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Fort McHenry

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Title: Fort McHenry  
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Subject: Defenders Day, Timeline of Baltimore, Maryland in the American Civil War, Baltimore, Flag House & Star-Spangled Banner Museum
Collection: American Civil War Forts, American Civil War Prison Camps, Archaeological Sites on the National Register of Historic Places in Maryland, Coastal Fortifications, Defunct Prisons in Maryland, Forts in Maryland, Forts on the National Register of Historic Places in Maryland, Historic American Buildings Survey in Maryland, History Museums in Maryland, History of Baltimore, Maryland, Landmarks in Baltimore, Maryland, Locust Point, Baltimore, Maryland in the American Civil War, Maryland in the War of 1812, Military and War Museums in Maryland, Museums in Baltimore, Maryland, Museums of the War of 1812, National Park Service National Monuments in Maryland, Protected Areas Established in 1925, Shrines in the United States, Star Forts, Visitor Attractions in Baltimore, Maryland, War of 1812 Forts
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Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry National Monument
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
Map showing the location of Fort McHenry National Monument
Location Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Area 43.26 acres (17.51 ha)[1]
Authorized March 3, 1925 (1925-March-03)
Visitors 641,254 (in 2011)[2]
Governing body National Park Service

Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland, is a coastal star-shaped fort best known for its role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy in Chesapeake Bay September 13–14, 1814. When the smaller Storm Flag (17 by 25 ft,) which flew over Fort McHenry during the bombardment, was replaced with the larger Garrison Flag (30 by 42 foot Star Spangled Banner) early on the morning of September 14, 1814, to signal American victory over the British in the Battle of Baltimore; the sight inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star-Spangled Banner," the poem that would eventually be set to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven" and become the national anthem of the United States.


  • History 1
    • 18th Century 1.1
    • 19th Century 1.2
      • War of 1812 1.2.1
      • Star Spangled Banner 1.2.2
      • Civil War 1.2.3
    • 20th Century 1.3
      • World War I 1.3.1
      • World War II 1.3.2
      • National monument 1.3.3
    • Today 1.4
  • Gallery 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


18th Century

Fort McHenry was built on the site of the former Fort Whetstone, which had defended Baltimore from 1776 to 1797. Fort Whetstone stood on Whetstone Point (today's residential and industrial area of Locust Point) peninsula, which juts into the opening of Baltimore Harbor between the Basin (today's Inner Harbor) and Northwest branch on the north side and the Middle and Ferry (now Southern) branches of the Patapsco River on the south side.

The Frenchman Jean Foncin designed the fort in 1798,[3] and it was built between 1798 and 1800. The new fort's purpose was to improve the defenses of the increasingly important Port of Baltimore from future enemy attacks.

The new fort was constructed in the form of a five-pointed star surrounded by a dry moat — a deep, broad trench. The moat would serve as a shelter from which infantry might defend the fort from a land attack. In case of such an attack on this first line of defense, each point, or bastion could provide a crossfire of cannon and small arms fire.

Fort McHenry was named after early American statesman John Adams.

19th Century

War of 1812

Bombardment of Fort McHenry

Beginning at 6:00 a.m. on 13 September 1814, British warships under the command of Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane continuously bombarded Fort McHenry for 25 hours.[4] The American defenders had 18-, 24- and 32-pounder (8, 11 and 15 kg) cannons. The British guns had a range of 2 miles (3 km), and the British rockets had a 1.75-mile (2.8 km) range, but neither guns nor rockets were accurate. The British ships were unable to pass Fort McHenry and penetrate Baltimore Harbor because of its defenses, including a chain of 22 sunken ships, and the American cannons. They were, however, able to come close enough at maximum range to fire rockets and mortars at the fort. Due to the poor accuracy of the British weapons at maximum range, and the limited range of the American guns, very little damage was done on either side before the British, having depleted their ammunition, ceased their attack on the morning of 14 September.[5] Thus the naval part of the British invasion of Baltimore had been repulsed. Only one British warship, a bomb vessel, received a direct hit from the fort's return fire, which wounded one crewman.

The Americans, under the command of Major Private William Williams and a woman who was cut in half by a bomb as she carried supplies to the troops, and 24 wounded. At one point during the bombardment, a bomb crashed through the fort's powder magazine. Fortunately for the defenders, either the rain extinguished the fuse or the bomb was merely a dud.

Star Spangled Banner

Flag that flew over Fort McHenry during its bombardment in 1814, which was witnessed by Major Armistead, the commander of the fort, kept the flag until they donated it to the Smithsonian in 1912.[6]

Francis Scott Key, a Washington lawyer who had come to Baltimore to negotiate the release of Dr. William Beanes, a civilian prisoner of war, witnessed the bombardment from a nearby truce ship. An oversized American flag had been sewn by Mary Pickersgill for $405.90[7] in anticipation of the British attack on the fort. When Key saw the flag emerge intact in the dawn of September 14,[5] he was so moved that he began that morning to compose the poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry" which would later be renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner" and become the United States' national anthem.

Civil War

During the Francis Scott Key's grandson, Francis Key Howard, was one of these political detainees. A drama beginning the famous Supreme Court case involving the night arrest in Baltimore County and imprisonment here of John Merryman and the upholding of his demand for a writ of habeas corpus for release by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney occurred at the gates between Court and Federal Marshals and the commander of Union troops occupying the Fort under orders from President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Fort McHenry also served to train artillery at this time; this service is the origin of the Rodman guns presently located and displayed at the fort.[8]

20th Century

World War I

During World War I, an additional hundred-odd buildings were built on the land surrounding the fort in order to convert the entire facility into an enormous U.S. Army hospital for the treatment of troops returning from the European conflict. Only a few of these buildings remain, while the original fort has been preserved and restored to essentially its condition during the War of 1812.

World War II

During World War II, Fort McHenry served as a Coast Guard base.

National monument

A replica of the 15-star/15-stripe U.S. flag that currently flies over Fort McHenry

The fort was made a national park in 1925; on August 11, 1939, it was redesignated a "National Monument and Historic Shrine," the only such doubly designated place in the United States. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. It has become national tradition that when a new flag is designed it first flies over Fort McHenry. The first official 49- and 50-star American flags were flown over the fort and are still located on the premises.


The Fort has become a vital center of recreation for the Baltimore locals as well as a prominent tourist destination. Thousands of visitors come each year to see the "Birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner." It's easily accessible by Water Taxi from the popular Baltimore Inner Harbor. However, to prevent abuse of the parking lots at the Fort, the National Park Service does not permit passengers to take the water taxi back to the Inner Harbor unless they have previously used it to arrive at the monument. [2]

Every September the City of Baltimore commemorates Defenders Day in honor of the Battle of Baltimore. It is the biggest celebration of the year at the Fort, accompanied by a weekend of programs, events, and fireworks.

In 2005 the Martin O'Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland, who was made the unit's honorary colonel in 2003.

The flag that flew over Fort McHenry, the Star Spangled Banner Flag, has deteriorated to an extremely fragile condition. After undergoing restoration at the National Museum of American History, it is now on display there in a special exhibit that allows it to lie at a slight angle in dim light.[9]

The United States Code presently authorizes Fort McHenry's closure to the public in the event of a national emergency for use by the military for the duration of such an emergency.[10]

In 2013, Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine was honored with its own quarter under the America the Beautiful Quarters Program.

On September 10-16th, 2014 Fort McHenry celebrated the bi-centennial of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner called the Star Spangled Spectacular. The event included a parade of tall ships, a large fireworks show, and the Navy's Blue Angels [11]

As of 2015, restoration efforts began to preserve the original brick used in construction of the Fort, primarily through mortar replacement.[12]


See also


  1. ^ "Listing of acreage as of December 31, 2011". Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-05-13. 
  2. ^ "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-05-13. 
  3. ^ Kaufmann, J. E.; Idzikowski, Tomasz (2005). Fortress America. Da Capo Press. p. 144. 
  4. ^ George, Christopher T. (2000). Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay. Shippensburg, Pa.: White Mane Books. pp. 145–148. 
  5. ^ a b "A Moment of Triumph". Retrieved 12 January 2009. 
  6. ^ "The Star-Spangled Banner, 1814". 
  7. ^ "The Star-Spangled Banner: Making the Flag".  
  8. ^ Jim Bailey, Fort McHenry Ranger, National Park Service.
  9. ^ "Interactive Flag".  (color image of flag as it appears after preservation work)
  10. ^ Elsea, Jennifer K.; Weed, Matthew C. (2011). Declarations of War and Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Historical Background and Legal Implications (PDF) (Report). Congressional Research Service. p. 75. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Knezevich, Alison (5 June 2015). "National parks maintenance backlog in Maryland tops $345 million".  

External links

  • Official website
  • Fort McHenry Guard
  • British Attack on Ft. McHenry Launched from Bermuda
  • Fort McHenry is part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network
  • Weather & Maps - Unearthed Outdoors
  • Travel ItineraryDiscover Our Shared HeritageBaltimore, Maryland, a National Park Service
  • Ft. McHenry on Google Street View
  • 2008 Photo Feature
  • Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. MD-63, "Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine, East Fort Avenue at Whetstone Point, Baltimore, Independent City, MD", 32 photos, 11 measured drawings, 78 data pages
  • C-SPAN American History TV "Birth of the Star-Spangled Banner" Tour at Fort McHenry
  • C-SPAN American History TV "After the Star-Spangled Banner" Tour at Fort McHenry
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