A foreign army invaded our shores only once, landing in Maryland during the "Second War of Independence."
From 1634, when the first large group of European settlers arrived in Maryland, through the War of 1812, Southern Maryland was the scene of many pivotal moments. Where better to start tracing the British Invasion than in the first colonial capitol of the state, Historic St. Mary's City. Scattered over 150 acres, it features re-created 17th-century buildings, a tall ship, and costumed guides to enliven informational exhibits. During the summer months, you can even watch a team of archeologists at work uncovering the past. You could easily spend the whole day - and the next! - here, but make the time to stop by the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation, Town Center, the Maryland Dove and the Woodland Indian Hamlet. Don't forget about the area's top museums, either: St.Clement's Island-Potomac River Museum, Piney Point Lighthouse Park and Museum, and Point Lookout State Park and Civil War Museum. At the end of the day, settle into one of the cozy inns or B&Bs situated St. Mary's County.
By morning's light, cross the Patuxent River into Calvert County and stop at Calvert Cliffs State Park for an awe-inspiring Chesapeake Bay vista. Just to the north, St. Leonard's Creek winds quietly through the landscape, but things weren't nearly so peaceful in these parts during the spring of 1814. With a British fleet wreaking havoc in the area, Revolutionary War hero Commodore Joshua Barney came out of retirement and formed the celebrated "Chesapeake Flotilla," an undermanned opposing fleet that nevertheless kept the invaders at bay - and away from Washington, D.C. - for four months.
Trapped at one point inside St. Leonard's Creek, Barney's men engineered a dramatic flight into the Patuxent and lived to fight another day. The 500-acre Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, which houses several War of 1812 exhibits, sits near the site of the gun batteries that helped Barney make his great escape. At the museum's Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, experts are at work preserving important artifacts from the so-called "Second War of Independence," but you can also find war memorabilia, as well as a lighted map tracing the invasion at the Calvert Marine Museum in nearby Solomons.
In August of 1814, a British force of 4,000 soldiers set foot on shores of the Patuxent at Benedict, in Charles County. Today, this riverside town boasts fishing, sailing, and seafood restaurants that you won't want to miss. You might also visit the Piscataway Indian Museum & Cultural Center, where you can learn about the lifestyle of the area's original inhabitants and their interactions with European settlers, or explore the county on horseback at the 600-acre Maxwell Hall Park and Equestrian Trails.
The British Army, awaited by a numerically superior but ill-prepared American force, marched north through Charles County and Upper Marlboro on its way to Bladensburg. Commodore Barney and his men, having scuttled their flotilla to join the land defense, fought a brave but futile rear-guard action on the heights of what is now Fort Lincoln Cemetery. A marker at Bladensburg Waterfront Park recounts Barney's heroics, which so impressed British General Robert Ross that he pardoned all of the commodore's "Bluecoats," a decision he'd later come to regret.
The war came to Baltimore in September 1814. Expected to cruise without resistance into Baltimore's harbor, the English fleet was instead held off by the men at Fort McHenry, whose courage inspired the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." At sunset on most days, visitors to the fort can help take down a replica of the flag that Francis Scott Key saw. A lesser known land attack repulsed just outside downtown Baltimore was led by General Ross, who was mortally wounded on his way to the battle by a sharpshooter - one of Commodore Barney's pardoned soldiers.