While I certainly wish I had seen it sooner (preferably during the production stages), I had the opportunity to view Native Sun Production and The History Channel’s production of “First Invasion: The War of 1812” today. I was on the edge of my seat anticipating the scene where my 4th great grand uncle, 18 year old Henry Gough McComas, and his friend, Daniel Wells, both sharp shooters of Baltimore, are credited with firing the shots that killed British General Ross, before both boys’ lives were lost as well.
I was stunned that this production failed to mention their names and to even go so far as to say that their names had been “lost to history”. They have a monument to them in Baltimore (!), and streets named after them, for their heroic deed that day, and I struggled to understand how they could possibly have been so blatantly overlooked.
I discovered an article from the Baltimore Sun “Film stirs flap over killing of general in 1814 ‘First Invasion’ omits names of 2 city teens” September 17, 2004, by Laura Vozzella, and was, at least, comforted to find that they had run this article expressing the total dismay of all of Baltimore over this omission. Following is the article:
A History Channel documentary that premiered in Baltimore last week said the turning point in the War of 1812 took place at the Battle of North Point, when “an anonymous sniper” killed the commander of British land forces.
“The sniper’s name has faded into history,” the narrator of First Invasion says.
The name might be lost to the History Channel, but not to Baltimoreans, who credit two city teenagers with the deed.
Daniel Wells and Henry McComas are mentioned in history books, have streets named after them and are honored with an obelisk on Monument Street, where Mayor Martin O’Malley laid a wreath for Defenders’ Day.
With two local heroes seemingly snubbed, Baltimore is, once again, up in arms.
“They made that terrible blooper – it’s a shame,” said Henry A. Ercole Jr., 82, a retired city school principal who called on the History Channel to revise the film. “It’s teaching false history to our children and the world.”
…for Baltimoreans who grew up with the story, the names of Wells and McComas were glaring omissions from the movie…
O’Malley, a history buff who appears in the film, tried to persuade the makers to include Wells and McComas, “even if they said, `It’s believed to be’ or `thought to be,'” spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.
…isn’t it… inaccurate to say the “anonymous” shooter’s name had “faded into history”? There are, after all, not one but two names out there, alive in popular lore.
Gavin conceded that it would have been more precise to say something like, “The shooter’s identity is not known for certain.” But that would have taken more time, she said, in a medium that demands timing “second by second.”
“If we could say something in three words,” that won out over something more verbose, she said.
O’Malley…said he’d like to see a sequel: The Mystery of Ross’ Death Revealed.
While no photos exist of Henry Gough McComas, I do have a later photo taken of his older brother, my 4th great grandfather, William McComas (1790-1857) of Harford County, Maryland:
Here is a taste of the story from monumentcity.net/2009/06/01/wells-and-mccomas-monument-baltimore-md/:
Daniel Wells and Henry McComas were apprentice saddle makers in Charm City during the War of 1812. By 1814, the teenagers were part of Captain Edward Aisquith’s Militia Rifle Company, preparing for an eventual English attack. After successfully sacking Washington DC, including the White House, The British decided to swing by Baltimore in hopes of eliminating the pirates and privateers stationed in the notorious port. General Robert Ross was in command of the invading land troops that approached the town’s western boundaries in September of 1814. Ross had a military background spanning 30 years and had served in the Napoleonic Wars.
As the Aisquith Company positioned itself on the North Point Peninsula, an area fortified a year earlier in fear of an impending British invasion, General Ross, noticing the American positions, found refuge on the local farm of Robert Gorsuch. Here he had breakfast cooked for him while waiting for the rest of his army to arrive. Brigadier General John Stricker, in charge of the 3,000 plus soldiers advancing the British land assault, ordered a group of 230 men with one cannon to flush General Ross out of the Gorsuch farm. Wells and McComas were a part of this small brigade, their defining moment arriving swiftly.
Riding on a white horse (or a black horse, depending on the source), General Ross was shot in the battle, mortally wounded by the American Militia. Daniel Wells and Henry G. McComas have been given equal credit for the historical deed, each sacrificing their life in the progress. Another American soldier was shot at the scene, 24 year-old Aquila Randall, credited with being the first United States fatality of the Battle of North Point, was found near the bodies Wells and McComas, all three had fired their weapons…
In 1854, a committee gathered with the notion of erecting a monument to Wells and McComas. On September 10, 1858, after securing and investing the funds for the project, the bodies of the teen militiamen were exhumed and placed in the Maryland Institute. Thousands of people visited the coffins during the three days leading up to September 12th, the anniversary of the Battle of North Point, when the official cornerstone for the memorial was laid. On that day, the bodies of Wells and McComas were paraded to Ashland Square, the site of interment, and placed below the obelisk’s foundation in ceremonial fashion. The 21-foot monument was finally completed in 1873 and is made of Baltimore County marble. The Obelisk portion, resting on a two-step granite pedestal is comprised of two large pieces of marble, weighing 14 and 8 tons respectively.
Another article, found at: wellsmccomas.tripod.com/northpoint.html, states:
In 1814, Major General Robert Ross was commander of the British at North Point. He had almost 30 years of battle experience, including the Napoleonic Wars. Upon the sign that the Americans were building their defenses, Ross halted the frontmost part of his force in order to let the rest catch up. Robert
Ross had stopped at the farm of Robert Gorsuch.1
Around 1 PM that day, Wells and McComas met Ross at the Gorsuch farm. Upon later study of the scene, it was apparent that the muskets of Wells and McComas were unloaded, while Ross had suffered wounds in his right arm and chest. McComas seemed to have been shot as he reloaded his weapon, and Wells was shot while he was behind McComas. Daniel Wells, Henry McComas, and Robert Ross were all dead that day.1
1 George, Christopher, “Wells & McComas,” My Edgemere (2002-2004), <http://www.myedgemere.com/wells_&_mccomas.htm>.