The Revolutionary War naval veteran Joshua Barney volunteered his services to his country at the outset of the War of 1812, first as a privateer captain of the successful schooner Rossie, and then as a commissioned naval commander of a hastily assembled flotilla of barges that he outfitted and manned to defend the coastal towns of the Chesapeake Bay in 1814 against the amphibious raids of the Royal Navy. After a shakedown cruise, Barney on 24 May took the offensive and sought out the enemy at its base in Tangier Sound. The battle off Cedar Point, Maryland, on 1 June ended in a draw with the Americans retreating to the safety of St. Leonard’s Creek, Maryland, and the British waiting in the Patuxent River for a reinforcement of smaller, more maneuverable vessels. The British took this potential threat to their naval supremacy in the bay very seriously.
Twice-daily attacks by the British on 8-9 June ended inconclusively. Barney, not relishing a defensive posture, planned a surprise counterattack. On the afternoon of 10 June, as soon as the British boats entered St. Leonard’s Creek, Barney ordered his barges (dismasted for greater speed) to attack the enemy. After a spirited fight, the British disengaged and the Americans pursued, catching the blockading force in the Patuxent unprepared for battle. For a brief time the Americans were ascendant, but soon the British flotilla chased the Americans back to their anchorage. Thus concluded the first battle of St. Leonard’s Creek or the battle of the barges.
A stalemate ensued until 26 June when Barney’s flotilla escaped into the Patuxent, remaining a thorn in the Royal Navy’s side until the Americans abandoned their mosquito fleet near Pig Point, Maryland, on 22 August.