Welcome back to part two of our War of 1812 history lesson! If you need a quick recap make sure to read my last post, if not, continue on…
We left off with Dr. Beanes captured by the British and held aboard a vessel close to Fort McHenry. Francis Scott Key, a local lawyer, met with Colonel John Skinner, a government agent, who accompanied Key as he sailed on a truce vessel out to the Royal Navy to discuss the release of the prisoner.
Meanwhile, early morning September 12, 1814, the British landed about 5,000 troops under the command of Major General Robert Ross at North Point, an area at the end of a peninsula between the Patapsco River and the Back River. As they began their march towards Baltimore, Major General Samuel Smith of the Maryland militia dispatched Brigadier General John Stricker to meet them. Attempting to provoke a fight rather than wait for one, American commander Stricker sent a small force out to engage the British. In the resulting skirmish, Ross was mortally wounded. Command was turned over to Colonel Arthur Brooke.
Brooke reorganized the British and later in the afternoon began preparations to assault the Americans a second time, following them a few miles away from North Point towards Baltimore. The Americans had withdrawn to Hampstead Hill. Here, as previously mentioned, was where the 3 mile earthworks was dug as the main defensive line around the city. The British did not anticipate how well defended the Americans would be, and rather than a frontal assault the order was given by Colonel Brooke to bombard the fort. On September 13th, the British fleet of about nineteen ships began pounding the fort with Congreve rockets and mortar shells.
Back on the water, Key had successfully negotiated the release of Dr. Beanes from the British. Unfortunately, the command had already been given for the bombardment of Fort McHenry from the Royal Navy. Held as prisoners, the Americans watched from afar as the British spent the next 25 hours attacking the fort. An unsuccessful attempt was made to land marines just west of the fort.
Defeated at every turn, the British eventually retreated, and as they left, a large garrison flag was raised over the Fort to replace the flag that previously flew. This flag, as well as witnessing the successful defense of the American fort, moved Francis Scott Key so much so that he began composing a poem named “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” The tune “To Anacreon in Heaven” was chosen to accompany the words. Though we know this today as our National Anthem, it took over 100 years for the U.S. Congress to enact legislation that officiated this decision.
There is so much more to Fort McHenry than the War of 1812, though this is the reason that the fort was established as a National Monument, and later, a Historic Shrine. Come out and join a program, fly a flag, and learn more about the awesome history that took place right here in Baltimore! Remember to #OptOutside this Friday – maybe this is a good day to visit us? 😉