Fort McHenry - Maryland Historic Site

Gene Pisasale rasing the flag at Fort McHenry

Where is Fort McHenry?

The Fort is located in Baltimore, Maryland at 2400 East Fort Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21230.

Fort McHenry Map

Did you know: every newly designed U.S. flag is first flown over Fort McHenry.

Did you know: Frances Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner during the War of 1812 at Fort McHenry.

Forgotten Star by Gene Pisasale

An historical mystery about the Star-Spangled Banner

One major struggle 200 years ago passed into the history books as a conflict we’d rather forget than celebrate. It was sparked by acts of piracy on the high seas committed against American vessels, which were stripped of their cargoes and in many cases their sailors, some forced into servitude in the British Navy. After much debate, on June 18th, President James Madison signed the paperwork. The War of 1812 had begun. In trying to destroy their enemy, the British targeted many of the major ports in the U.S., including Baltimore. U.S. Major George Armistead was made the commanding officer of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in 1813 after having participated in successful engagements against British troops. Upon his arrival at the Fort, he’d informed General Samuel Smith: “We, Sir, are ready at Fort McHenry to defend Baltimore against invading by the enemy… except that we have no suitable ensign to display over the fort and it is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance…”

After the destruction of Washington by British forces, Armistead knew his stronghold would be next. He gave orders to produce 320,000 musket cartridges and artillery rounds for the general defense of the city. The gunpowder came from a small, upstart company based in Wilmington, Delaware named Du Pont. On September 11, 1814 the English expeditionary force arrived in the Patapsco River below Fort McHenry. British General Ross landed 9,000 men at North Point to begin the march west to Baltimore The bombardment of Fort McHenry began early in the morning of September 13th, warships hurling a total of more than 2,000 cannonballs and exploding Congreve rockets at the citadel.

Being held captive on a ship was Francis Scott Key, asked to intercede on behalf of Dr. William Beanes, who’d been taken prisoner because he’d formed a vigilante group to capture straggling British soldiers. Key received President Madison’s approval to sail out to the British flotilla with attorney John Skinner. After seeing letters from captured British soldiers attesting to their good treatment at the hands of the Americans, the English commander agreed to release their prisoner, but not until the assault on the Fort was completed. For 25 straight hours the offensive continued, bombs exploding all around the Fort- but only one quarter of them got to their target. Sunken rigs positioned by the Americans prevented the armada from proceeding up river, restricting the effectiveness of the British guns. After expending thousands of rounds of ordinance, orders were given around dawn to cease the naval assault. As they sailed away, one British sailor noted in his diary that the Americans “hoisted a splendid and superb ensign on their battery…” That flag would become one of the most celebrated symbols in American history. 

It is a tradition that whenever a new U.S. flag is designed, it is first flown at Fort McHenry over the same ramparts as in 1814. One of the biggest celebrations occurs in September during Defenders Day. Today Fort McHenry is a wonderful place for Americans and all history buffs to visit. More about Fort McHenry...

Fort McHenry - Cannon Ball fired on Fort during 1814 battle Fort McHenry - Cannons Overlooking Patapsco River Fort McHenry Magazine