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Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry





Location: Baltimore, MD  Map

Area: 43 acres (0.17 km²)

Constructed: 1798

Open: Park 8am- 5pm

Star Fort: 8am- 4:45pm

Visitor Center: 8am- 4:45pm


Extended Hours: May 26- Sept 3

Park: 8am- 8pm

Star Fort: 8am- 7:45pm

Visitor Center: 8am- 7:45pm

Closed: Thanksgiving Day, December 25, January 1

Entrance Fee: $7, adults 15 and younger are free

Official site




Description of Fort McHenry

The Star- Spangled Banner

Francis Scott Key (1779- 1843)

    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!


    Fort McHenry is located in Baltimore, Maryland state of USA. These military fortifications were constructed in 1789 under supervision of French immigrant Jean Foncin and cover an area of 43 acres (0.17 km²). It was named after Hames McHenry (November 16, 1753 – May 3, 1816) who was a Scottish- Irish immigrant and a surgeon- soldier. He eventually rose to Secretary of War under first American president George Washington. Military fortifications stood at the Locust Point peninsula that guarded the entrance to the Baltimore Harbor. Bastions were encircled by a dry moat that run around the fort perimeter.
    The fort became infamous during one of the battles of War of 1812. First explosions fell at Fort McHenry at 6:00am on 13th of September. Fort had an arsenal of 18, 24, and 38 pound (8 kg, 11 kg, and 17 kg) bombs. However their guns could cover the entrance to the harbor, but couldn't reach the British ships at a maximum range of only 1.5 miles or 2.4 km. The British naval artillery on the other hand was armed with rockets with a range of 1.75 miles or 2.8 km and naval guns that reached maximum range at 2 miles or 3 km. The British fleet could easily bomb the fortress, but it couldn't come any closer to the Baltimore Harbor. Otherwise they risked loosing ships, sailors and 5000 soldiers aboard the ships. They decided to attack the citadel and force Americans to leave it.
    Bombardment continued for whole 25 hours without stopping. Firing at a safe distance British expected commandant of Fort McHenry to abandon his defenses. However long range also made artillery barrage highly inaccurate. Defenders lost four men, one woman who was cut in two by a cannon ball and had 24 soldiers wounded. Fortunately for the Americans one of the bombs managed to hit a powder magazine and break through its thick ceiling, but it was extinguished so it didn't explode. British had only one wounded sailor. Eventually on September 14th the British ran out of ammunition and were forced to retreat without a victory.
    About this time an American lawyer Francis Scott Key and American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner were invited as guests to the British war ship of HMS Tonnant to Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, Rear Admiral George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross. They were supposed to discuss the release of Dr. William Beanes, a resident of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Both men were forced to stay aboard the ship until the attack wasn't over. Here Francis Scott Key had a front seat to the whole attack on the American fortress. The violent beating of the military fortifications lasted all day. In the morning American Star Spangled Banner still flew over defences marking the inability of the English to break through the defenses of the Republic. He later wrote a poem and it eventually became an American anthem with the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven" (usually attributed to John Stafford Smith).
    The Fort McHenry continued its service. During the Civil War it acquired new Rodman guns and became the training post for the US army. In addition fort served as a prison for Confederate soldiers and Confederate sympathizers or anyone who was accused of sympathy to Confederacy. During wars enemy list might be quiet broad and usually increases. Among people accused of conspiring against the Union were Baltimore Mayor George William Brown, Francis Key Howard (grandson of Francis Scott Key, yes, the irony) and many others. And the famous flag was shipped to England (again, the irony).
    During World War I Fort McHenry had several dozens of new buildings added to house hospitals for the wounded soldiers that came home from Europe. Most of these were destroyed after the war when Fort became a National Park in 1925 and later turned into a National Monument and Historic Shrine in 1939. This Shrine served briefly as a base for the Coast Guard that hunted German U- boats that occasionally patrolled Eastern shores of the United States at the time sinking ships and wrecking havoc on military and civilian vessels. After the war Fort McHenry was completely restored to the original appearance of War of 1812. A copy of a flag that flew that day in 1814 is still flying over this historic fort.


The Original Star Spangled Banner

This is the original banner that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired the poem that later became the anthem of the United States of America. It was made by flag maker Mary Young Pickersgill between July and August of 1813 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was paid $405.90 for her job. It was commissioned by Lt. Col. George Armistead, the commander of the fort. It was originally measured 30 feet by 42 feet. The main Great Garrison Flag as it was known was big enough for passing ships to see the ownership of the military citadel. A smaller and less impressive Storm Flag was kept for difficult weather conditions. Over time it lost several feet during its long and colourful history and now measures 30 feet by 34 feet. The flag also lost one of its stars that was cut out and recently sold for $38,837 at auction in Dallas, TX on November 30th, 2011. Unlike modern American flag that has 50 starts and 13 stripes, the star spangled banner had 15 stars (minus one missing) and 15 stripes. The commander of the fort Lt. Col. Armistead preserved the flag as a memento of the famous battle. He died in 1818 and this flag is said to cover his coffin. His daughter Georgiana Armistead kept it and gave it to her son Even Appleton in 1824. A letter "V" or incomplete letter "A" appeared on a flag somewhere in the late 19th century. It was either meant to signify "victory" or "Armstead". We will never know who and why did this. At the outbreak of the Civil War the was actually shipped out of the country for safekeeping. And the safest place for this piece of American history was in Great Britain (irony). It was loaned to Smithsonian Institution in 1907 and later transferred to the National Museum of American History in 1964.