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Robert Ross

the British general who burned Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812

Robert Ross

Robert Ross was born in Ross-Trevor (now Rostrevor), County Down, Northern Ireland, in 1766. He graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and joined the British Army at the age of 19.

Attaining the rank of Major in 1799, Ross assumed command of the 20th Regiment in 1803. During the Napoleonic Wars he saw significant action in Spain, Egypt, Italy, and the Netherlands. He was wounded three times, and was awarded three Gold Medals, the Peninsula Gold Medal, a Sword of Honor, and the thanks of Parliament for his service. His leadership and heroism earned him a promotion to Major General in 1812. Although he was a strict disciplinarian, Ross was very popular with his men because he shared their hardships and fought alongside them on the battlefield.

In 1814, during the War of 1812, Ross was sent to North America with a 4,000-man army and orders to divert the attention of American forces from other theaters by raiding the coast. He landed in Maryland in mid-August and began marching on Washington, D.C. On August 24 his army encountered and defeated American forces under Brigadier General William Winder at the Battle of Bladensburg. He and his army entered a relatively undefended Washington later that same day, set fire to most of the city's major buildings (including the President's House and the Capitol), and had total control of the city by the next morning.

Encouraged by his easy victory at Washington, Ross next set his sights on Baltimore. Setting sail into Chesapeake Bay on August 26, Ross and his men began landing at North Point, 14 miles from Baltimore, in the early morning hours of September 12. While Ross and his men disembarked and made preparations for the march on Baltimore, the American field commander, Brigadier General John Stricker, and his army of just over 3,100 men were camped less than four miles away and preparing a defense against an expected attack. The two forces met soon after midday. As he had always been known to do, Ross immediately rode to the front line as soon as the two armies came together, where he was felled by a bullet. He died later that day. Although the Americans were eventually routed, the British suffered heavy losses.

Ross was buried with full military honors at St. Paul's Church in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on September 29, 1814. In 1816, the officers and men who had served with Ross erected a 100-foot granite obelisk in his honor on the shoreline of Carlingford Bay, Rostrevor.

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This page was last updated on September 27, 2017.