Review: Local area gets its due in new War of 1812 book
Wednesday, 03 October 2012 12:43

New history shines light on local events

The following is a review of In Full Glory Reflected: Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake/Adventures Along the Star-Spangled Banner Trail by Ralph E. Eshelman and Burton K. Kummerow, published 2012 by the Maryland Historical Society Press and the Maryland Historical Trust Press, $24.95 paperback.

by Blaine Taylor

   It’s taken over a century — from the Centennial of the War of 1812 in 1912 until now — but at last the Maryland Historical Society (MHS) has finally gotten it right, and Dundalk-Edgemere gets its full place of glory in this sparkling new, highly-illustrated account of the War of 1812 that includes a specially-commissioned, two-page spread color painting of the Battle of North Point looking from the water in landward.

    Other outstanding and specially-commissioned paintings published here include Commodore Joshua Barney’s famed Chesapeake Flotilla barge fleet at the Battles of St. Leonard’s Creek, its later scuttling at Pig Point, his men fighting as land-based sailor infantry at the Battle of Bladensburg, Gen. Robert Ross having his horse shot out from under him in Washington, D.C.; he and Rear Adm. Sir George Cockburn toasting the capture of the White House, a courier riding from the Todd House to warn that the Royal Navy had arrived in Old Road Bay, Eleanor Shaw jumping out of a window of her house to avoid being kissed by a British Army officer, and the Old Methodist Meeting House being used as a field hospital for the wounded of both armies.
    Generally, I’ve found many past books published by the MHS to be really deadly dull affairs — especially regarding the usage of modern graphics — but this stunning work puts all that to rest, and also makes obsolete all previous illustrated studies on the war in this region, and I’ve read them.
   This marvelous production is stellar proof that the state’s public governmental agencies and private publishing organs can really accomplish something worthwhile and lasting once they get their acts together and work in tandem as a team. Truly, no area in the Free State can feel itself slighted, with two exceptions — one minor and one major — as I’ll explain in my conclusion.
    Indeed, Gov. Martin O’Malley offers a foreword that is also worth reading. Aside from the two stated main authors, there was an entire creative team assembled of writers, researchers, artists, and graphic layout personnel to turn out this very fine product.
    The sparkling text is easy to read for even the most uninformed first-time layman reader seeking to learn something about the war in our area.  The picture captions are informative, fun, and educational, and there are teaser factoid boxes that ask, “Did you know?” In several instances, I didn’t, so there is a lot here for everyone to learn.
    The book is divided into two major parts. The first is a straight historical narrative of the events from start to finish entitled, “War in the Chesapeake, 1812-15”; while the second is a more practical travel guide called “Visiting Historic Sites and Other Attractions.”
    In the last instance, once again, Dundalk-Edgemere isn’t slighted, as in many past such studies I’ve reviewed. Included are Fort Howard, North Point State Park and Battlefield, Battle Acre Park, the Old Methodist Meeting House Monument, the Aquila Randall Obelisk Monument, and the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society.
   While I can’t say enough good things about this remarkable, wonderful new study, there is, however, a downside that, to me, is just incredible to have happened.
    The minor omission is that of Gen. Nathan Towson being left out, while Zebulon Pike is included. Neither had anything to do with the Chesapeake Bay campaign, granted — as both fought on the Canadian frontier — but both were Marylanders.
    The major omission, however, is a blunder so huge that I can’t imagine how it could possibly have occurred, except that the publishing deadline was near, and someone just forgot.
    Although the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the making of the flag, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry are well-covered, there is not one single image of Francis Scott Key in the book.
       In 1990, readers may recall, the Baltimore County government published a booklet written by me entitled The Battle of North Point*1814. This included the famous Key-watching-the-Bombardment paintings of artists N.C. Wyeth, Percy Moran, and George Grey, but none of them appear here.
    Neither does that new image of the Maryland State Commission of the War of 1812 that helped sponsor this book. Indeed, the commission itself published this new view of Key, Dr. Beanes, and Mr. Skinner watching from the deck of a ship on its very own guide pamphlet entitled Star-Spangled Banner Trail: War of 1812 Chesapeake Campaign.
    It gets worse, if that’s possible. There are no portraits of Key, and at least two are known to exist. No artist was commissioned to paint a new likeness of Key, either, apparently.
    In a work that includes several modern views of historic buildings and monuments, all of those to Key are simply not there: the wall plaque at Fort McHenry, the rowboat scene and pillar at Eutaw Place in Baltimore with a statue of Key in the boat, the plaque on a church on Mt. Vernon Place, and — worst of all — the magnificent shining statue of Key at Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery, where he is buried.
    I’ll conclude on a positive note. I expect that this truly stellar work will sell out its first edition. If a second is printed, perhaps Key can be reinserted at the end. Let me be clear: this is the book you’ll want to buy, read, own, and treasure forever, despite these glaring faults. If you don’t find it at your local bookstores or libraries, insist that it be ordered, and get it. You will never regret having done so.
•Blaine Taylor is the author of 10 published illustrated histories on the World War II era, as well as Mrs. Adolf Hitler: The Eva Braun Photograph Albums 1912-45, due out in the U.S. and England  this fall. His three-volume, illustrated series The Star-Spangled Banner War of 1812 will be published during the course of the current Bicentennial of the War of 1812.