Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland, is a coastal star-shaped fort best known for
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.
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, 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 President George Washington and President John Adams.
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. The American defenders had 18-, 24- and 32-pounder cannons. The British guns had a range of 2 miles, and the British rockets had a 1.75-mile 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. 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.
The Americans, under the command of Major George Armistead, did suffer casualties, which amounted to four killed, including one African-American soldier 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.
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 in anticipation of the British attack on the fort. When Key saw the flag emerge intact in the dawn of September 14, 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.
During the 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.
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.
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.
September 8, 2015 - May 27, 2016
Park: 9am - 5pm
Star Fort: 9am - 4:45pm
Visitor Center: 9am - 4:45pm
Memorial Day - Labor Day: May 23, 2015 - September 7, 2015
Park: 9am - 6pm
Star Fort: 9am - 5:45pm
Visitor Center: 9am - 5:45pm
Closed: Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and January 1