Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Webpage: National Park Service

General Description: Fort McHenry was built in 1803 as part of a series of coastal forts to defend the major ports of the still new United States. Although it played a prominent role in the War of 1812, the fort also played its part in the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and World War I.  While Fort McHenry was primarily used as a training facility during the Mexican and Spanish-American Wars and as General Hospital #2 during World War I, it had a more direct involvement in the War of 1812 and Civil War.  During the Civil War, Maryland was torn between the Confederacy and Union.  While most of Maryland, especially the rural areas, favored the Confederacy, Abraham Lincoln could not allow the state to leave the Union.  The nation’s capital, Washington D.C., lies right along the border between Maryland and Virginia in the southern part of the state.  Baltimore, in particular, had to be protected since it not only lies to the northeast of Washington D.C., but also was a major shipping and railway city.   Fort McHenry, therefore, played a major role in protecting the city including some of the latest artillery to protect the harbor.  These gun emplacements from the Civil War are part of the National Monument although they were never used during the war.  The real claim to fame of Fort McHenry, however, was during the War of 1812.  In August, 1814, the British captured and burned Washington D.C. and then in September attacked Fort McHenry.  Beginning with a good assault from the northeast on September 12, 1814 at North Point, the British made their attempt to capture Baltimore.  The defenses around Baltimore were more than the British had anticipated and although they overran the outer defenses, the inner defenses stalled the British advance at Hempstead Hill on September 13.  On this day the naval bombardment of Fort McHenry began with 19 warships with Congreave rockets and mortar shells.  The range of the ships was over 2 miles, while the shore batteries had a range of only 1.5 miles.  So the British bombarded the Fort for the next 25 hours.  In the cover of darkness the British also sent in a landing force by small boats which missed their target in the darkness.  On the morning of September 14, the question was whether the Americans still held the Fort.  As it happened, Francis Scott Key, a Washington lawyer made an attempt to negotiate the release of Dr. William Beans, a civilian prisoner of war by meeting with the British on a truce ship in the harbor on September 13. Due to the bombardment he was detained on the ship overnight and was an eye witness to the 25 hour bombardment.  He along with the British waited to see what flag would be flown over the fort on the morning of September 14.  When the large American flag was raised over the fort, the experience inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.  The Battle of Baltimore was endured by the Americans by stopping the ground assault and the British ships running out of ammunition.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) Fort McHenry is one of the best preserved 5 star forts in the nation.  This design of the forts allow for areas of cross fire to protect the fort from ground assault in literally any direction.

2) The movie in the Visitor Center is the centerpiece of the museum.  It is on a periodic loop that takes over the museum providing a detail background and history of the Battle of Baltimore. It ends of course with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner as the opaque window that was showing the movie fades out to provide a stunning view of the Fort.  Most impressive!

3) We were fortunate to be in time on Sunday morning for the demonstration of the folding of the flag in the Fort. Although I suppose it could be folded with only 8-10 people, it was fun involving over 20 people to assist with the unfolding and folding of the flag.  And this wasn’t even the largest flag they fly at the fort!

4) Due to its long history, Fort McHenry has had a number of construction periods over the last 200 years.  They made a good attempt to try and show the different improvements made over the years, but it was still somewhat confusing since they exist on top of each other.

5)  Fort McHenry is a must see for anyone interested in the history of the United States as you learn about not only the birth of the national anthem, but also the difficulties Baltimore and Maryland faced during the Civil War.

6) Did you know that the Star Spangled Banner has 4 verses?  Francis Scott Key wrote the poem “The Defence of Fort McHenry”, which he soon set to the music “To Anaceron In Heaven.”  This tune has an interesting history of its own as it was composed by The Anaceron Society, which was a London Gentlemen’s Club dedicated to “wit, harmony, and the god of wine.”

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