Celebrate the War of 1812 Bicentennial in Baltimore
Visit the historic shrine at the Fort McHenry National Monument, tour the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, and see the original draft of the Star-Spangled Banner at the Maryland Historical Society. Click here for more information about the Star-Spangled 200 War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration in Baltimore.
History Overview: War of 1812 Events
One of the most famous moments in Baltimore history was the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, a war fought between the United States and the British Empire between 1812 and 1815. After the British were held off in their attacks on Baltimore by land at North Point and by sea near Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that would inspire the lyrics for The Star-Spangled Banner, the American national anthem.
War of 1812 Events: The Battle of Baltimore
The Battle of Baltimore marked one of the major turning points in the War of 1812. On August 24, 1814 the British had attacked Washington, D.C., and burned and looted the White House, Capitol, Treasury, War Department and other public buildings before they started making their way toward Baltimore. After their victory in the nation's capital (known as the "Burning of Washington") and its surrounding cities, such as Alexandria and Georgetown, taking the Port of Baltimore would mark another enormous victory for the British and a double-punch second defeat for the stunned Americans. With this objective, the British attacked Baltimore by land at North Point and by sea at Fort McHenry, which stood in defense of the Baltimore Harbor.
The Fight and the Flag at Fort McHenry
Maryland militia were able to hold the British at North Point, so British naval forces then turned their full focus on Fort McHenry. On September 13, 1814, nineteen British ships aimed their cannons and guns on the fort. Amazingly, an estimated 1,500 to 1,800 British cannonballs failed to cause any significant damage to a fort which was unable to fire back on the ships because they were positioned just out of range of the American guns. The Americans, under the command of Major George Armistead, did, however, open fire onto a British attempt to send a landing party ashore. Through the 25-hour-long bombardment of gun and cannon fire throughout a darkened night – all of the lights in Baltimore were extinguished during the battle – the only light given off was from the exploding shells which lit up an enormous American flag that was still flying over Fort McHenry on the morning of September 14. It was on that morning that Francis Scott Key, who was on board a truce ship on the Patapsco River, wrote a poem that would later be printed and distributed among Americans. The poem, originally titled "Defence of Fort McHenry" and sung to the tune of an old British drinking song, would eventually become "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was on that morning that the British withdrew in defeat, turning the tide of the War of 1812.
The Strategic Chesapeake Bay
Throughout the War of 1812, the Chesapeake Bay, so close to the U.S. capital and full of bustling ports of commerce, remained an essential strategic location and a target of British attack from Norfolk, Virginia, to Havre de Grace, Maryland. With its prominent position along the Atlantic, the towns and ports along the Chesapeake Bay shoreline and Atlantic coast were under constant threat of raid and plunder, as were the ships in and around their waters. As an extension of local Baltimore history, an event downriver at the mouth of the Bay known as the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair is cited as one of the prominent reasons – among the long list of reasons – for the start of the War of 1812.
What happened? On June 22, 1807, the British warship Leopard attacked and boarded the American ship Chesapeake, which was situated just off the coast of Norfolk, when refused a British search. Deserters of the British Royal Navy were found aboard the Chesapeake and the Americans harboring them were sentenced, which outraged the American public. Though their sentences were later commuted and the British offered to pay for the damages to the Chesapeake, the incident irreversibly raised tensions between the U.S. and the British empire and inspired President Thomas Jefferson to order all British ships out of American waters and initiate the Embargo Act of 1807, in which trade between the United States and other nations was banned in an attempt to prevent American involvement in European wars. The event also brought into question the ability of the Americans to protect and defend their assets on and around the Chesapeake Bay and beyond. Later during the War of 1812, the Chesapeake was captured by the British near Boston.
The Outcome of the War of 1812
The War of 1812 was fought all along the Atlantic coast, on the frontier land along the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River near the borders of Canada, and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Baltimore history is strongly interwoven into the broader story of the war, and you can visit and walk the grounds of Fort McHenry which stands as a national monument and historic shrine and an emblem to American independence to this day. In fact, many refer to the War of 1812 as the "second war of independence" against Britain, resulting in peaceful times between the countries for decades to come.
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