Military Subjects:  War of 1812


The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 11: June 2009

Documents, Artefacts and Imagery

The War of 1812 Bars to the Naval General Service Medal

By Major John R. Grodzinski

The Naval General Service Medal
An example of the Naval General Service Medal, this one with the bar “The Potomac 17 Aug 1814,” an action in which a number of American vessels were destroyed by the Royal Navy, nearly fifty miles up the Potomac River. Eight Royal Navy ships were involved but only 108 bars for this action were awarded.
(Courtesy Eugene G. Ursual, Military Antiquarian).

Campaign and general service medals issued to all ranks during the early nineteenth century were rare indeed. In Britain, the only general issue medal for all officers and men during the Napoleonic Wars was the Waterloo Medal, presented to those who served at Ligny, Quatre Bras or Waterloo. It was not until 1848, or thirty four years after the conflict, that the first general campaign medals were issued, namely the Naval General Service Medal and the Military General Service Medal, both of which were issued with “bars” commemorating battles and actions, some of which were from the War of 1812. This feature will focus on the Naval General Service Medal.

The Naval General Service Medal was originally intended to cover the period 1793 to 1815, but was extended to 1840. Those eligible had until April 1849 to apply for the medal, however by that time many former servicemen had died, while others did not submit a claim as they were not aware of it, thus the number of recipients was far below the number that were actually eligible. The application date was later extended to May 1851.

The medal had the diademed head of Queen Victoria on the obverse with the legend “VICTORIA REGINA” and date “1848.” The reverse depicted the figure of Britannia, holding a trident, seated sideways on a seahorse. It was 36 mm in diameter and suspended by a white ribbon with dark blue edges, 34mm wide. The recipient’s name was indented on the rim. Specific battles were commemorated by 176 bars having the name and date of that action, while another 55 bars were awarded for Boat Actions. The maximum number of bars awarded with a single medal was seven, for which there were two recipients; 15,577 medals were issued with a single bar and a total of 20,933 were issued altogether. As some army regiments had served on ships at various stages of the war, there were 126 of these medals awarded to army personnel. The medal was not issued without a bar.

Below is a summary of the War of 1812 ship and boat actions which were commemorated by bars. The spelling for each reflects the common spelling for the bar, although variations are known to exist.

It should also be noted that while the bars represent specific actions, the individuals who received them and the ships they served on may have had wider War of 1812 service, while recipients of bars not related to the War of 1812 could have been present in North America as well, making the research of any Naval General Service Medal a delight, if the records are complete, or the source of absolute frustration.

Ship Action Bars

War of 1812 ship actions were acknowledged by five bars.

Shannon Wh Chesapeake, 1 June 1813

A variation of a medal with the same bar, awarded to William Matthews, who served with the Royal Marine detachment on HMS Euryalus. The official ribbon was at some time replaced by a green one with an anchor added to it (Photo from private collection).

Captain Philip Bowes Vere Broke reconnoitred Boston Harbour, where he found the Constitution and Chesapeake refitting. He lay off harbour and sent Captain Lawrence of the Chesapeake a challenge to come out. At noon on 1 June, the Chesapeake came out, accompanied by several pleasure craft. The action lasted 15 minutes, during which Broke was severely wounded while leading a boarding party onto Chesapeake, which was taken, brought to Halifax and added to the navy.

Pelican 14 Augt 1813

The American brig sloop Essex was commanded by Lieutenant William Henry Allen, and left New York for France in June 1813. The Pelican under Commander J.F. Maples had sailed from Cork and encountered the Argus, which had recently captured a Spanish wine ship. The action was short and sharp, ending with the Essex striking her colours. Four bars were awarded

Phoebe 28 March 1814

Cherub 28 March 1814

The Phoebe and Cherub had been cruising up and down the South American coast in search of the American Frigate Essex, which had destroyed several whaling vessels and merchantmen. Early in February 1814, Essex was found in Valparaiso with her prizes and a sloop. The Essex lay in harbour until 28 March, when a heavy off-shore wind drove it out to sea. The Essex surrendered after a short fight.  Seven bars were awarded.

The Potomac 17 Aug 1814

Awarded for the destruction of American ships some 50 miles up the Potomac River. The ships present were Aetna, Devastation, Euryalus, Meteor, Seahorse and the Rocket Vessels Erebus, Fairy and Regulus (not present) 108 bars awarded.

Endymion Wh President

15 January 1815

The President had been blockaded in New York, but having escaped, was chased by Endymion and brought to action off Sandy Hook. The President managed to escape, but was again brought into action by HMS Pomone and Tenedos, to whom she eventually surrendered. 58 bars were awarded.

Boat Service Bars

War of 1812 boat actions were acknowledged by five bars.

29 April Boat Service 1813:

Boats from the Orpheus under Lieutenant Dance burnt the American ship Wampoe off the North American Coast. Two medals issued.

29 April Boat Service 1813, Ap & May Boat Service 1813:

This bar was given for two separate actions, fought on 29 April and 3 May 1813 in the Elk River in Chesapeake Bay. The same landing parties under the personal command of Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn were in each action. 57 bars were issued.

On 29 April 1813, boats from HMS Dolphin, Dragon, Fantome, Highflyer, Maidstone, Marlborough, Mohawk, Racer and Statira went up the river to destroy five American ships and stores. This took until 3 May 1813 to complete. On the way back, there were fired on from the shore, landed and destroyed the battery. 48 bars were issued.

8 April Boat Service 1814

This bar was given form the destruction of 27 vessels and a quantity of stores up the Connecticut River by men from HMS Boxer, Endymion, Hogue and Maidstone. 24 bars were issued.

3 & 6 Sep Boat Service 1814

The only bar issued was to an army officer, Lieutenant Andrew Bulger of the Royal Newfoundland Fencible Infantry. The boats from HMS Nancy assisted the regiment to take the America schooners Tigress and Scorpion (More of this story can be found in Issue 4, September 2006 of this Magazine, The Epic Saga of His Majesty’s Schooner Nancy and the Struggle for the Control of the Upper Great Lakes). Bulger also received the Military General Service Medal with bars for Fort Detroit and Chrystler’s Farm.

14 Dec Boat Service 1814

This action took place off New Orleans and was the largest scale boat action for which awards were given. A fleet of ships boats under the command of Captain Nicholas Lockyer, carrying about 1,000 men were dispatched by Admiral Cochrane to destroy guard-ships protecting the harbour. The party managed to capture one of the guard ships and used it to destroy all the others.

The boats came from HMS Tonnant, Alceste, Armide, Bedford, Belle Poule, Carron, Cydnus, Diomede, Gorgon, Hydra, Meteor, Norge, Ramillies, Regulus, Royal Oak, Seahorse, Sophie, Traave and one unknown ship. 205 bars were issued.

A future article will cover medals issued for other naval actions, such as the Naval Gold Medals issued for various frigate actions on the high seas.


Joslin, E.C.; Litherland, A.R.; Simpkin, B.T. Spink’s British Battles and Medals. London: Spink, 1988.

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