USS FORT MCHENRY


History

American FlagFort McHenry - Baltimore, Maryland: The history of the fort began in 1776 during the Revolutionary War. The people of Baltimore feared an attack by the British and wanted to build a fort for protection. Anticipating an attack at any time, a fort of earthen mounds was constructed quickly. Originally, it was called Fort Whetstone, because of its location on Whetstone Point.

The Revolutionary War ended without an attack on Baltimore, but improvements to the fort continued. In 1798, a French engineer was directed by the Secretary of War to draw plans for a new fort on Whetstone Point. These plans were expensive, and it was difficult for the people of Baltimore to raise money for construction. However, James McHenry, a well known politician, was instrumental in raising funds for the new fort. The fort was renamed "Fort McHenry" in his honor.

Fort McHenry became famous when the British tried to attack Baltimore during the War of 1812. When the bombardment began on September 13, 1814, there were 1,000 soldiers defending the fort. Their commanding officer was Major George Armistead.

Just prior to the attack, Francis Scott Key, a well-known lawyer, met the Royal Navy in the Chesapeake Bay to effect the release of Dr. William Beanes, a British prisoner and close friend of Key's. Dr. Beanes was released, but the Americans were forced to wait in their boat behind the British fleet until the attack was completed. From a distance of approximately eight miles, Key and his friends watched the British bombard Fort McHenry.

After 25 hours of continuous bombing, the British decided to leave since they were unable to destroy the fort as they had hoped. Realizing the British had ceased the attack, Key looked toward the fort to see if the flag was still there. To his relief, the flag was still flying! Quickly, he wrote down the words to a poem which was soon handed out as a handbill under the title, "Defence of Fort McHenry". Later, the words were set to music, and renamed, "The Star Spangled Banner". This became a popular patriotic song, and in 1931 it became our national anthem.