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Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland

See the Fort That Inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner"

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Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland
Photo © Nancy Parode

Baltimore's Fort McHenry is both a National Monument and a Historic Shrine. Francis Scott Key was inspired to write his poem, "Defense of Fort McHenry," later renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner," as he watched the British fleet attack Fort McHenry on September 13, 1814, and waited for a flag, American or British, to be raised as a sign of victory. Someone set the poem to music, and the song quickly became a patriotic anthem. The song was sung at every game of the 1917 World Series in honor of the American troops fighting in World War I. Congress made "The Star-Spangled Banner" the official anthem of the United States on March 3, 1931.

Fort McHenry is a popular Baltimore attraction, drawing both tourists and locals to its brick walls, historic buildings and ramparts overlooking the Patapsco River. There's something very special about this modest fortress. It is, after all, the place where the American flag truly became the symbol of the United States of America. A replica of the 1814 American flag flies over the fort 24 hours a day, by Executive Order of President Harry S Truman, as a "perpetual symbol of our patriotism," weather permitting - the first such Executive Order ever issued.

History

Fort McHenry was born as Fort Whetstone in 1776, the same year the Declaration of Independence was signed. Fort McHenry's predecessor, Fort Whetstone, was built to protect the citizens of Baltimore from British attacks. Fortunately, the anticipated attack never materialized. Congress authorized construction of forts to defend the country's seacoast in 1794; construction on Fort McHenry began four years later and was largely completed in 1803.

Unfortunately, the fort was attacked during the War of 1812, after the British burned Washington, D.C. On September 13, 1814, part of the British fleet sailed up the Patapsco River and began bombarding the fort. The battle lasted until early the next morning, when British and American guns fell silent. At 9:00 a.m., Baltimore residents heard a welcome sound, the single shot of Fort McHenry's routine morning salute. Shortly thereafter, Baltimore residents, the British Navy and Francis Scott Key watched as an enormous American flag was raised over the fort. Against all odds, the American forces had held out against the British Navy, and Fort McHenry was safe. Witnessing these events inspired Francis Scott Key to write his famous poem. For the very first time, the American flag was associated with not only an important event but also with patriotic, joyful emotions, not just in Baltimore but all over the young nation.

Fort McHenry later served as a Civil War prison, Mexican and Spanish-American War training ground and World War I hospital. Fort McHenry became a national park in 1925 and was turned over to the National Park Service in 1933. During World War II, the U.S. Coast Guard leased part of the fort's property for use as a fire training and port security station.

Of course, Fort McHenry will play an important role in the War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations. To this end, the National Park Service plans to build a new and more accessible Visitor Center, revamp the Fort's website and reduce visitors' impact on the local environment.

Special Events

As you might imagine, Fort McHenry celebrates holidays related to the American flag with gusto. Memorial Day, Flag Day and Independence Day are all commemorated with speeches and special programs. Fort McHenry's Civil War Days (third weekend of April), Juneteenth (Saturday closest to June 19) and Defenders' Day Weekend (closest weekend to September 13) are very special times at the fort. Demonstrations, re-enactments and parades are just some of the events offered.

Next: Plan your visit to Fort McHenry

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