Daniel Wells and Henry Gough McComas gained fame as the "boy heroes" of the Battle of Baltimore. Though the historical record may offer slim evidence to confirm their role during the battle, Baltimoreans have celebrated the legend of Wells and McComas for over 150 years.
The young men, aged nineteen and eighteen, served as privates in Captain Edward Aisquith's Sharpshooters of the 1st Rifle Battalion of the Maryland Militia during the Battle of North Point. Wells, an Annapolis native, and McComas had enlisted in Baltimore, where they both worked as apprentices in the city's leather industry. Their battalion first encountered Ross at the Battle of Bladensburg on August 14, just three weeks before the Battle of Baltimore. Although evidence verifying this claim is scant, Wells and McComas have been credited with firing the shots which killed beloved British commander General Robert Ross. Whether or not it was Wells and McComas or other American sharpshooters, this act certainly dealt a heavy blow to the British in their attempt to capture Baltimore. They could not confirm or deny the story themselves since Wells and McComas were found dead after the Battle—two of the twenty-four Americans killed at North Point.
It wasn't until some forty years after the battle that Wells and McComas gained local celebrity status. During the 1850s, two military companies formed the Wells and McComas Monument Association and solicited subscriptions from citizens to erect a monument in their honor. The group had the boys' bodies exhumed from their vault in Baltimore's legendary Green Mount Cemetery. They laid in state at the Maryland Institute building at Market Place, where thousands of Baltimoreans came to pay their respects. The Sun described the ceremonial catafalque, a platform on which the two coffins rested, as having "a marked degree of good taste" draped in black.
To commemorate Defenders' Day in 1858, Baltimoreans carried the coffins in a procession to their current grave site in Old Town's Ashland Square. An unnamed Baltimorean composed an original song to mark the occasion: "Wells and McComas Funeral and Monument Song", sung to the tune of the Star-Spangled Banner. These two local sons were painted in a romantic, dramatic fashion: "'Twas McCOMAS and WELLS - so Fame the fact tells; / This heroic deed their fame evermore swells, / As martyrs of liberty! - And we now raise / A monument high, to continue their praise." In addition to this song, famed playwright Clifton W. Tayleure published a play,The Boy Martyrs of Sept. 12, 1814, A Local Historical Drama in Three Acts, performed at the Holliday Street Theatre.
Their remains lay at Ashland Square for fifteen years before the monument was completed. The simple twenty-one-foot tall obelisk, made of Baltimore County marble, cost a total of $3,500. The City Council ultimately provided most of the funding.
Watch our Five Minute Histories video on this monument!