LEGENDS, LORE, & FACT

Who Shot General Ross?

Of the many colorful and controversial Battle of Baltimore historical accounts and legends that have become part of our heritage, that of “Wells and McComas” remains frequently readdress​ed, even to this day. A brief recounting of Wells and McComas story follows:

On September 12, 1814, following the landing of a British forces commanded by Major General Robert Ross, at North Point, Brig. Gen. John Stricker, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the Maryland militia, was
ordered to delay the British advance so that the defense entrenchments around Baltimore could be completed prior to the advance of the British forces on the city. The 5th regiment was assigned the task of holding the American right flank of which Wells and McComas were members.

 

According to legend, Wells and McComas rode up present-day Old North Point Road where they came upon Ross at the Gorsuch family farm. Taking advantage of the situation Wells and
McComas would discharge their muskets hitting Ross in the right arm and in the chest. Ross would die a short time later from his wounds. In the ensuing firefight both Wells and McComas would also be killed.
Whether it was Wells and McComas or other soldiers that fired at Ross remains in dispute, as no soldiers witnessed who shot Ross.

On September 12, 1895, Mrs. Mary Dutton, age 90, gave a first-hand account of the Battle of North Point to the Baltimore Sun. Her father, John Murray, had a home at Orange Farm on the Philadelphia road, which was within a short distance of the battlefield. Even at her advanced age she still had a clear and vivid recollection of those momentous times. “I remember the time of the battle very well,” said Mrs. Dutton.

Over the years some doubt had been cast on the account that Daniel Wells and Henry G. McComas killed General Ross, the British commander. Mrs. Dutton stated, however, that everybody believed the story in the years immediately following the battle. “Wells and McComas had gotten separated from their company, somehow,” she said, “and standing on a little knoll they happened to see General Ross drawing near through the wood. They did not know, of course, that he was the British commander. Both of them leveled their weapons at him and fired. Before they had time to drop their guns from their shoulders they were shot down where they stood.

Had Wells and McComas made such an auditorly conspicuous assault against Ross the way Mrs. Dutton described, the ensuing attention brought to the nearby British soldiers would have invited an immediate frenzy of fully loaded British muskets to ambush the two boys or any would-be attackers. (The inaccuracy of the 1814 musket generally required that the target be at close range; They were single-fire and required intensive and time-consuming effort in their reloading, leaving the assailant helplessly disarmed for the moment after firing.)

We cannot appreciate the situational awareness, nay, circumstantial evidence, key to any "proofs"-- availed only to those in the moment of this history-changing incident. Perhaps we need to differ to contemporary understanding in this matter?

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© 2013 by Robert T. Cummins, Jr.

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