By all accounts, the summer of 1814 was typically hot and muggy.
The year before, the War of 1812 had turned bitter, largely due to the conduct of forces on both sides that led to the burning of York (now known as Toronto). United States forces raided and prevailed. While negotiating an orderly surrender, the U.S. lost many men. Brigadier General Zebulon Pike, the commander of the operation, was among those killed when the British exploded the remaining munitions of Fort York while U. S. forces were about 200 yards away. This act set off retaliation by U. S. forces that included the burning of many houses of government in York.
In May of 1814 the U. S. forces invaded Port Dover and plundered the undefended town. 1814 was the summer of British payback. The British has defeated Napoleon at Waterloo allowing them to devote their full attention to the conflict in the U. S.
The British roamed the Chesapeake and raided towns at will to resupply in an effort to wear the U. S. into submission. Many of the smaller towns on the tributaries of the Chesapeake including Sharptown, Georgetown and Cambridge were invaded and plundered. The emboldened British finally set their sights on Washington and on August 24, 1814, burned Washington in a fire so large the smoke was visible in Baltimore.
Although this sapped U.S. morale, the British did not expect the response to their next incursion. As they sailed out of the Patuxent and into the Patapsco, Baltimoreans knew they were next in the crosshairs. The understaffed U.S. Navy had exerted no deterrent effect. However local militias in Baltimore were still defiant, even after Washington fell to the British almost without a shot being fired.
Unlike in Washington two weeks before, Baltimore responded to the oncoming British. The locals mustered near Edgemere at the mouth of the Patapsco River and ultimately repelled the British invasion near what is now North Point Road. On September 12, 1814, Baltimoreans avenged the death of General Pike at Fort York with the demise of British General Robert Ross in the Battle of North Point. General Ross was the leader of the British land forces in the Chesapeake campaign and was responsible for the burning of Washington the week before.
By sea, where the British ruled, the U. S. faced a steady bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British. U.S. resistance amounted to the sinking of merchant ships to block access to the port. The British plan was for General Ross to rendezvous with Admiral Cochrane’s fleet in Baltimore. The death of General Ross on September 12th took the land half of the plan out of the equation. The survival of the September 13 bombardment of Ft. McHenry for some 27 hours repelled the British from the sea. They withdrew, forgoing other planned attacks in the Chesapeake campaign and moved on to New Orleans for the final battle of the War of 1812.
During the Battle of Baltimore, Maryland attorney Francis Scott Key and a priest were soliciting the release of a local doctor who was in British custody. The doctor had treated injured soldiers from both sides in the war. The British held Key on board one of the ships participating in the bombardment where he watched the lengthy shelling. On September 14, Key saw the miraculous sight of the U. S. flag being raised at dawn over Ft. McHenry, assuring him that the fort remained in U. S. hands. Moved by what he saw, Key penned a poem on the spot that became first a bar anthem and later our nation’s anthem.
Today, the place where the National Anthem was written is marked by a red, white and blue nun buoy in the Patapsco just inside the Francis Scott Key Bridge. A picture is above.
This year, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of when our proud city performed this act of bravery. As attorneys, we should offer our services to assist the planners of this event to make guests welcomed and educated about the significance of the battle and its lasting legacy made indelible by the actions of temporarily incarcerated local attorney Francis Scott Key.
To volunteer or to learn more about the events planned for the 200th anniversary please visit http://www.starspangled200.com/star-spangled-spectacular/#.U9kY0dyprwI .