Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Battle of Fort McHenry

One hundred ninety five years and one week ago today Americans under the command of Lt. Col. George Armistead at Fort McHenry stood strong under a massive assault by the British. Fort McHenry, designed as a five pointed star, is positioned at Locus Point a peninsula at the opening of Baltimore Harbor. This was during the "forgotten war" of 1812.

The British had just burned the Capital building and White House in Washington D.C., and had come to Baltimore. September 13th 1814, the British led by Admiral Robert Ross landed North of Baltimore and started to advance on the city. They were met almost immediately by a garrison led by American General John Stricker with the battle of North Point. Stricker with his nearly 3,000 men were able to fight from behind fence rows and hidden in the trees was able to hold back the advance of Ross and his nearly 4,000 British soldiers. Ross decided to wait until the Naval bombardment was able to break down Fort McHenry before advancing further.

The British ships were unable to pass Fort McHenry and get into the Baltimore Harbor because fishermen had sunk their boats in the inlet, and Armistead had drug chains across and sunk clutter in the inlet to make it difficult for the heavy ships to come in without damaging their hulls. Along with Stricker's men, there were farmers, fishermen, and others from Baltimore who were fighting behind every rock and tree they could find keeping the British from advancing.

On September 12th, there was a contingency of peace makers who asked to meet with Admiral Ross about asking for the release of a prisoner Dr. William Beanes. Dr. Beanes who had extended his hospitality to General Ross as they were advancing, was then arrested by Ross. An attorney friend of Beanes was given permission from James Madison to lead a peace conference to get Beanes released, along with John Skinner. They were received by Ross and were able to win Beanes freedom after showing Ross letters written by many British soldiers who testified how Beanes had treated their wounds, however, they were then too aware of the British invasion plans and were not allowed to leave the ship until after the attack on Baltimore.

They watched the battle from their ship the Minden still flying the flag of truce. As they watched the bombardment throughout the night, they saw the British Congreve rockets (4'long rockets), cannon fire, and bombs (mortars) fired into the air. Through all of this attack they were able to see from the explosions a huge American flag. Col. Armistead, in an act of defiance, knowing the British were coming hired a local woman Mary Pickersgill to make a flag so large that the British will be able to see it for miles. He paid her 405.90 for this flag. On this flag there were 15 Bright stars that measured two feet across, and 15 two foot Broad stripes that in total measured 30' by 42 3/4'. It hangs today at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. It was this flag, that inspired Francis Scott Key to write down a little poem as he watched it from over the ramparts or sides of his ship. That poem today is our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.

The next morning after 25 hours of nonstop bombardment the British realized that it would exact too high a price for them to take Baltimore and this fort, and left ending the battle. Hopefully, when you hear the words of the Star Spangled Banner next you will hear it differently than before.

"The Star Spangled Banner"

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?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

1 comment: