The “perilous fight” lasted 25 hours. Through the darkened night British ships bombarded Fort McHenry lobbing more than 133 tons of shells, raining bombs and rockets on the bastion at the rate of one projectile per minute. The thunder they created shook Baltimore to its foundations and was reportedly heard as far away as Philadelphia.
The only light given off that evening was from those exploding shells which lit up a super-sized American flag that was still flying over Fort McHenry when dawn emerged. On the morning of September 14 the British withdrew in defeat, turning the tide of the War of 1812. Aboard a truce ship on the Patapsco River that night, a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key wrote a poem originally titled ”Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Today, we know it as the Star Spangled Banner.
This summer from June 13-19, Maryland tourism officials hope to draw more than one million people to the birthplace of our national anthem. An international parade of ships will sail into Baltimore on June 13 for “Star-Spangled Sailabration.” It’s the kick-off of a three year bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812 featuring a blockbuster international maritime festival.
Baltimore's iconic Inner Harbor and its historic waterfront neighborhoods are the ideal setting for the Star-Spangled Sailabration. A dozen attractions in Baltimore have a direct tie to the War of 1812, allowing visitors to explore some of our nation's most historical artifacts and cultural sites both during the June festivities and throughout the three-year commemoration.
The Maryland Historical Society's “With Broad Stripes and Bright Stars” exhibit focuses on the "Rock Stars" of the War of 1812 and gives visitors a glimpse of the original version of Key's manuscript of "Defence of Fort M'Henry." The society will open a special new exhibit also dedicated to the "second war of independence" on June 10, just in time for Sailabration. In preparation for the anniversary, the National Park Service recently completed a $15 million, 17,000-square-foot center at Fort McHenry.
The Navy and nonprofit Operation Sail are organizing ship visits around the country, including fleet weeks in New Orleans, Norfolk, New York, Boston as well as Baltimore, which has never hosted a fleet week. More than two dozen ships, including U.S. Navy, British and Canadian “gray hulls” and tall ships from around the globe are expected for the Star-Spangled Sailabration festivities. The week-long event will feature public tours, land-based activities and an air show, spotlighting the Blue Angels. Ships will be staged in Baltimore’s famed Inner Harbor, Fell’s Point, Canton and Locust Point.
The Navy, which sees the war as central to the development of its culture, is taking a large role in the anniversary events in Baltimore.
“So many of our heroes come from the War of 1812,” said Capt. Patrick Burns, director of Navy commemorations. “We had to stand up for ourselves. It was a small war, but a very significant one. Baltimore is shaping up to be one of the premiere sites of the event. You can’t beat Fort McHenry, the Star-Spangled Banner and the harbor.”
The Chief of Naval Operations has invited 120 countries to send appropriate combat ships as well as their Naval Academy sail training tall ships. As of March, officials have identified nine U.S. warships and five tall sailing ships that will be visiting including the “Dewaruci,” the only tall mast ship owned and operated by the Indonesian Navy and built in 1931. A 191-foot sail training vessel for naval cadets, her figurehead and name represent the mythological Indonesian god of courage and sincerity. The “Cuauhtemoc,” a 270-foot tall ship of Mexico, is a barque built in 1982. Home-ported in Acapulco, she is a sister ship of Guayas and the “Cisne Branco,” a 249-foot long full-rigged tall ship of Brazil which is home-ported in Rio de Janeiro. Built in 1998, she is one of the newest ships participating.
The Coast Guard has confirmed its tall ship, the USCG Barque Eagle, a 290-foot long globetrotting ambassador and sail training ship of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Eagle always leads the Parade of Sail. The Pride of Baltimore II, the USS Hurricane and the Norwegian training ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl, and all the tall ships will berthed at the Inner Harbor. Other elements of the maritime festival include rowing competitions, fireworks, living history displays and free tours of ships. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is set to present a new symphonic overture on Sunday, June 17 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
The United States declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Still a young and developing nation, the conflict was sparked when British ships continually impeded American trade with France and the forced recruitment of U.S. citizens into the Royal Navy. During the conflict, Baltimore played a pivotal role. Marylanders provided some impressive national symbols that are still important in the country today.
The bicentennial events continue over the next three years including water and land tours, historical battle re-enactments at sites around the Chesapeake Bay, educational symposiums, and special exhibitions.
Visitors can step into living history at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House where the spirited Mary Pickersgill, a hardworking widow, was known as one of the best flag makers in Baltimore.
Baltimore was an ideal place to have a flag business since ships arrived and departed from around the world. And, all of them needed flags-- company flags, signal flags, country flags.
On a blazing hot July day Pickersgill received a rush order from Maj. George Armistead. Newly installed as commander of Fort McHenry, the 33-year-old officer wanted an super-sized banner. Measuring 30 by 42 feet, it was pieced together on the floor of a Baltimore brewery. Unlike the 13-star ensign first authorized by Congress in June 1777, this one had 15 stars to go with the 15 stripes, acknowledging the Union's latest additions, Vermont and Kentucky. It was first hoisted over the federal garrison at Fort McHenry guarding the entrance to Baltimore's waterfront.
It was the flag that people of Baltimore gathered and rallied around, a banner that soon would emerge as a national treasure.