Heroism, Poetry, the War of 1812

The flag was still there as bombs burst into air during the reenactment of the Battle of Baltimore on Defenders Day 2010.

The flag was still there as bombs burst into air during the reenactment of the Battle of Baltimore on Defenders Day 2010.

We don’t forget that the British brought war back to our shores in the War of 1812. We remember the heroic soldiers, the brave citizens, even the talented seamstresses that created our flag.

Local commemorations of the Battles of North Point and Baltimore  will be held in the next few weekends.

The Start Spangled Banner has 15 stars and 15 stripes.

The Star Spangled Banner has 15 stars and 15 stripes.

And all around Maryland and Delaware we are reminded of those final chapters of the War of 1812 — from the Star Spangled Banner to Fort McHenry in Baltimore to Sotterley Plantation in St Mary’s County and the Cannonball House in Lewes.

On the second weekend in September, Baltimoreans always mark the anniversary of the war with Defender’s Day Weekend. The British bombarded Fort McHenry through the night of Sept. 13-14, 1814. As every school child knows, Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment, and when he saw the huge flag still flying the next morning, he penned the poem that would become our national anthem.

Last year there were tall ships, the Blue Angels and about a million people celebrating the war’s bicentennial in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Celebrations have continued, a little more low key perhaps, culminating in the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore in 2014 — sure to be a memorable celebration. And this year, too, there will be plenty to do for Defenders Day Weekend 2013.

Here are a few ideas for commemorating local heroism in the face of the world’s greatest armed forces in the 19th Century–

Baltimore

A map in the sidewalk outside of Fort McHenry's Visitor and Education Center displays locations of battles during the War of 1812.

A map in the sidewalk outside of Fort McHenry’s Visitor and Education Center displays locations of battles during the War of 1812.

Fort McHenry, a star-shaped fortification set on a point in Baltimore’s Harbor, is always worth a visit for all ages. Walking on the ramparts, watching the gigantic flag lowered at dusk, even lounging on the lawn and watching the boats and ships go by make Fort McHenry a must-do for Baltimoreans and visitors alike. The Visitor and Education Center, which opened in 2011, is packed with mementoes of the battle and varying renditions of our national anthem, including one by Jimi Hendrix. Defenders Day Weekend is set for Sept. 13-15 in 2013.

North Point routed the British on land before the ships began their bombardment of Baltimore. The Battle of North Point is re-enacted at Fort Howard Park, in Eastern Baltimore County, this year on Sept. 7-8.

The Fort McHenry Guard as it looks during a recent reenactment — and as it probably looked during the actual Battle of Baltimore.

The Fort McHenry Guard as it looks during a recent reenactment — and as it probably looked during the actual Battle of Baltimore.

The Star Spangled Banner Flag House is so small, it’s easy to miss. But in this 1793 brick cottage, Mary Pickersgill stitched the 30 foot by 42 foot flag that inspired Francis Scott Key.

Betsy chose a garnet tiara, exhibited at top left, for a portrait. It was left to her by her sister Caroline.

An exhibit on Betsy Patterson Bonaparte is one of two exhibitions at the Maryland Historical Society on the War of 1812.

The Maryland Historical Society’s museum has two year long exhibitions on the War of 1812, “In Full Glory Reflected” and “Woman of Two Worlds”.  The original manuscript of the Star Spangled Banner serves as the centerpiece. In addition, Volunteers have spent the summer sewing a new flag as part of the bicentennial that will fly over Fort McHenry during the Defenders Day celebration.

Southern Maryland

As the British blockaded the Chesapeake Bay and began their march on Washington in the summer of 1814, the war came to Southern Maryland. The Star Spangled Scenic Byway is, perhaps, the best way to see where Joshua Barney commanded a fleet of barges, or to visit Sotterley Plantation, the site of a British raid or stop in Benedict, where the British landed before invading Washington, D.C. The tour between Solomons and Benedict is only 25 miles — and begins and ends in waterfront towns with seafood restaurants to refresh the weary tourist.

Delmarva Peninsula

Lewes seems an unlikely place for a battle in 2013. But British ships turned their cannons on the little Delaware town for two days in April 1813. Delawareans have not forgotten, reminded perhaps by the cannonball stuck in the side of the 1765 Cannonball House.

St. Michaels touts itself as the “town that fooled the British.” As the story goes, townspeople dowsed all the lights in town and hung lanterns in the trees to misdirect the British — who were in fact fooled and St. Michaels was saved. Is this legend or truth? It’s the topic of an exhibition at the museum of the Historical Society of Talbot County in Easton. Or check out the Cannonball House on the tiny, green St. Mary’s Square in St. Michaels. It is the only house hit by cannon fire in the War of 1812. It’s privately owned but a good place to tell the story of the war in Talbot County.

Washington, D.C.

The original Star Spangled Banner, recently preserved (but still bearing the holes where souvenir hunters cut away pieces of the cloth), hangs in its own gallery in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. The gigantic flag overshadows the rest of the exhibit, all collected in a very dark room — so light won’t damage the national treasure. Here’s an interactive flag to get you started.

Stick around for the lowering of the flag at dusk. It is a moving sight.

Stick around for the lowering of the flag at dusk at Fort McHenry. It is a moving sight.

Want to keep up with the celebrations through 2014? Check out this website.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

Photos of the Fort McHenry Guard in top and middle photo
courtesy of the Fort McHenry Guard Fife and Drum Corps.

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