Battle of Fort McHenry 

U.S. #4921 was issued for the 200th anniversary of the battle.
U.S. #4921 was issued for the 200th anniversary of the battle.

On September 13, 1814, the American garrison at Fort McHenry was subjected to a massive naval assault that ultimately inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

For the first two years of the War of 1812, the British forces used a defensive strategy, protecting their provinces from American invasions in Upper and Lower Canada. However, once the British and their allies defeated Napoleon (as part of the War of the Sixth Coalition), they began a more aggressive plan of attack.

In the summer of 1814, the British sent three large armies to invade America’s East Coast.   On August 24, British forces overran the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg, sending them fleeing through the nation’s capitol. With Washington, D.C., abandoned, the British easily looted and burned the White House, Capitol Building, Treasury, War Department, and other public buildings.

U.S. #1346 – From the Historic American Flags set.
U.S. #1346 – From the Historic American Flags set.

Additional British forces sailed up the Potomac to cut off Washington’s water access and threaten the nearby prosperous ports of Alexandria and Georgetown. For several days, the British troops looted hundreds of tons of merchandise from American merchants.

With American spirits low, the British then planned to attack Baltimore, a busy port city where they believed men who had raided their ships were hiding. The British developed a combined land and sea attack, with Major General Robert Ross launching the land attack at North Point and Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane taking on Fort McHenry by sea.

U.S. #1618Cd – 1978 Fort McHenry flag imperforate pair.
U.S. #1618Cd – 1978 Fort McHenry flag imperforate pair.

On September 12, about 5,000 British troops began their march toward Baltimore. However, the Americans anticipated the attack and prepared 3,000 soldiers, led by General John Stricker. As the British stopped for lunch, Stricker sent his first wave of men to surprise them at North Point (about five miles from Baltimore). Upon hearing the fighting, British Major General Ross set out to get more men, but was killed in the process. Despite this early success, the battle at North Point was a tactical victory for the British. But it also delayed the British advance on Baltimore, buying the Americans valuable time to prepare their defense of the city.

The following day, the British continued their land attack at Hampstead Hill. There they were met by some 10,000 American troops. The American defenses were far stronger than the British had anticipated. Additionally, U.S. forces at Fort McHenry managed to keep the British Navy from getting close enough to provide artillery support. By the early morning hours of September 14, British commander Arthur Brooke decided the land attack was a lost cause and ordered his troops to retreat back to the ships.

U.S. #UX284 – Fort McHenry First Day Postal Card.
U.S. #UX284 – Fort McHenry First Day Postal Card.

Meanwhile, at Fort McHenry, U.S. Major George Armistead had 1,000 troops awaiting the British naval bombardment. The attack came September 13 when a fleet of 19 British ships began firing Congreve rockets and mortars. There was a brief exchange of fire between the two forces before the British ships withdrew to just beyond the American cannons’ range.

For the next 25 hours, the British bombarded Fort McHenry with up to 1,800 cannonballs. In spite of this, the attack did little damage, likely due to the fortifications completed prior to the start of the battle. Around nightfall, British commander Alexander Cochrane sent a force of men to try another land attack just west of the fort. He had hoped they could slip past the fort and then draw the Americans’ attention away from the main British land force on the city’s eastern side.

U.S. #4921 FDC – 2014 First Day Cover with digital color postmark.
U.S. #4921 FDC – 2014 First Day Cover with digital color postmark.

Despite the bad weather and near-complete darkness, Armistead’s men fired on the landing party and forced them to retreat back to their boats. Brooke had been told not to attack American towns around Baltimore if he was not certain they could be defeated. After seeing that Cochrane could not take the fort and that he was heavily outnumbered, Brooke decided to withdraw, return to the fleet, and set sail for New Orleans. The Americans had successfully repulsed the British away from the East Coast, making the battle one of the major turning points of the war.

Francis Scott Key and “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Before the battle had started, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer from Georgetown, had been dispatched by citizens of Upper Marlboro to rescue their friend, Dr. William Beanes, who had been captured by the British days before. Key, along with U.S. Prisoner Exchange Agent John Stuart Skinner, set out to meet the British and negotiate Beanes’ release. Though they refused at first, Skinner had letters from wounded British soldiers praising the doctor for his kind and fair treatment. Eventually, Ross agreed to let him go.

U.S. #962 pictures Key, U.S. flags from 1814 and 1948, his family home, and Fort McHenry.
U.S. #962 pictures Key, U.S. flags from 1814 and 1948, his family home, and Fort McHenry.

However, the three men had heard the British plans to attack Fort McHenry and were ordered to wait until after the battle before they could return. They were tied up and forced to wait on a British ship in the Chesapeake Bay. They waited anxiously, watching the battle play out and keeping an eye on the American flag over the fort, until the smoke of gunfire and cannons and the dark of night obscured it from their view. On the morning of September 14, they looked to the fort and saw the flag waving overhead. Key was so moved by the sight that he began to compose a poem, “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” which would later become “The Star-Spangled Banner,” America’s National Anthem.

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  1. I hang my Head in shame.for. what I have not done.Oh for fathers I can not ask your forgiveness. Iam to ashamed. Letting this grate country. Be destroyed.abused.and miss used.letting your lives that it took to make The USA a free land .that stood tall to all.
    In through the backdoor. Came Obama a devil.forked toungh .lies masons.masonbay frequencies VHS-UHF that have brain washed the American ppl to the destruction of the USA. Blinded to Obamas destroy our constitution. Mocking god in front of millons of Americans. And no one said no you wont do that on this land .no you wont destroy. America. I will stop you are I Will die trying like all the real men did in the war of 1812. I ask god to please wake the ppl of USA up let us save our country.please.please.please.
    Dave True Blue. America.
    Ill die for you!!! How about the rest of you?

    1. I don’t usually feed the political trolls but to this I will.
      You are absolutely “right” we do need to get back on track; I suppose you want to get back to the “GW Bush United Fascist States Of America”. I would die for America but not for the likes of people like you. I would die for All The People, not just the few narrow minded people I agree with. This is The United States Of America, the great melting pot, there is good and bad and you have to love it, we have the right to disagree.
      So if you don’t agree you are also free to leave, We The People won’t miss you.
      P.S. use spell checker.

    2. This is an example of what helps to make America a great country. Even wingnuts like Dave True Blue have the right to rant and spout out their foolishness.

  2. As much as I like “The Star Spangled Banner”, I stilll with that Congress in the 1930’s had chosen “God Bless America” as our national anthem. It is much easier to sing.
    Inge Johnson

  3. “O say can you see . . . ” Another good history lesson and reminder of America’s early beginnings and what our forefathers endured so that we would have the freedom that is with us today. All of this with the certain help of patriotic American’s and their cannons and firearms.

  4. True blue Dave needs some help with true blue history. In the course of our history others who did not agree with their current administration saw the president in very negative terms and that sadly includes Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, FDR and many others.

  5. A great moment in American history and a great article as always! I love these articles and wish there were more people reading them, both for history and for a greater philatelic appreciation. Alot of people wonder why we collect, and its for moments like this, when you learn something new about a subject that perhaps you never would’ve thought to learn in your busy schedule. Thank you Mystic!

  6. “The Star Spangled Banner ” is easy to sing if you just take your time. Remember, the melody is from an old pub drinking song.Slow, loud and a key low enough to take into consideration the higher notes later in the song. Change the National Anthem? America the beautiful IS beautiful, but our anthem stands for the struggle keep our country free.

    1. Except for” true blue Dave” you guys are all in the right ball park. The Constitution still stands as the law of the land, his spelling is atrocious as well as his grammar and he is a disgusting example of the unfortunate result of the racism that still exists in America, propagated on the foundation of the basic freedoms that we are all entitled to, most profoundly expressed in the First amendment to the Constitution. This is a perfect example of how something great can be perverted into something evil. Dave, you are a stain on the American conscience. As has been suggested, throw your confederate flag in the dumpster and get lost!! Why do these bigots insist on blaming President Obama for everything they don’t understand?

  7. I would really like to avoid politics on this forum as this should be about stamps and history. On that note, I was always partial to “God Bless America”.

  8. The fact that there is a discussion truly shows that the land where our forefathers died carrying Old Glory through the battle gives me chills. For if not for them this would not either. And that is the rest of the story. Would we be eating crumpets and drinking tea at 4PM, or cooking brats and sauerkraut on Fish Friday? We still can but keep in mind for every action, there is a reaction. God Bless America would be a violation of the constitution (separate church and state); albeit, patriotic in its theme, the Banner yet waves for all the tired, poor, hungry and yes for sometimes delusional masses. The US Flag appears on stamps more than any other subject….that tells it all. And as Paul Harvey would say, “And that’s the rest of the story, Good Day!”

  9. Thanks everybody for reminding us that this is about stamps and the history they represent.
    True Blue: I’ll say to you what they said to me in the 60’s- love or leave it fool!.

    and what were you doing while this country was “falling down”. Hitting a furry ball over a net?
    what has been your ongoing program for change while the rest of us fight it out in the street and courts? Looser.

  10. As an instrumental music teacher (now retired) of some thirty five years duration, I agree that the nationals anthem is very difficult for the untrained voice. Its tessitura of an octave and a fifth is a bit of a stretch. It is typically offered in the key of B-flat and sometimes A-flat. I have even seen a string orchestra version in the key of G which is probably too low for the untrained voice. Still, when the drum major or the band director shouts, “Banner”, it is moving to see those instruments snap to playing position. If we should ever change, I would vote for “My Country ’tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty, Of thee I sing, etc. Finally, at the ball park or stadium,, I usually sing the bass trombone part. This results in a few turned heads or frowns of disapproval, but now and then, a former “band kid” will join in on the tenor or alto part.

  11. We need to leave politics out of this conversation! Our National Anthem and its origins has nothing to do with politics; this song clearly demonstrates that our flag keeps flying even under attack and continues to show its beautiful colors. We need to talk about stamps and their connection to our country’s past.

    1. Hans, again I disagree. Discussing the political implications of “This Day in History,” and of these stamps, makes it all relevant to our own day and not just pages in a history book or little slips of paper from a bygone time.

  12. True Blue sounds like a Godly man despite his grammar and spelling. How many of you are Godly people? Never forget, it is God who blessed this country

    1. Which god or maybe goddess might you be referring to? Down through the ages, there have been so many. I prefer to believe that it was flesh and blood human beings who built this country with all of its greatness and all of its warts too, not some supernatural force.

  13. This is no place for political discussions at all!! Enjoy our history and the wonderful stories posted each day. Sing what you want with happiness. My mornings are when I look for stamps and I have thirteen albums. Just looking at all the US stamps I have is a great history lesson. No Blue here.

  14. “My Country Tis’ of Thee’s” melody is set to “God Bless the Queen (King)”, from the National Anthem of England (United Kingdom), as well as the melody of the National Anthem of Denmark: “Der er et yndigt land” The memorial to the crew of the first shuttle disaster, it was suggested that the
    National Anthem should be “God Bless America”

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