Biography offers new look at British general
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.