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Ft. McHenry

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Ft. McHenry

Not to be confused with Fort Henry (disambiguation).

Fort McHenry National Monument
Location Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Coordinates

39°15′47″N 76°34′48″W / 39.26306°N 76.58000°W / 39.26306; -76.58000Coordinates: 39°15′47″N 76°34′48″W / 39.26306°N 76.58000°W / 39.26306; -76.58000

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
Official website

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. It was during the bombardment of the fort that Francis Scott Key was inspired 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

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 James McHenry (16 November 1753 – 3 May 1816), a Scots-Irish immigrant and surgeon-soldier. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from Maryland and a signer of the United States Constitution. Afterwards, he was appointed United States Secretary of War (1796–1800), serving under presidents Presidents George Washington and John Adams.

19th Century

War of 1812

Main article: Battle of Baltimore

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 38 pound (8, 11 and 17 kg) cannons with a maximum range of 1.5 miles (2.4 km). The British guns had a range of 2 miles (3 km), and their 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 ceased their attack on the morning of 14 September due to a lack of ammunition.[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 were under the command of Brevet Lt. Col. George Armistead. They did suffer casualties, amounting to four killed and 24 wounded, including one African-American soldier and a woman who was cut in half by a bomb as she carried supplies to the troops. At one point during the bombardment, a bomb crashed through the fort's powder magazine. Fortunately for the defenders, either the fuse was extinguished by the rain or the bomb was merely a dud.

Star Spangled Banner

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 "The Defence of Fort McHenry" which would later be renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner" and become the United States' national anthem.

Civil War

During the American Civil War the area where Fort McHenry sits served as a military prison, confining both Confederate soldiers, as well as a large number of Maryland political figures who were suspected of being Confederate sympathizers. The imprisoned included newly elected Baltimore Mayor George William Brown, the city council, and the new police commissioner, George P. Kane, and members of the Maryland General Assembly along with several newspaper editors and owners. Ironically, 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, helping to defend the port of Baltimore from invasion.

National monument

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.

Fort McHenry Today

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, which increases its appeal with tourists.

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 Living History volunteer unit, the Fort McHenry Guard, was awarded the George B. Hartzog award for serving the National Park Service as the best volunteer unit. Among the members of the unit is Martin O'Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, and current 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]

Gallery

See also

References

External links

  • Official NPS website: Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
  • 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 Itinerary
  • Ft. McHenry on Google Street View
  • 2008 Photo Feature
  • Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine, East Fort Avenue at Whetstone Point, Baltimore, Independent City, MD at the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)
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