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 of the state's most pivotal moments. In Historic St. Mary's City, you can take a trip back in time to one of America's earliest settlements, where the first colonial capital of the state once stood. Scattered over 150 acres, Historic St. Mary's City features re-created 17th-century buildings, a tall ship and costumed guides who enliven these exhibits. Visit the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation, Town Center, the Maryland Dove and the Woodland Indian Hamlet with its recreated Native American longhouses. During the summer months, view archaeologists at work uncovering the past.
You could easily pass the whole day - and the next - at Historic St. Mary's City, but make time to stop by one of the other museums that draw visitors to St. Mary's County: the St.Clement's Island-Potomac River Museum, the Piney Point Lighthouse Park and Museum, and Point Lookout State Park and Civil War Museum. Spend the night in one of St. Mary's County's inns or B&Bs.
By morning's light, cross the Patuxent River into Calvert County and stop at Calvert Cliffs State Park for an awe-inspiring vista of the Chesapeake Bay. St. Leonard's Creek winds quietly through the landscape just to the north, but things weren't nearly so peaceful in these parts during the spring of 1814. With a British fleet wreaking havoc around the Chesapeake Bay, Revolutionary War hero Commodore Joshua Barney came out of retirement and formed the celebrated "Chesapeake Flotilla," an undermanned fleet that nonetheless kept the English 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 sits near the site of the gun batteries that helped Barney make his great escape and houses exhibits on the history and heroes of the War of 1812. At the museum's Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, experts are at work preserving important artifacts from the so-called "Second War of Independence." The Calvert Marine Museum in nearby Solomons also exhibits artifacts from the war, along with a lighted map tracing the invasion up the Patuxent River.
In August of 1814, a British force of 4,000 soldiers set foot on the Patuxent's shores at Benedict in Charles County. Today, this riverside town boasts fishing, sailing and seafood restaurants. You might also visit the Maryland Indian Cultural Center, where you can see how the area's original inhabitants lived and how they interacted with European settlers at a replica trading post or explore the county by horseback at the 600-acre Maxwell Hall Park and Equestrian Trials.
The British army marched north through Charles County, passing through Upper Marlboro on its way to Bladensburg, where a numerically superior but ill-prepared American force awaited. Commodore Barney and his men - they'd scuttled their flotilla to join the land defense - fought a brave but in the end futile rear-guard action on the heights of what's now Fort Lincoln Cemetery. A marker at the Historic 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 of 1812 came to Baltimore in September of 1814. Expecting to cruise without much resistance into Baltimore's harbor, the English fleet was instead held off by the men in 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 this flag.) A lesser known land attack, which was repulsed just outside downtown Baltimore, was led by General Ross, who on the way to the battle was mortally wounded by a sharpshooter - one of Commodore Barney's pardoned soldiers.