The War of 1812 is a classic case of the failure of communications known as "the fog of war": The British backed down on the major point of dispute two days before we declared war, and the biggest battle took place two weeks after peace was made. Basically it was a case of Britain's refusing to recognize that her American brat had grown up and run away for good. She gave us a spanking at Washington but got a horrendous whipping at New Orleans, and within a few years everything settled down. THE BATTLE OF BLADENSBURG A British expeditionary force landed at Benedict, Maryland, and advanced along the Patuxent River and through Upper Marlboro. At Bladensburg they were met on August 24, 1814, by a hodgepodge of Marines and militia under Commodore Joshua Barney, hastily positioned at what is now Fort Lincoln Cemetery. The regulars stood fast, even after Barney was shot from the saddle. President James Madison then assumed command -- becoming the only serving American president ever to lead troops in battle. The militiamen, however, cut and ran to Georgetown, leaving the capital uncovered and giving the engagement the lasting name of "The Bladensburg Races." The British strolled on down the pike, ate Madison's dinner and then burned the White House, the Capitol and other public buildings. FORT LINCOLN CEMETERY -- 3401 Bladensburg Road. Open sunup to sundown. A statue commemorates the stand of Barney's Battery; ask directions at the office. THE BATTLE OF BALTIMORE After their raid on Washington, the Redcoats advanced on our sister city by land and sea, expecting another cakewalk. But their fleet's heavy guns made little impression on Fort McHenry, and their troops were stymied at Sparrows Point. After a fruitless expenditure of powder and shot on September 13 to 14, the thing petered out and they sailed away, leaving us forever saddled with "The Star-Spangled Banner." FORT McHENRY -- Follow the signs from I-395 or the Baltimore- Washington Parkway. Open 9 to 8 through Labor Day. Film, guided tours, picnicking. Special Flag Day celebration from 3 to 10 June 14, including Eddy Arnold and fireworks. Sparrows Point now is a steelyard; the Battle of Baltimore is commemorated by a monument at Calvert and Fayette streets.