With separate, diversionary forces moving up the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River, the soldiers who landed at Benedict faced no resistance as they came ashore. Some sympathetic locals even provided intelligence to Ross on the movement of American forces.

The British contingent was larger than the white male population of Charles County at the time.

As part of the war's bicentennial, a team of archaeologists from the Maryland State Highway Administration has been looking for evidence — such as uniform buttons and musket shot — of soldier encampments. It's part of a broader effort by Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration to stir up interest in events planned for June.

Five archaeologists were working on a patch of grass along Route 231 earlier this month, swinging metal detectors back and forth and marking potential artifacts with bright flags. The group had found a musket ball from the Civil War — probably a remnant of Camp Stanton, a nearby training facility for African-American soldiers — but was still searching for signs of the British.

Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the agency, said that finding those artifacts can be challenging, even though development in the area has been relatively limited. Nails from previous buildings and soda cans tossed from cars throw off metal detectors. Road realignments can ruin the integrity of historic sites.

That's part of the reason she is so concerned about potential development.

"Whenever you have property that is not in some sort of public hands, it really is keeping the door open to any sort of development," Schablitsky said. "You always have to be 100 years ahead of development."

The pressure to build around Benedict and other sites is not abstract. Preservationists here recently fought plans to build a 125-foot cell phone tower on the hill where Schablitsky's team was working. Some of the property is owned by the state, and other lots have easements that offer protection, but those restraints are not fail-safe.

Not all historians see a need for the government to buy property around all of the sites. Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin, executive director of the Eastern Shore 1812 Consortium and chair of the Queen Anne's County War of 1812 Commemoration Committee, thinks that approach would be overkill for Slippery Hill.

The soliders who fought here briefly 200 years ago would no longer recognize the place, she said. Fields have become wooded and Route 18 now cuts through the area.

"What you see today doesn't have a bearing on what it was like," said Goodwin, who is instead working to raise $28,000 for a memorial park nearby. "It's hard for me to say its an endangered battlefield, but then it's not the first time I've disagreed with the Interior Department."

But Franklin Robinson, co-owner of a 275-acre farm west of Benedict, does believe there is value in expanding the government's role in protecting the sites.

Robinson, whose family has owned Serenity Farm since 1965, offered to sell part of his property years ago to allow construction of a visitors center, but there were no takers. No group or government agency had the money to buy it.

Robinson, who chairs the Charles County Historic Preservation Commission and works as an archives specialist for the Smithsonian Institution, has no plans to sell his property to developers. On the contrary, he fought efforts to build the cell phone towers and has won awards for his preservation efforts.

Still, Robinson is concerned about the development creeping down from Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties. Eventually, he worries, that development will arrive at the doorstep of Benedict, — whether the history in the region has been protected or not.

"Once those sites are gone they are gone forever," Robinson said. "Some accommodation needs to be made for history."