The War of 1812, Fort McHenry, and the Star-Spangled Spectacular Festival

Courtesy of the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Courtesy of Fort McHenry National Monument

For this week’s blog post, I’ll be jumping ahead to the War of 1812, a topic we study later in the year. Since September 13, 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the bombardment of Fort McHenry, there are incredible opportunities to experience living history during the Star-Spangled Spectacular Festival in Baltimore. This week-long event from September 9-September 16 celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore which inspired Francis Scott Key to pen what became our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The War of 1812 was a defining moment in American history when our nation defended its young democracy in its second struggle for independence. Americans were outraged that the British supported Indian raids on the western frontier, interfered with American trade, and impressed or kidnapped American sailors from U.S. merchant and naval ships. In the War of 1812, the United States took on the greatest naval power in the world, Great Britain, in a conflict that would have a tremendous impact on our young nation’s future.

Photo Credit: Stitchers in Action by Barney & Wayne Photography

Photo Credit: Stitchers in Action by Barney & Wayne Photography

During the summer of 1814, the Chesapeake Bay became the epicenter of the war. British forces raided the Chesapeake Bay with Washington, D.C. and Baltimore as its targets. The United States suffered a costly defeat when the British captured and burned the nation’s capital in August 1814, causing President and Dolly Madison to flee the city. Baltimore, the third largest city in the United States and a hot bed of anti-British fervor, became the next target. On September 13, 1814, the British sailed up the Chesapeake and attacked Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, which withstood 25 hours of bombardment by the British Navy. The following morning, the fort’s soldiers raised an enormous American flag, a sight that inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem he titled “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The successful defense of Fort McHenry from British attack during the War of 1812 saved the city of Baltimore from destruction and forced British forces to leave the Chesapeake Bay. Five months later, the war ended. Many in the United States celebrated the War of 1812 as a “second war of independence,” beginning an era of national pride symbolized in the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

star spangled banner manuscript

Courtesy of Maryland Historical Society

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Baltimore is hosting the Star-Spangled Spectacular Festival at Fort McHenry, the Inner Harbor, and Fells’ Point with various events — from the Blue Angels flying overhead to Tall Ships in the Inner Harbor, and tours of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House. At Fort McHenry, there are several signature events, including an evening of patriotic music and a spectacular fireworks display on September 13th; and By Dawn’s Early Light, a program marking 200 years to the minute since the Star-Spangled Banner was raised over the fort. Throughout the week, there will be special exhibits at the Fort McHenry Visitor’s Center, including a piece of fabric from the original 30’ x 42’ flag and Francis Scott Keys’ original handwritten manuscript. Living history demonstrations will also be held at Fort McHenry. On Saturday, September 13th, Fort McHenry will literally explode with activity. Dressed as soldiers, sailors and citizens from 1814, Fort McHenry Guard members will provide a touchstone to the past. Starting at 8:00 a.m. cannons will fire from the fort’s gun deck. This is a great opportunity to hear the echoing cannon fire down the river, see the smoke, smell the gunpowder and imagine what it was like to be at the fort 200 years ago. The Pride of Baltimore II, a reproduction of an 1812-era Baltimore Clipper that helped America defeat the British, and Sultana, a full-scale reproduction of the British Navy’s 1768 schooner, will symbolically represent the ships involved in the fight from 9:00-9:30 a.m.

You’ll definitely want to check out the Star-Spangled Spectacular Festival! For a complete list of events, see the Star Spangled 200’s website and Fort McHenry’s Commemorative Events Guide.

~Ms. Andi Maples

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