Published June 13, 2012
A View of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore by the British Fleet. (Visit Baltimore)
Handwritten notes of the Star Bangle Banner, written by Francis Scott Key. (Visit Baltimore)
Many Americans associate Philadelphia with American history because it has the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, but Baltimore has a unique history of its own, too. During a trip to Baltimore, you can see the fort that inspired America’s national anthem as well as the home of Mary Pickersgill — the real sewer of the first star-spangled banner flag. (Sorry, Betsy Ross).
This year marks the bicentennial of The War of 1812, and Baltimore is the place to get a taste of the Second War of Independence, which gave America two famous icons: the flag and the national anthem.
A little background on the war of 1812
While the United States was still in its infancy, it found itself at war once again with its former ruler. America had won its independence from Great Britain less than 30 years earlier, but conflict over the rights to the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars – and a strong contingent of war hawks in Congress pushing for military action – pushed then-president James Madison to ask Congress to declare war.
Sometimes referred to as the “Second War of Independence,” the War of 1812 pitted the U.S. Navy against the legendary British fleet.
So what does Baltimore have to do with any of this? The Battle of Baltimore was an important American defensive victory that prevented the British from taking Fort McHenry and attacking the city. After the 25-hour bombardment, by the dawn’s early light, the stars and stripes were still flying above Fort McHenry. Sound familiar?
Here are four ways to celebrate the definitive end of the American Revolution.
1. Take part in the Star-Spangled Sailabration
The Star-Spangled Sailabration (June 13 to 19) kicks off the bicentennial commemoration of The War of 1812. An international parade of more than 40 impressive ships and naval vessels will sail into Baltimore on June 13. You can tour them, for free, from June 14 to June 18, and watch a free air show on June 16 and June 17.
The Battle of Baltimore took place in 1814, so it is fitting that the U.S. Navy, the state of Maryland and Baltimore’s bicentennial commemoration will continue through 2014. Check out future “Star-Spangled 200” events here.
2. Visit the Maryland Historical Society
The Maryland Historical Society is home to the original, handwritten manuscript of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” complete with Francis Scott Key’s crossed-out words, but that isn’t the only object from The War of 1812 on display.
The “In Full Glory Reflected: Maryland During the War of 1812” exhibit, which opened in honor of the bicentennial, takes up an entire floor of the museum and contains four separate galleries. Other featured items include “The Bombardment of Ft. McHenry,” (Alfred Jacob Miller’s large canvas painting and the most accurate depiction of the British attack on the fort), political cartoons from the era and a defunct British bomb that reached Fort McHenry but did not explode.
3. Check out the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House
Despite popular folklore, it was Mary Pickersgill, not Betsy Ross, who made the star-spangled banner flag that inspired Francis Scott Key’s words, according to the Smithsonian Institution.
While the original flag is on display at the National Museum of American History, you can visit the house where Pickersgill sewed the “broad stripes and bright stars” flag that flew above Fort McHenry.
The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House features living history interpretations on Saturdays and special programs throughout the year. On Flag Day (July 14), threads from the original flag will be sewn into a patch that will then be put on the Maryland patch of the National 9/11 Flag, our generation’s star-spangled banner.
4. See Fort McHenry
Fort McHenry, which is now a national monument and historic shrine, is famous for its role in the decisive Battle of Baltimore.The 1,000 Americans at the star-shaped Fort McHenry held off the British advance.
Francis Scott Key, a prominent Maryland lawyer who was aboard a ship during the attack, celebrated the victory by writing verses set to a well-known melody on the back of a letter. Originally entitled “Defence [sic] of Fort M’Henry,” the song went on to become the national anthem of the United States.
At the fort, you can take a self-guided tour of the grounds and check out the exhibits.
Getting there: Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) has more than 700 daily international and domestic flights; Amtrak has 80 trains stopping in Baltimore’s Penn Station daily; and Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) operates weekday commuter trains between Baltimore and Washington D.C., as well as light rail, subway and local bus services around downtown Baltimore.