Fort McHenry is a national monument located on Locus Point Peninsula, which guarded the harbor of Baltimore, Maryland, during the war of 1812, proving to be a strategic defense in the later years of the War. It is the birth place of the national anthem for the United States of America. It was built in a five pointed star architectural design, common to that time period. It later became a national monument in the early 1900s.
One of the key battles in the War of 1812 was the Battle of Fort McHenry. Two reasons the British wanted to attack Baltimore were because a large frigate, the USS Java, was near completion at Fell’s Point Naval Yard, as well as, it was the nesting ground for American privateers. They had a strategic plan of accomplishing this, by seizing Fort McHenry. Gaining control of Maryland, the British could end the privateers that were harassing British cargo ships and obtained a frigate in the process. In the early morning hours of September 13, 1814, the British fleet, under the command of Rear Admiral George Cockburn, opened fire on Fort McHenry, with rockets and bombs. The commander of Fort McHenry, Major George Armistead, realizing his cannons did not have the range to hit the British fleet, ordered the men to raise their cannons to their maximum elevation in an effort to hit the British fleet. After realizing he would be unsuccessful, he ordered all the lights in Baltimore to be turned off, making it harder for the British to target the fort. Occasionally, he would fire a cannon shot to let the people of Baltimore know, as well as, the British fleet, that the fort was still engage in battle and had not surrendered. During the bombardment, a mortar shell had fallen through the powder magazine, but it did not explode. If it had, the fort would have fallen. “Realizing the potential for disaster, Armistead had the fort’s gunpowder supply distributed to safer locations” immediately!
(http://militaryhistory .about.com/od/warof1812 /p/ftmchenry.htm”http://militaryhistory .about.com/od/warof1812 /p/ftmchenry.htm). With neither party willing to surrender, the British attempted to break the stalemate. A British force of 1,200 men tried to sneak pass Fort McHenry in order to attack from the rear. “Mistakenly thinking they were safe, this assault force fired signal rockets which gave away their position. As a result, they quickly came under an intense crossfire from Forts Covington and Babcock. Taking heavy losses, the British withdrew.”
(http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/warof1812/p/ftmchenry.htm). After a 25 hour bombardment and a combination of rockets and bombs being fired upon Fort McHenry, the British commander, Rear Admiral George Cockburn, reconsiders his battle plan. With little impact made upon the fort and still being fired upon, and now seeing a giant American flag flying in the early dawn, Cockburn abandoned his attack and retreated.
After witnessing what must have been a terrifying experience of rockets and bombs being fired at Fort McHenry throughout the night from an American truce ship, on which he was detained by the British, a young lawyer, named Francis Scott Key, sees the American Flag still waving in the early morning. He was then moved to pen these now famous words, known as the National Anthem for the United States of America. (Lord, Walter p.292). (Horsman, Reginald p.207) “O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming. And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there; O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave ,O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” (http://www.nps.gov/fomc /index.htm)
The reason the fort was built in the shape of a five pointed star was because five pointed star shape forts could have inner locking fields of fire. Cannons were placed on each bastion in case invaders were to attack at any given point. Cannons from the bastion would then fire upon the invader from at least two directions, creating cross fire, allowing for a better defense of the fort. This diamond-shaped bastion structure was beneficial in housing soldiers of varies ranks, as well as, supplying a sundries of needs, such as, a well, a guardhouse, and a powder magazine.
This most interesting design fort, rich in history, became a national monument in 1933. It was built in 1803 to protect the coastal city of Baltimore from sea attackers, armed with “four 32-pounders and fourteen 24s on the sea front, while a battery of 18-pounders protected the land side” (Jacobs, James p.151). During the War of 1812, it defended the town from the British. During the Mexican War, from 1846-1848, it was used to train the troops. During the Civil War, from 1861-1865, it was used as prison. During the Spanish America War of 1898, it was used to train US artillery troops. During World War I, from 1917-1925, the fort was transformed into a military hospital. In 1933, Fort McHenry was transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Six years later, Fort McHenry was designated a National Monument and Historic Shrine. However, during World War II, from 1942-1945, a section of the park was used by the US Coast Guard for training their personal, as well as, to guard the local shipyards. (http://www.nps.gov/fomc/index.htm)
Fort McHenry, having served our country for over 125 years, has a wealth of history to share with everyone who passes through its doors. Just an hour north of Washington DC, it is accessible to many people. As a National Monument and Historic Shrine, it sees over 600,000 visitors each year.
Jacobs, James. The War of 1812 A Compact History. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1969.
Horsman, Reginald. The War of 1812 New York: Alfred A. KNOPF, Inc, 1969.