Few places demonstrate the radical transformation of the Baltimore waterfront from the early nineteenth century through the present as vividly as the site of the Battery Babock, a short distance south of where Fort Look-Out once stood in Riverside Park. The area of the battery is marked by a small memorial—a 6-pounder cannon mounted on a granite base erected during the centennial celebrations in 1914. The canon sits between the Gould Street Generating Station built in 1907 and the elevated roadway of I-95, cutting the area off from the Pataspco which served as the route of the British attack nearly 200 years ago.
In May 1813, Maj. General Samuel Smith, who commanded the defenses of Baltimore and went on to serve as a U.S. Senator and Baltimore Mayor, declared it “absolutely necessary to erect a small Battery” along the edge of the Patapsco Ferry Branch. The United States government, however, proved unwilling to pay for the new installation. The City of Baltimore then moved to pay for Captain Samuel Babcock of the U.S. Engineers to design the battery and direct twenty or thirty men in digging the foundation.
Battery Babcock, also known as the Six Gun Battery or the Sailor’s Battery, was made of sod and laid out in an arc facing towards the water. Construction was complete by summer 1813 and a company of U.S. Sea Fencibles under Capt. William H. Addison garrisoned at the site. By the fall 1814, the battery was manned by seventy-five sailors from the U.S. Chesapeake Flotilla, a collection of barges and gunboats organized by privateer Captain Joshua Barney who had been forced to scuttle their fleet just a few weeks before. Sailing Master John Adams Webster (1786-1877), who commanded the battery at the time and subsequently left an account in 1853, opens a window onto the night when Battery Babcock, together with Forts Covington and Fort McHenry, repulsed a British barge offensive on Baltimore:
“…Day and night we were on the alert, until hope was nearly extinct, when on the night of the 13th, about eleven o’clock, the bomb vessels appeared to renew their fire with redoubled energy. It was raining quite fast, and cold for the season. The rapid discharge of the bombs from the enemy’s shipping excited great vigilance among my officers and men. I had the cannon double shotted with 18-pound balls and grape shot and took a blanket and laid on the breastworks, as I was much exhausted. About midnight I could hear a splashing in the water. The attention of the others was aroused and we were convinced it was the noise of the muffled oars of the British barges. Very soon afterwards we could discern small gleaming lights in different places. I felt sure then that it was the barges, which at that time were not more than two hundred yards off…”
Canons along the Patapsco opened fire and caught the British flotilla in a cross-fire, destroying two of the barges. Captain Charles Napier, RN who commanded the British flotilla soon called for a retreat.