Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland, is a star-shaped fort best known for its role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy in Chesapeake Bay. It was during the bombardment of the fort that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write "The Star-Spangled Banner," the poem that would eventually be set to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven" and become the national anthem of the United States.

Designed by Frenchman Jean Foncin in 1798 and named after James McHenry, a Scots-Irish immigrant and surgeon-soldier who became Secretary of War under President Washington, Fort McHenry was built after America won its independence to defend the important Port of Baltimore from future enemy attacks. It was positioned on the Locust Point peninsula which juts into the opening of Baltimore Harbor, and was constructed in the form of a five-pointed star surrounded by a dry moat — a deep, broad trench. The moat would serve as a shelter from which musketmen might defend the fort from a land attack. In case of such an attack on this first line of defense, each point, or bastion, was fortified, so that the invading army would be caught in a crossfire of cannon and musket fire.

Beginning at 6:00 A.M. on September 13, 1814, British warships continuously bombarded the fort for 25 hours. The American defenders had 18, 24, and 38 pound (8, 11 and 17 kg) cannons with a maximum range of 1.5 miles (2.4 km). The British had a range of 2 miles (3 km) with their cannons, and their rockets had a 1.75-mile (2.8-km) range, but they were not very accurate. The British ships were unable to pass Fort McHenry and penetrate Baltimore Harbor because of defenses including a chain of 22 sunken ships, and the American cannons. They were, however, able to come close enough at maximum range to fire rockets and mortars on the fort. Due to the poor accuracy of the British weapons at maximum range, and the limited range of the American guns, very little damage was done on either side, but the British ceased their attack on the morning of September 14, 1814, due to a lack of ammunition, and the naval part of the British invasion of Baltimore had been repulsed. Only one British warship, a bomb vessel, received a direct hit from the fort's return fire which wounded one crewman.

The Americans were under the command of Brevet Lt. Col. George Armistead. They did suffer casualties, amounting to four killed and 24 wounded, including one African American soldier and a woman who was cut in half by a bomb as she carried supplies to the troops. At one point during the bombardment, a bomb crashed through the fort's powder magazine. Fortunately for the defenders, either the fuse was extinguished by the rain or the bomb was merely a dud

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