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Battle Detective
By Lena Anthony  
Photographs courtesy of Acqunetta Anderson
Volume 147, Number 1, January/February 2013, Page 5

Acqunetta Anderson was conducting research for a family history book when she came across a set of documents about the Battle of Bladensburg, which took place during the War of 1812. One was a British map of the battle site and the other was an account of the battle written by Joshua Barney, a commodore in the U.S. Navy who helped defend—unsuccessfully—the nation’s capital from the British on August 24, 1814. After looking at the documents, a thought occurred to her: Could part of the battle have taken place in Washington, D.C.?

To verify her suspicion, Mrs. Anderson, who is lead historian for the Benjamin Harrison Society (BHS), a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about the Revolution and the War of 1812, created a historic overlay map using the battle map and a present-day map of the area. While the map showed that the majority of the battle took place in Maryland, as history books have long chronicled, she also discovered that Joshua Barney and some 300 flotilla-men, 300 militiamen and 100 Marines may have been just inside the District of Columbia line when they fired their five cannons that inflicted heavy casualties on the British.

“When I saw that, I decided that I was going to prove that history had been written incorrectly,” says Mrs. Anderson, who is chapter regent of the Benjamin Harrison Chapter, Washington, D.C.

She and her colleagues at the BHS saw this as a learning opportunity, and they enlisted the help of some local students, who spent the summer of 2009 learning how to use GPS devices to draw their own maps of the battlefield.

Mrs. Anderson’s group then partnered with an archaeologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and submitted an application to excavate the site to the National Park Service, which owned the land in question. After nine long months, the application was approved, and her team started excavating in the spring of 2010. They worked every Saturday, taking breaks only on the hottest summer and coldest winter days. The excavation was completed in 2011, and the group released a final report in August 2012.

“Through the excavation, we were able to pinpoint the exact locations of where Barney fired his guns,” Mrs. Anderson says. “In 2010, we found the brick foundation of a carriage house—one of the Rives barns described in Commodore Joshua Barney’s account of the battle—and in 2011 we found Barney’s spring, where he was taken after being severely wounded by the British. Based on what we were able to prove, history for Washington, D.C., and the battle has changed forever. It was the only battle that ever took place in Washington.”

Her work on the project is far from over. Through her role as chair of the Washington, D.C., War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, Mrs. Anderson now is focused on educating the public about the Battle of Bladensburg. That includes working with the National Park Service to create signage at the battlefield site and developing a curriculum.

She also is working on a book about the Battle of Bladensburg, which she expects to be released in 2013.

History is important to Mrs. Anderson; it’s what led her to the DAR. “I am so impressed with the number of women in DAR who know their history and can talk about their Patriots,” she says. “And they never get tired of talking about their history.”

Teaching also is a passion for Mrs. Anderson, which is another reason she’s involved with DAR. “It’s important to turn over what we know about history to future generations.” She says her chapter meetings and events often involve members of the local Benjamin Harrison Society, D.C. Children of the American Revolution.

Grouping Date: 
Tuesday, January 1, 2013