The mystery of Gen. Ross’ death at North Point
The many deaths of Gen. Robert Ross
There are almost as many versions of where, how, and by whose hand British Army Maj. Gen. Robert Ross was cut down just before the Battle of North Point on Sept. 12, 1814 as there are different illustrations of the event itself, some of which I include here. Exactly who shot him also remains to this day a debatable mystery, no less.
British Lt. George R. Gleig recalled that the first inkling he had that something might be wrong was when the general’s rider-less horse returned back down the road he had gone without him, stained with blood on the saddle and its housings.
In a few moments, the troops hurrying up the road to the sound of the sudden gunfire found Gen. Ross by its side, covered by blankets, and obviously dying. Gleig stated in 1826 that the general had ridden forward toward the direction of the firing, found himself in the very midst of the skirmishing and then had been hit in the side by a round fired by an enemy marksman.
Mortally wounded, he slumped from his mount into the waiting arms of his aidede-camp. In 1868, authorillustrator Benson J. Lossing identified this figure as the then-still-living Sir Duncan McDougall, 79, but aged 25 in 1814.
Born at Argylleshire, Scotland, in 1789, McDougall had entered the British Army in 1804, at the height of the scare of Napoleon’s invading the British Isles, serving in several regiments.
He was also a staff officer in the Napoleonic Wars in Portugal, Spain, France, America, the Cape of Good Hope and the West Indies.
He confirmed in letters to Lossing that he did, indeed, catch the falling general, and later also his successor at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 when the latter was killed: Maj. Gen. Sir Edward Pakenham, the Duke of Wellington’s brother-in-law and hand-picked choice to replace the slain Ross.
Ironically, another man who was almost picked in- stead — Sir Thomas Picton — was killed by a French shell at Waterloo, shot through the crown of his tall hat.
After 1815, Sir Duncan commanded the 79th High- landers for many years and corresponded with Lossing.
An American who supposedly witnessed the shooting of Ross was John Piat, then 23, and a member of the Dandy 5th Regiment from Baltimore, a private in the Independent Blues.
A French emigre, his name was originally spelled Piatt. His son William changed it a second time, to Piet, whose descendant is Stan Piet of Bel Air, a gifted photographer and a co-founder of the Glenn L. Martin State Aviation Museum at Middle River.
Lt. Gleig recalled years afterward that the sight of the grievously wounded Gen. Ross lying in the dust of the road sent an audible groan back through the ranks of the trudging soldiers that day, so popular was he not only with his officers, but with his enlisted men as well.
British author Denis Pack writes that Gen. Ross had been hit in the chest and arm, and Rear Adm. Cockburn’s paper in the Library of Congress reveal in a letter to Adm. Cochrane the sorrow that he felt at the loss of a man he had often prodded into doing things he really didn’t want to do: “It is with the most heartfelt sorrow I have to add, that in this short and desultory skirmish, my gallant and highly valued friend — the major general — received a musket ball through his arm into his breast, that proved fatal to him… Our country, sir, has lost one of its best and bravest soldiers.”
In reading these lines, this writer senses in the admiral’s mourning a touch of
How — and by whom he was killed — are still debated as mysteries…
“September 12, 1814 — North Point, General Ross fell mortally wounded,” by local Dundalk artist Charles Keller.
Maj. Gen. (later Sir) Robert Ross of Bladensburg, painted as the Regimental Colonel in command of the famed British 20th Regiment, now known as The Lancashire Fusiliers, that fought all throughout the Peninsular Wars of then Lord Wellington against the French in both Spain and Portugal. (Wellington Barracksw, Lancashire, England.)
Longtime Maryland Militia and Aisquith’s Sharpshooters re-enactor Buzz Chriest of Dundalk in 1989.