Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fort McHenry

Commander K. at Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD

In the past week I was fortunate enough to watch four major league baseball games in three different US cities (SF, NY and Baltimore) and also view many hours of the London Olympics -- hearty congratulations to the US Women's Soccer team in their recent 2 - 1 victory over Japan for the gold medal (and so many others)!  I have, therefore, had many chances to hear different performances of the US national anthem.

Note Napoleonic t-shirt (our ally in 1812)
The timing of my visit to Fort McHenry, in 2012 -- 200 years after the beginning of the War of 1812 -- was, therefore, particularly special.  It was here that the battle of Fort McHenry was fought during the War of 1812 (see earlier posts, War of 1812, 4/1/12 and James Madison's USA and Hideki Tojo's Japan, 7/9/12).  Britain's Royal Navy was the greatest naval force in the world at that time with over 1,000 vessels -- the US navy had only 17 warships, none of them ships of the line.  On September 13-14, 1814, a large British flotilla led by Admiral Cochrane pounded the American-held fort which controls the approaches to the port city of Baltimore. Francis Scott Key, a young poet-lawyer, was being held prisoner on board a truce ship and was a witness to the bombardment.  When he awoke the next morning he was astonished to see the American flag still flying over the fort.  He then wrote the poem that forms the lyrics for The Star Spangled banner which became our national anthem in 1931.

Fort McHenry Guns

Fort McHenry is today a National Park Service Monument (  The Park Service does an excellent job with Fort McHenry.  The visitor center has a well-produced short film on the battle.  At the film's conclusion, the blinds onto which it had been projected rise up automatically revealing the Stars and Stripes perched on the ramparts.  I must confess that it brought a tear to my eye.

Old Glory at Fort McHenry
The battle of Fort McHenry was in many way a metaphor for the entire War of 1812.  The battle and the war were a test of endurance for the garrison and the American people.  Fort McHenry was nearly vanquished by the largest and most skillful navy in the world.  The United States was nearly torn asunder by the controversy of a war with our Mother country, our largest trading partner (see earlier post, Two Views of the Hartford Convention, 4/18/12) and the largest military and imperial power in the world at that time.  The total American casualties for the Battle of Fort McHenry were light -- only four were killed, while the War of 1812 claimed 2,260 killed in action over its three years.  The effects of Fort McHenry and the War of 1812, however, were profound.
At the war's conclusion, Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon had now been paid for in blood as well as coin.  America would have a clear path for westward expansion to the Pacific.  The United States of America would now have a rallying cry with The Star Spangled Banner.  Our flag and our country were still there.  The USA and Britain would never fight again.

Commander Kelly says, "If you are near Baltimore, especially in this bicentennial year of the War of 1812, be sure to visit Fort McHenry which is hallowed American ground like Gettysburg and the beaches of Normandy".

Special Thanks to Vincent Driano, a great brother-in-law.

Star Spangled Banner

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