”

As a for­mer Mary­land med­i­cal journal edi­tor, I found most in­ter­est­ing the Sept. 17, 1814 of­fi­cial re­port of Bri­tish Army Sur­geon Alexan­der Bax­ter as­sert­ing that their sub­ject’s death at North Point, MD/USA was caused by a mus­ket­ball.

New ground is also bro­ken with a su­perla­tive pre­sen­ta­tion of the state fu­neral ac­corded the slain gen­eral in Nova Sco­tia/New Scot­land, af­ter which, “The brave Gen. Ross was left alone in his glory, sleep­ing in the quiet Hal­i­fax church yard,” that I had pho­tographed in 1989, where re­sides he still. The Ir­ish gen­eral was hailed as a na­tional hero...The Gal­lant Hiber­nian!”

It is sig­nif­i­cant as well to note that — as the au­thors do herein — the Dun­dalk, MD/USA an­nual De­fend­ers’ Day events ev­ery Septem­ber are still Gen. Ross’ main re­mem­brance world­wide.

Hav­ing per­son­ally walked ev­ery sin­gle yard of Aug. 23, 1814’s Bat­tle of Bladens­burg (just out­side the Fed­eral Dis­trict of Columbia), and most, if not all of that at North Point of the fol­low­ing Sept. 12, I can at­test that nearly all of their mil­i­tary ex­pla­na­tions seem sound.

This is a book worth read­ing ev­ery sin­gle word, in­clud­ing all the de­tailed notes near the end. You’ll be glad that you did! In sum, if you buy and/or read but one book on the War of 1812 in Mary­land and DC, make it this one.

“The Man Who Cap­tured Wash­ing­ton: Ma­jor Gen­eral Robert Ross and the War of 1812” by John McCavitt & Christo­pher T. George is in book stores now.

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