Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - September - 2012 Issue

The War of 1812 and the Shaping of America from James Kochan Fine Arts & Antiques


Flag swatches from captured ships.

Item 61 is a lengthy (8-page) eyewitness account from one of America's most ignoble defeats, the Battle of Bladensburg. The defeat allowed the British to enter Washington uncontested and burn down many federal buildings. The account comes from Marine Captain Samuel Bacon, written to Major Moses White. White was an officer during the Revolution, and was under the impression that his son, Lieutenant Moses Bowen White, had obtained a furlough shortly before the battle for “the most dishonorable of motives, that of avoiding a conflict with the enemies of his country.” Bacon assures the elder White that nothing could be farther from the truth, and that he should expel such thoughts from his mind as once he sees the injustice of such thoughts, they “will give you great pain to reflect on it.” He explains that the younger White was recovering from a wound at his surgeon's request, and there was no threat of attack at the time he began his convalescence. No man would sooner go to battle, Bacon claims, than White's son. Bacon then goes on to describe the events at Bladensburg, placing most of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the commanding general, William Winder. There were two ways to reach Washington, one involving crossing a bridge, and he states, “the incompetent Winder never thought of diminishing the chances & choices of the enemy by destroying the bridge which would have left him but one alternative...” By failing to properly fortify the area, Bacon says that Commodore Joshua Barney and his men were left to face the entire British army alone, which they did as long as they could, inflicting far more casualties on the enemy than they received in return. $35,000.

Item 43 is an example of works on cloth rather than paper, 20 swatches mostly from captured flags from naval battles in the War of 1812 (there is one from the Revolution, one from the Mexican War). Each has the name of its ship sewn to it. The actual flags are housed in the Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, though they have become faded from 200 years of display. The color on these swatches is brighter and better reflects their true appearance. Price on request.

James Kochan Fine Art & Antiques may be reached at 304-279-7714 or 301-228-2588. Their website is found at www.jameskochan.com.

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