Fort McHenry is the birthplace of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
Fort McHenry is located in the Locust Point neighborhood of Baltimore and is set along the Patopsco River within a 42 acre park. The fort is best known for its successful defense of the city during the famous Battle of Baltimore in 1814 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star-Spangled Banner.
The Battle of Baltimore
During the War of 1812, the British Navy attacked Baltimore on September 12th 1814 with 55 ships and roughly 4,500 men. The 1,000 men stationed in Fort McHenry endured twenty-five hours of continuous heavy bombardment from the British naval ships. On September 14th, the men in the fort raised the American flag to signal they had not and would not surrender to the Royal Navy.
Seeing the American Flag, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the poem “The Defense of Fort McHenry” which was transformed into a song called “The Star-Spangled Banner” and it became the American National Anthem in 1931.
Not long after the Battle of Baltimore, the British were beaten in the Battle of New Orleans which was the last battle of the War of 1812.
Fort McHenry remained an active fort until 1933 when it became part of the National Parks Service, two years after the Star-Spangled Banner became the country’s National Anthem.
Entrance into the fort
The entrance into the fort is through an arched passageway with double doors on both the entrance and exit. The passageway is supported by the brick walls on both sides of an earthwork barrier.
Fort Buildings and barracks
Inside the fort are four similar looking building that were used for living areas, dinning and sleeping quarters. Each building is two levels with overhead covering that sheltered the entrances into the rooms form rain and provided shade for seating areas.
Some of the rooms are open to the public and they have been staged to represent how they would have look when it was an active fort. These rooms represent living areas, dinning and sleeping quarters.
A barn style building is located at the farthest point from the river and was used to store supplies weapons and gun powder.
Star Earthworks and berm surrounds the entire fort
Fort McHenry was built on the original site of the earthen star fort known as Fort Whetstone. The star configuration can be seen in the photo below (photo of a picture).
Outside the star shaped fort is a berm that completely surrounds the entire fort. The berm perimeter is the first line of defense for the fort and the forts cannons are located along the berm with pathways that lead to rooms built into the berm that held ammunition and supplies for the cannons. There are also pathways on top of the berm and on top of the star shaped walls of the fort.
Cannons of the fort
All of the fort’s cannons are located along the river front between the forts walls and the berm. There are two sets of cannon that appear to be from different time periods of the fort but they are clearly for defending from naval attacks.
The flag that inspired “The National Anthem
Just inside the entrance to the fort is a flag pole that flies the American Flag from the time period of the War of 1812. The flag in the photo below is undersized for the flag pole but the fort uses different size of flags depending on the weather conditions. If the wind is very light the fort uses a smaller flag to allow the flag to wave in low wind conditions but at the time of my visit there was not enough wind for the smallest flag to wave.
The flag during the War of 1812 is very different from the flag we have to day. The flag that was used during the Battle of Baltimore had 15 stars and 15 stripes. I normally take photos for flags when I see them but with no wind the photo of the flag in the visitor’s center shows the flag during the battle.
On the morning of September 14th, 1814, Francis Scott Key saw the American Flag with 15 stars and 15 stripe waving in the wind above the walls of Fort McHenry, signaling the Americans success in holding off the British naval attack. The sight of the flag fling triumphantly inspired him to write the poem that later became the country’s national anthem. The vision that he captured in the words of his poem not only gave us our national anthem but it also created a culture that Americans live in a country with freedoms and fearlessness to defend our way of life.
View of the fort
The final photo is of Fort McHenry taken across an open field near the parking lot of the visitor’s center. The fort is not impressive from a distance but the historical events that happened here are the reason that make visiting Fort McHenry a special experience.
When I visit places where significant historical events happened I am usually torn between being inspired by the achievement of the historical event and saddened by the ultimate sacrifice that some people gave during the achievement. Most great achievements happen because of dedicated commitments and extreme sacrifices.
My experience at Fort McHenry gave me both of these feelings. I felt inspired by the bravery of the soldiers that faced an overpowering attack and defended their freedoms but I also was saddened that some people probably lost their life to ensure freedoms for their country. In addition to these two emotions had a feeling of patriotism for a significant turning point in the history of the United States.
There is a saying that says “it is always the darkest right before the dawn”. I think that this must have been the feeling that Francis Scott Key felt when he was inspired to write his famous poem. Seeing the American Flag waving above Fort McHenry ended the immense darkness of the Battle of Baltimore and signaled the dawn of a new day for the American people.
Standing on the star shaped wall of the Fort McHenry and looking at the Star-Spangled Banner on the flag pole just inside the fort entrance, it is easy to vision the sight that Francis Scott Key saw on the morning of September 14th, 1814. It is an experience that I will relive every time is hear or sing our national anthem.