Fort McHenry, Baltimore – Birthplace of the "Star-Spangled Banner"

Fort McHenry is a star fort that was built soon after America’s War for Independence to protect Baltimore and its important harbor. The fort was used in different capacities from the Revolutionary War until World War Two, but is famous for its role in the War of 1812 and for being the “birthplace of the Star-Spangled Banner”.

Visitors center at Fort McHenry, Baltimore

Fort McHenry is a popular tourist destination in Baltimore. It’s obviously interesting to someone like me who’s a history buff, but I think it’s worth a visit for anyone. The Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is located on a peninsula in the Patapsco River (off of the Chesapeake Bay). It’s a big park with lots of green spaces, trees, and views of the river. When I went, lots of people were just hanging out near the sea wall, under the shade trees, watching the ships go by and enjoying the scenery.

GETTING THERE

You can get to the fort by taking the water taxi from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor or Fells Point. It’s a 10-20 minute leisurely ride with nice views of Baltimore. The water taxi costs about ten bucks for an all day pass, well worth it if you’re going to be exploring different areas of the city. Parking at Fort McHenry is free, but you wont be able to get on the water taxi at the fort unless you arrived on it (they check your hand for a stamp). Admission to the fort is $7. If you arrive via the water taxi you’ll have to go to the visitors center to pay and get a sticker to wear. I walked around half of the fort before I realized you had to pay, as there was really no one checking.

Fort McHenry from above

Fort McHenry (pic from www.nps.gov/fomc/photosmultimedia/Fort–Flag.htm

WAR OF 1812

   During the War of 1812, the British fleet moved north to attack Baltimore after it had successfully attacked and burned Washington DC. The local merchants sunk vessels in the river near Fort McHenry to block the British ships from moving past it. The British fleet arrived on September 12, 1814 and began bombarding the fort on September 13 at dawn. Since the British guns had a longer range than the guns in the American fort, the British fleet could bomb Fort McHenry while staying safely out of range of the defenders canons. The bombardment with mortars and rockets lasted twenty-five hours. After expending all of their ammunition, about 1800 shells, the British saw that the fort would not fall and withdrew down river.

Guns at Fort McHenry, Baltimore. Key Bridge in the background (left)

Guns at Fort McHenry, Baltimore. Key Bridge in the background (left)

THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER

   Francis Scott Key was a Washington lawyer. He set out on a truce ship to meet the British fleet near Baltimore to negotiate the release of a prisoner taken during the battle of Bladesburg (near Washington DC). After negotiating the prisoner release, Key was detained until after the attack because he had gained knowledge of the British plans. He witnessed the entire bombardment from the deck of the truce ship. When Key saw the flag still waving above Fort McHenry on September 14, 1814 he jotted down a poem. He called it the “Defense of Fort McHenry”. It was later set to the music of  “To Anacreon in Heaven”.  Now called the “The Star-Spangled-Banner”, it became the U.S. National Anthem in 1931.

Canons in the star fort

Canons in the star fort

Barracks in the center of Fort McHenry

Barracks in the center of Fort McHenry

Prison cell used during the Civil War

Prison cell used during the Civil War

Stores of gunpowder at Fort McHenry

Stores of gunpowder at Fort McHenry

View from outside Fort McHenry

View from outside Fort McHenry

Barracks at Fort McHenry where soldiers slept four to a bunk

Barracks at Fort McHenry where soldiers slept four to a bunk

Statue of Gen. Armistead, commander of the fort

Statue of Gen. Armistead, commander of the fort during the bombardment by the British fleet.

– Much of the information in this post was gathered from the park service brochure and website. Check out National Park Service website for more detailed info about the fort and battle.

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