Fort McHenry: Birthplace of the National Anthem

“Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light.” Those are the first words of one of the most famous songs in our country’s history – The Star Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key. Key wrote the song while watching as the British attacked Fort McHenry.

Located in Baltimore, Maryland at the entrance to the Port of Baltimore, Fort McHenry was designed in 1798 to defend Baltimore against enemy attack. The fort was designed as a five sided structure to defend against land or water attacks on the Chesapeake Bay. However, Fort McHenry is best known for its role in the War of 1812.

Starting on September 13, 1814 at 6:00 in the morning, the British began a naval assault on the fort, while preparing to attack the city of Baltimore. Using 18 cannons and a variety of other methods to keep the British Navy away from the city, the soldiers at the fort valiantly defended the Fort and the City of Baltimore. The attack continued throughout the day, and ended in the morning of September 14, 1814, with the United States able to hold off the British attackers.

It was during the assault that a Baltimore lawyer, named Francis Scott Key, who was trying to arrange for the release of a prisoner, witnessed the attack. While watching helplessly from a British ship, Key took note of the attack throughout the. When the dawn broke on the 13th, Key was drawn to the fact that despite the relentless attack for more than 24 hours, the American flag that was flying in Fort McHenry was still flying, meaning that the attack was not successful. Shortly thereafter, Key was allowed to leave the ship and return to Baltimore, where his account of the attack was published in the newspaper. The poem titled “The Defence of Fort McHenry” eventually became the United States National Anthem.

After the war, Fort McHenry had many different uses, including a prison during the Civil War, a hospital during World War I and a Coast Guard base during World War II. In 1925, Fort McHenry was made a national park and in 1939, the Fort was named a National Monument and Historic Shrine.

Today Fort McHenry is a popular tourist attraction in the Baltimore area, and the flag that was flying in the fort is being preserved and is located in the Smithsonian Institute. Fort McHenry served as a key point in the War of 1812 and will go down as the place when the Star Spangled Banner flew, inspiring our National Anthem.

To remember Fort McHenry, we have assembled a selection of resources for your information: