Great Garrison Flag at Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry and the Star Spangled Banner

Fort McHenry, protecting the water approaches of Baltimore, is a star-shaped fort built between 1798 and 1800. It was designed by French architect Jean Foncin with a dry moat to be used by infantry in defending the fort. The star shape provided protection for every outer surface, as an assault on any wall would expose attackers to overlapping fire.

On September 13-14, 1814, the fort withstood a 25-hour long attack by a British fleet commanded by Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane. Cochran was not well regarded in the U.S., having landed the force that burned Washington, D.C.

After the American flag appeared in the morning light on September 14, a Washington lawyer, Francis Scott Key, was inspired to write a poem, “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” which was later put to music and became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

External battery, Fort McHenry
Three National Park Service rangers film an educational video at the external battery of Fort McHenry. These three large muzzle-loading cannon are typical of the type used at Fort McHenry during the British bombardment of Sept. 13-14, 1814. The radios, cameras, wrist watches, etc., are not from this era.
Front of the external battery, Fort McHenry
The earthen berm in front of the battery was designed to absorb the force of any enemy fire shot at the battery. These external batteries were intended to make attacking the fort, and Baltimore, more difficult.
Great Garrison Flag at Fort McHenry
Flying over Fort McHenry during the British bombardment was the Great Garrison Flag, a 15-star, 15-stripe flag of  30 by 42 feet. This flag was sewn in Baltimore by Mary Young Pickersgill. The original flag, now commonly called the Star Spangled Banner, is preserved at the Smithsonian Museum of National History in Washington, DC.
Cannon on display at Fort McHenry
Several iron and brass cannon are on display at Fort McHenry. These muzzle-loading cannon were designed for use on ships as they were too unwieldy for use on land — except in forts.
Above-ground magazine at Fort McHenry
As Fort McHenry sticks out into Baltimore Harbor, surrounded on three sides by brackish salt water, it wasn’t possible to have an underground magazine. Fort McHenry features a large aboveground magazine with a brick exterior and thick walls. Inside, wood walls and flooring reduce the chance of sparks setting off the black powder. During the battle, one round did penetrate the magazine, but was either a dud or was extinguished by the heavy rain.
Interior of barracks, Fort McHenry
The barracks at Fort McHenry are constructed of brick. This shallow brick fireplace could provide some measure of heat. Fortunately, a fire extinguisher is handy…
External battery, Fort McHenry
British ships approaching Baltimore from Chesapeake Bay would have found the external batteries hard to target. On the other hand, the berms provided no protection from plunging fire.
Posing atop the walls of Fort McHenry
From outside the fort, you can see the top of one of the brick barracks on the left, posing tourists on top of the outer wall, and the 15-star, 15-stripe flag atop the flagpole.
Flag flying over the entrance
The flag is just inside the star-shaped fort. The entrance is protected by a long passageway, several heavy doors, and a short, removable bridge.
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