tv American Artifacts CSPAN November 27, 2014 12:00pm-12:51pm EST
>> each week, american artifacts takes viewers into archives, museums and historic sites around the country. next, we visit ft. mchenry national monument and historic shrine in baltimore to learn about the birth of the star-spangled banner. 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the fort during the war of 1812. the raising of the flag over the fort on the morning after the barrage inspired francis scott key to write the words that later became our national anthem. >> that's a huge flag. >> welcome to ft. mchenry. chief of interpretation here at the birthplace of the star-spangled banner. at nighttime, fly a small modern flag. during the day, we fly the 15-star, 15-stripe flag. the same style as the one that inspired francis scott key to write the national anthem. key saw that flag at a unique time in american history.
a time when american moral was really, really low. a turning point in the war of 1812. and a lot of americans don't know much about the war of 1812. so let's explore the war of 1812 and why it was important for to see that flag and how it inspired him to write those words that became our national anthem. this would have been the main line of defense against the british ships. what was this war of 1812, and why did the british come to baltimore? well, what a lot of people find surprising is really the war of 1812 was one of america's most unpopular wars. i think that's because the causes were so complex. and on one side, you can say the united states had a totally good reason to go to war. the british were seizing american ships, dictating who we should trade with, could not trade with, stealing american sailors and forcing them into
the british navy. and it was deeper than just making up manpower shortage in the british navy. there was a whole question of citizenship that went with that. in the united states, we believed that you could come from a foreign country, say great britain and come here, live for five years and then you become a naturalized citizen. however, over in great britain, they believed once a subject always a subject. a lot of our statesmen at the time, they're saying the british are trying to define what a american citizen is, and if we allow them to do that, we're no better than when we were a colony. a lot of americans at that time thought they had something to live up to. they saw that previous generation like the revolutionary war generation, the founding fathers generation, the spirit of '76 is something to live up to. and so a lot of americans say, well this war of 1812 is our second war of independence. certainly those who were pro-war or the war hawks as they were
called use that language to invoke that spirit of the revolution. they saw the native american issues on the frontier as a powerful reason. saying, hey, the british are inciting the native americans or as they call them the savages on the frontier to shoot american settlers. for issues about national honor, freedom of trade, rights for sailors or free trade and sailors rights as they said as well as protection from our own frontier, we have to go to war with great britain. we tried the embargoes, kind of like economic sanctions, it didn't work, they tried sending statesmen over to negotiate. they said the only thing left is the declare war on june 18th, 1812, the united states declared war against the british. let me give you the british side really quick, that is, one, the british were involved, and the way the british saw themselves, they were liberators, they were the ones trying to free europe
from the rule of napoleon, and they needed every sailor they could get to man that royal navy. the british were dominant at sea. the french were dominant on land. for the british to win the wars, they had to maintain those sea lanes. and there were thousands of sailors jumping ship and trying to melt into that american melting pot. and in some cases, they were only getting their own people back. and as far as the native american issues on the frontier, well, the united states didn't always live up to the agreements they made with some of the native american nations out there. and so they -- the native americans were already angry at the united states. there were some hot headed american statesman who wanted an excuse to take over british canada. and so for some, all these other reasons were just a red herring, just an excuse to go and try to suck up and invade canada and maybe acquire some land to the north there. even francis scott key himself said i will not harm the poor
unoffending canadians. and really epitomized the americans. i don't like what the british are doing, but invading canada is wrong. and so really to this day, the war of 1812 was the most narrowly declared of any american war in which our congress sat to vote to declare that war. so here the united states goes into the war of 1812 divided at the home front, unprepared militarily. a lot of our generals were aging holdovers from the revolution, the supplies really weren't worked out. there was a hope that taking canada would be easy, even the former president thomas jefferson said a mere matter of marching, and that was totally wrong. it didn't work out. the first battles of 1812 were all american defeats. and at the end of the year, 1812, yeah, there were american army soldiers in canada. they were all prisoners. and so it's not long before the war of 1812 moves into 1813. and behind me is the river, and
that flows into the chesapeake bay. the british were able to use their large navy to blockade a lot of the east coast of the united states, turned the chesapeake bay into a british lake. the chesapeake bay was important for a lot of reasons. one, pennsylvania, maryland, delaware and virginia were the bread basket of the united states. you bottle up the chesapeake y bay, a lot of the goods, the wheat that was exported, that doesn't get to sea. in addition, you have the important sea ports and cities of annapolis, baltimore, the new capital washington, d.c., alexandria, virginia, all of those become -- the british are blockading the bay hoping that we would pull our troops out of canada and use them to guard targets closer to home. and also, recognizing that the war being unpopular amongst our own people, if they could get the americans angry at their own
government, you know, because the economy isn't doing so well, then that might help end this war of 1812. for the british, the war of 1812 is a distraction. the big wars in europe, all this is but a side show. so they want to bring the war of 1812 to a conclusion as quickly as they can. the war of 1812 here in the chesapeake bay really seized the royal navy against towns living in the bay. any town that surrendered without a fight would be spared. however, even a small resistance that would be burned. to the north of here, a town called vavre degrace. the militia put up a quick resistance. but when the royal marines landed, the militia ran away except for one guy. and the british captured him and went into the town and burned those buildings. on the eastern shore of maryland, two little towns, one
called fredericktown, one called georgetown. not one near washington, d.c. those towns were burned by the british. also on the eastern shore, the town of st. michaels defended itself pretty well, actually, and drove the british you have. but the british shelled that town and bombarded st. michaels during the war of 1812. so there are a lot of battles, skirmishes and engagements all up and down the chesapeake bay at this time. but in addition to the british and these bombardments and the -- and all that, there was a lot of fear. and the greatest fear was the fear of a slave uprising. only recently are historians really talking about the impact of slavery during the war of 1812. and here in maryland, you really had a divided state. the state was divided into support or not to support the war amongst the african-american population. and baltimore city, you had the highest percentage of free
african-americans. and a lot of them are supporting the war effort. however, in southern maryland and on the eastern shore of maryland on those tobacco and wheat plantations, you had enslaved african-americans. and the british were offering freedom to any enslaved african-american who would come over to their side. and especially a year later, in 1814, thousands of african-americans are now coming over to the british and the british are giving them their freedom. most of them were younger guys who could escape. and they had the option of belonging to what they call the colonial core. and these were like royal marines. they were trained as royal marines, and 200 of them, some say 400 of them would become part of this colonial corps. this prompted fear that this might prompt a massive slave uprising in this area prompted by the british. it never happened, but there was
a fear it could happen. there was a fear that there would be this uprising, a fear that the british could show up any day and bombard your hamlet or small town. and this is the context. it's not surprising that someone like francis scott key who initially opposed the war takes a more active role in the war. key was a slave holder himself. a high-powered lawyer out of georgetown, outside of the district of columbia. francis scott key had respect for the british. he respected british law and british culture. however, he was also angered at the they were doing in the chesapeake region. any marylander between 18 and 45 years of age, he had to belong to the maryland militia. and if called up, he had to go. and so he was part of the georgetown militia. i have a cannon right here, a field gun. this is the type of field artillery that francis scott key would have been familiar with as part of a georgetown artillery.
this is a field cannon as opposed to some of the red guns behind us here who are naval guns. a field gun like this is meant to be highly mobile. francis scott key would see a little bit of combat during the war of 1812 and talk about that combat. i'm going to walk around here to the other side. >> so coming around to the front of the water battery, just kind of coming into the shade here, i want to talk a little bit about francis scott key's brief military career and the events that really led up to the bombardment of ft. mchenry and the use of this water battery. part of the georgetown artillery, militia unit, citizen soldiers. he would've had a uniform, and
during the summer of 1814, they would have drilled and trained periodically. key's big combat experience comes on august 24th at the battle of bladensburg. a small town, only a few miles outside of washington, d.c. in august of 1814, the british sent reinforcements against the united states to really turn the heat up a little bit. at that time, there were negotiators for both the british and the americans meeting -- both trying to find common ground to end the war of 1812. on the united states side, we really wanted to get out of the war with our honor intact. by this time, the treasury was running out of money, the invasions into canada, all appeared to be failures. we lost a lot of men. and it was really unlikely that we were going to take over canada. however, we didn't want to retreat from our demands about the british laying off our sailors and confiscating our merchant ships.
we couldn't back off on that one. the british were also intimating they wanted us to give up the indiana and illinois territories. we weren't going to let that happen. by the same token, the british by the way of turning up the heat realizing by 1814, napoleon had been defeated in europe were able to send some reinforcements from europe to shore up the defenses of canada and also turn up the heat in the chesapeake bay. so thousands of british soldiers landed in southern maryland in late august. they march toward washington, d.c. or washington city as they called it at the time, figuring if they could capture our capital, that could bolster their position at the negotiation table. the americans, though, weren't entirely caught off guard, the americans called up the militia from around washington, including georgetown. so francis scott key were there. a few thousand soldiers marched south and hundreds of
virginiians came up as well as units from the army, united states marine corps and the united states navy. and americans were able to put around 5,000 men on the field at bladensburg. on the 24th of august, though, a confused battle erupts. the british attack with about 2,000 men and the americans are almost instantly thrown into disarray. the president of the united states himself james madison gallops away from the battlefield. some of the american positions are quickly overrun and whole american units break and run away. american militia units receive some training, but not as much training as professional soldiers and certainly not nearly as much training as battle tested british regular army soldiers. and so they didn't really hold up too well. francis scott key. some say he relied some misorders to some of the american high command. others say he just packed up with the artillery unit and retreated in great haste along with everyone else. who could blame them? so many people were running.
one african-american said, quote, the american militia ran like sheep chased by dogs. it was perhaps one of the most disgraceful battles in american military history. the british really won it in a matter of a couple of hours. they did sustain some casualties, but at the close of the day, they were entirely in possession of the field. and in a way, you can say that kind of ends francis scott key's brief military experience. but in a way, francis scott key's journey really begins at that point. the british did sustain about over 300 men killed and wounded in the battle. later that night, the british march into washington, d.c., where they take possession of the government buildings. the white house would be burned by the british, house of representatives, senate, burned by the british, the treasury building, burned by the british.
but interesting enough, the individual homes of the common folk would be spared. the british also spared the patent office since it was dedicated to science. but standing where i that direction is south. residents from baltimore city and soldiers on the fort could see, no competing light at that point. you could really see that, and everyone knew that it was the capital that had been taken by the british and only a matter of time before the british would come to baltimore. the british didn't stay in washington, but more the next day and they soon marched out on the 25th of august to rejoin their fleet. they got what they came from. interesting enough, documents that you can almost consider sacred to our history, the declaration of independence, the constitution.
who got those documents out only a day or two before the british take possession of the capitol. even the declaration may have been burned had it been left there. the british, though, marched back to their ships and sailed away. they have to leave their wounded behind. this begins an interesting human story. a local resident, he lived in a town called upper marlboro, which isn't too far away from washington, d.c. as the british were moving through his town, a few british stragglers decided to raid his hen house and create mischief in town. perhaps they were only supplementing their rations with local poultry. however, dr. william beans, a feisty man in his 70s took a few of them prisoner. one of them managed to escape and reported this to the british
high command. only days prior as the british advance through upper marlboro, he put on a phenomenal act pretending he was pro-british, saying he was educated in great britain, which he may have been. certainly given the illusion that his sentiments tended to lean more with the british and not with the americans, in spite of where he was living. however. this report seemed to indicate he was putting up a front and the british were very actry. they saw him as misrepresenting himself or perhaps even worse, breaking his word as a gentleman. and the british went and took him prisoner and brought him down to the fleet. and this news spread like wildfire. dr. william beans was a respected citizen. some say the leading citizen of upper marlboro. dr. william beans was also a civilian. and while it was considered normal for both sides to apprehend sailors and soldiers as prisoners, taking civilians
as a prisoner was seen as not really part of what the war was about, seen as something out of the ordinary. and so the federal government sends john skinner, the prison of war exchange agent to try to negotiate the release of dr. william beans. however, beans also had a friend in the man of francis scott key. francis scott key receives word of dr. beans being apprehended by the british and volunteers to go to help negotiate the release. i have a lot of respect for key for this because, first, he volunteered to do it. second, when he volunteered, who knows how long this negotiation process would take. and if the british took one civilian prisoner, who's to say that key might not be the prisoner. left behind a law practice that's not doing very well. and in 1814, key was also considering going into the
ministry, perhaps being a minister. he also considered, perhaps, becoming a newspaper editor. so even key was still deciding what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. a lot of soul searching for key at that time. a lot of soul searching for our nation at that time. and key does perhaps one of the greatest things to help get dr. beans released. he meets some of the british wounded who were taken at the battle of bladensburg and recovering at bladensburg and were neuursed by other doctors saying that other american doctors in good faith nursed wounded on both sides. with those letters, he was able to go back to negotiate with the british showing that, hey, you know, maybe this doctor misrepresented himself but other american doctors certainly helped your guys. in early september, key and skinner, right, if you look at the body of water behind me here, this is the upper part of the river where it flows into the inner harbor of baltimore city. and really on this body of water
if you were standing here, you would see a small ship, a packet ship going down the river to rendezvous with the british. a few days later, they rendezvous with a huge british armada of about 50 ships coming up the bay, under a flag of truce, the british negotiate with the british high command. key and skinner are allowed into the admiral's cabin. there's a negotiation no doubt over some fine meal and port wine for dessert. in the course of negotiation, perhaps gave key and skinner a hard time. but they ultimately relented and let dr. beans go free. however, on one condition that they had to witness the bombardment of ft. mchenry and the attack on baltimore. because as these negotiations were taking place, the british high demand figured that key and beans -- or key and skinner had seen too much of their
preparations to attack baltimore. they wanted to make sure they didn't go back and tell all they knew. and so now the stage is set for key to be an eyewitness to the bombardment of ft. mchenry and the british attack on baltimore. again, this is coming only about 2 1/2 weeks after the destruction of the government buildings in washington, d.c., a time in our nation where there were numerous battlefield defeats in canada. a time where the war had not been going well, where the treasure was bankrupt. and many people thought that baltimore would be another one of a long string of defeats. who knows, perhaps we would have to concede other concessions to the british in order to get out of the war of 1812. let's go up to the water battery and look out over that water battery. and i'll show you exactly where the british ships were when they were spied on september 11th, 1814. so we're up here on the water battery, the main gun deck, the
main weapons of ft. mchenry's defense system in 1814. these are the guns that won the battle. these are the guns that are going to fend off the british ships during ft. mchenry's finest hour. on september 11th, if we look through this here, looking down the river, the modern bridge, the francis scott key bridge, about where that bridge is, just beyond it is where you would see an armada. something like a forest of masts, white sails, 50 british ships right here where the river flows into the chesapeake bay. amongst that armada is one small packet ship bearing francis scott key, john skinner, and dr. william beans. the attack on baltimore is going to begin. looking down the river, if you look to the left, you'll see a small land mass, that's north point. and on the early morning hours of the 12th of september, about
5,000 british soldiers have dropped off at north point. and their goal was to march overland to take the city by land. a land assault. they run into an american advance guard of about 2,600 militia men, about five miles as the crow flies. this is called the battle of north point. and it was a pretty good battle. the americans fire, fall back, fire. it's about two hour long battle, the british lose about 310 men killed, the americans lose over 200, and the americans pull back. but the americans give as good as they got. they killed one of the british generals, major general robert ross and withdrew to defenses closer to the city. on the outskirts of the city of baltimore, americans dug about a mile worth of entrenchments. and you would have seen free
african-americans, richest gentlemen, women bringing jugs of water down to refresh everybody. some of the enslaved. it was really a herculean effort to get those defenses ready in time. militia came in from all over the state, northern virginia and southern pennsylvania. so when the british closed into the outskirts of the city, they could see that there were 15,000 american defenders waiting for them. and those defenders were dug in, backed up by artillery similar to the cannon i'm standing next to now. so the british realized very quick that taking the city by land may very well prove suicidal. they chose plan "b" and that was to take the city by sea. and on the early morning hours of the 13th of september, the british ships closed into bombard ft. mchenry. about 15 ships peel off and come up. you can see a large black tanker, that's where the british
bombardment squadron was coming on. this cannon is p mounted with a naval gun. and this is the type of cannon ball that it would shoot. this is an 18-pound solid shot. so this cannon would fire this cannon ball weighing about 18 pounds and hurdle it over a mile. it travels at a little over 900 miles an hour. but it does not blow up. it's solid. solid shot. or as they called it at the time, shot. whether it slammed into a wooden hull of a ship or the brick wall of a fort or cut a person in half. those cannon balls could smash into things. and in addition to that, they had brick ovens behind the guns. hot shot furnaces where they could heat the cannon balls up until they were almost glowing hot, ram down the bag of gun powder, wet rags and a block of wood or some mud. flip in the red hot cannon ball, pack it down, boom, when you touch the gun off now, if that
cannon ball or shot could embed itself in the hull of a ship, it can set the ship on fire. so in the early morning hours, around 6:00 in the morning, to really about 7:00, 8:00, the british and the guns here at the fort are trading shot to shot. the british had cannons very similar to this. if you see where the tug boats are beyond the tug boats is where the squadron would have been. just a little further away. and one man said it sounded like thunder when the fort's cannons fired. one militia man said i could see a number of our shots strike them in many instances. you could probably see geysers of water kicking up around the ships where there were misses. but the british were getting the worst of it. by 10:30, the british high demand on sea realized and it would be very unlikely they could support the land forces. that didn't stop the british from trying. they changed their tactics.
they backed off beyond the range of the fort's guns, and began a long range bombardment. i'll share a little story about major george armestad. his frustration. let's come to the back of this cannon and i'll show you. if you come around here to the back of the cannon. you see these wedges that are called coins. this is how you elevate and depress the cannon barrel. as they were pulling away from the fort, the commander of this fort gave the orders that these wedges were to be taken out of the guns. so the barrels were hiked up as high as they could go. and for twice the amount of the gun powder to be rammed into the barrels to try to eke out more range of the shot that these guns would fire. after a couple of guns flip over backwards this dangerous practice is done with. basically the british were simply too far away and even the guns that didn't flip over, they could see the cannon balls
splashing in the water. reluctantly the order is passed down to cease fire. armestad did something, though, important to our story. and that is he had ordered a year prior, a huge american flag. one measuring 30 feet high and 42 feet long. big flags were really popular in the early 19th century and ft. mchenry is no exception. there would also be a smaller flag, 17 by 25 feet. these flags were made in the city of baltimore by mary young pickersgill. her 13-year-old daughter caroline, grace swisher, an african-american indentured servant and the help of some nieces of carolines were also laboring on this huge flag, stitching it during the hot summer of 1813. those flags were delivered here. the large of the two flags, we would call the star-spangled
banner. the big flag was on the pole. it was overcast, started to rain. so as the british are withdrawing and as these coins were taken out and as we found out they got away and the order was passed to cease-fire, it starts to rain in earnest, and also orders the flags to be changed. the large 30 by 42-foot flag is taken down and the smaller 17 by 25-foot flag is hoisted in its place. and even those flags made out of wool, well, the smaller of the two flags probably is going to hang limp after half an hour. and this is where we come to the real high point of a bombardment. there had to be an abject feeling of helplessness amongst the defenders because with these special mortars, they could throw these 200-pound bombs into the fort and have them explode over the fort whereas the fort's guns could not even reach them. so, by the way, wanted to show you that this water battery was
the main line of defense. this was the largest type of cannon that was here. we were down by an 18-pounder before. this barrel is original to the war of 1812. you can see the casting bait of 1809. these were cast over in europe. and they were used a lot of them were used in the french navy and prior to the war of 1812, some of these guns were in the french consulate's warehouse in the city of baltimore and not long before the battle, they were brought here and installed at ft. mchenry. a cannon this massive will fire a 36-pound iron ball. no wonder the british never wanted to get very close. if you look down here at the cannon balls were shot, you can see a difference between the 18-pounder shot and also the 36-pounder shot they fired, as well. again, if i was the royal navy, i wouldn't want to get too close to that, and neither did they.
which meant that to win the battle, they had to conduct a long range bombardment. but if you think this 36-pound shot is big. one more thing before we go into the fort, how strong these defenses were and why the british chose a long range bombardment instead of trying to take the fort straight on. you'll see a small white house, that was not there at the time, you'll also see a cement factory. the americans strung up a chain link boom. imagine telephone poles chained together laying long ways. behind that, americans had gun boats, like a row boat. and behind that, the americans sunk ships. for the british to win the battle to destroy the city, they
would have had to knocked out that thick iron chain, saw through it, fight off the american gun boats, raise the sunken ships, and knock out all the cannons of ft. mchenry. and there were many of them aimed down river. it was tough to do, so the british decided on long range bombardment hoping to knock out the guns of the fort, maybe scare the americans off. this is why they chose to rely on the five special bomb ships that could fire a 200-pound shell 2 miles. and everyone knew the cannons of this time, only good for a little more than one mile. if the anchor half way to the bridge, they can throw those shells into the fort and to kind of help it along, the british had one rocket ship. if you watch on the fourth of july like some people shoot off these bottle rockets, well, a british rocket looks like that except it's as big as we are, you know, it's pretty large. and they look like fiery fingers in the night sky or during the
day look like a little jet plane going across the sky. and, you know, as they would come in, boom, and explode in and around the fort. and so they were not that accurate. if you've never seen one before and if you're a defender here and it's your first battle, it was like 1814. let's go and take a look at that show. this is an original british shell thrown into the fort 200 years ago during the night of the british battle. where there was a crane, the
crane would come down and they would have hooks and you can see where there were little rings you could hook into here, as it flew out the barrel. the fuse would go in here. the flame would lick around and ignite the fuse. and if you time it right when it's rooftop high, the fuse is to the inside, where it hits the gun powder, the whole thing cracks apart. knocking over cannons killing men, that's how it's supposed to work. if the fuse is cut too short, it'll burst in air over the water, nothing really happens, it splashes down. if the fuse pops out, goes out, it was raining the night of the battle, that's what could've
been what happened to this shell. it doesn't go off at all. keep in mind, though, if it's a bud, if it lands on you, it'll crush you like a bug. you know, 200 -- if it hit the side of a building, it could take a whole wall down hitting just right. but the british bombs. they said you could feel the ground shake when a bomb would explode over the fort. there were some direct hits on this fort. one direct hit hit the wall of this building and struck at a glancing blow. this was the ammunition magazine, about 300 barrels of gun powder were in this building during the battle. a shell crashed and probably hit like on the side of the building. it didn't go off, probably didn't do much more to knock a few bricks out. you know it panicked everyone. if that went over and went inside and exploded, it would have been like an atomic bomb going off and it could have changed the whole outcome of the battle in one lucky shot. so during the night of the battle, guys were running into the magazine taking barrels of
gun powder and spreading them out around the fort wall. there were some direct hits. and i think these direct hits really show the types of defenders who were here. there's one direct hit that landed on a point or bastian of the fort. and there was a guy, his name was levy claggett and private douglas wrote, i saw a shell burst behind the man next to me sending a piece of iron through his neck came out his stomach and buried itself 2 feet in the ground. killed him instantly. shows the power of the shell. he was -- he had a full blown military funeral. his name is on a special monument known as the battle monument, and, you know, for a long time, people still remember that guy. not too much further away also here at ft. mchenry behind the
fort were infantry soldiers, guys with muskets in case the british landed. one of those soldiers, a private in there, his born name was frederick hall, but he was born enslaved. he escapes off the plantation, changes his name because you don't want to get caught, right? joins the american army and then his regiment is sent to ft. mchenry. a shell very much like this one explodes near him and probably a piece of the shell like tears into his right leg. and he'll linger on for like two weeks and then he dies. infection, loss of blood, all that kind of stuff. and no one would really remember that guy. we found that out more recently. here another guy who was dirt poor, kind of an enslaved so you could argue he wasn't regarded as a citizen and yet he's dying for the star-spangled banner, too. shows the diversity of the
defender who came together to defend the flag. the famous and not so famous. however, most of the shells are overshooting or undershooting the fort. choosing to stay so far away from the american cannons are figuring, hey, we don't care if most of the shells don't hit the target, you know, if a few of them do. but the lucky ones weren't lucky enough. really, hour after hour after hour, they're wasting their ammunition. the british ships coming closer, but the cannons wait to come within range and open up again. one of the ships is hit five times in the bow, the rocket ship has to be towed out of range. so there was a time when they had probed in, but then they suffered damage and pulled back. and then continued a long range bombardment into the night. around midnight, the british tried kind of sneak attack behind the fort, a diversion so to speak. almost like in football, you
know, if you can't -- if you can't win by going on a blitz, maybe you try and run. especially if the defense has -- so i want to show you up on the rampart or the wall, and show you where the british tried to make that end run play, how it was defeated and then we'll talk about what francis scott key saw. we'll go up on to the rampart and over the ramparts we watch. here's the new word, rampart. what's he talking about? it's a fancy word for wall. we are standing on top of the rampart. the very tippy top is known as -- what was it like to be at this point or diamond-like points are called bastions.
the last bastion of defense. standing over the rampart. here it is the night of the 13th early morning hours of the 14th of september. think of like a deck on the back of a house, these would have been planked. cannons would have been up here, defenders up here, pouring down rain. the british try a diversion. and what the diversion is. they're going to send a squadron of gun boats to get in behind the fort. they're going to try to bring about 1,000, maybe 1,200 guys, maybe land them behind the fort. and it's primarily a diversion. maybe if they get lucky, they can get into the city and create mayhem or do something. it's mainly a diversion. and they're going to bring them down the way so you see that orange ship right there go down that branch of the river, and setting off at midnight, they hug that opposite bank over there, a squadron of barges.
so some of the british barges get lost. half of them make it and go down in this direction over here. and if you look that way, you can see 95. interstate 95. and that's near a cove. where you see there's a factory to the left and that's a cove right there. and the british actually sail those gun boats into that cove. what they did not know is that cove was guarded by three little forts. and so there was actually a little battle back there. so i always wondered what it was like to be here that night and suddenly see the skylight up. boom, boom, boom -- some of the gun boats are sunk. they say you could hear the screams of the royal marines as the cannon balls splinter into the barges, blowing, men, oars and splinters out the other side. not a lot of damage being done to us. some americans, though, panic. two of them run in the city of baltimore. one guy screams out, all is lost. all the forts have surrendered. but cooler heads prevailed. the british were driven off as
they sailed past. opened up and inflicted more damage. and continues through the early hours and then by dawn's early light, the bombardment gradually tapers off. so it's really around 6:00, 7:00 in the morning it's really quiet. now, if you look in that direction over there, you can see the modern high-rise buildings of the city of baltimore. old baltimore is pretty much behind all that, you know, but you would have had the trees. you could see the fort from the town and some people were on the rooftops and on the roof of the holiday street theater, you know, looking, you can see the smoke rising from the fort. they could see the british ships, they could see the fort. they knew the battle was over, but the question that they had and the question that francis scott key had is who won. the battle being over could mean the americans won or could mean that the british won. the question is, whose flag is going to be seen on that pole?
you couldn't see the flag too well. it was a smaller flag. it'd been raining all nigh, probably hanging totally limp against that pole. at 9:00 in the morning, armestad, the commander of this fort gave the orders to change the flag. the small sopping wet flag is hauled down. and if you look at this flag here, this is the size of the blue field of a huge flag. so the huge 30 by 42-foot flag that's hoisted in its place as the fights and drums played like an in your face to the british. around that same time the british realize they were not going to win the battle any time soon. the channel was too well guarded. that didn't want to take on that. so they didn't want to keep wasting their ammunition. they didn't want to come in closer because they didn't want to risk anything. so the only thing left to do was to break off and sail away. and they would say they created a grand diversion, they scared the baltimoreans. and they did do that.
but they also didn't get what they came for. and as the last british ship was sailing away was when the huge flag went up. and even one british eyewitness mid shipment standing on the stern of a british, wrote at 9:00, the americans hoisted a most superb and splendid -- impressed one of the british. more importantly, francis scott key, he's, again, where the bridge is today. if you look down the river right now and you see the bridge, look under the bridge, and you'll see like a cargo ship. it's white kind of like white on the top. that's about where francis scott key's truce ship likely was. and so he's straining through a spy glass, and he can see the red, white and blue speck on the horizon. it was a huge flag, but at 5 file myeiles away, it looks prey small. but the point is, he saw the
flag and the flag was still there. key realized an important morale victory had been won. where it was okay for guys to write poetry and songs and key wrote a four-verse poem describing his feelings about everything he experienced leading up to this moment. he'll express his anger at the british and the british withdrawing saying their blood has washed out their foul footsteps, pollution. key will express his anxiety at not seeing the flag because he'll pose a question. o say can you see and does that star-spangled banner flag wave land of the free and home of the brave. he'll also answer that question in the second verse where he will say on the shore dimly seen through the midsts of the deep. and he'll later say in full glory reflected it shines on the
stream. 'tis the star-spangled banner or the land of the free and the home of the brave. so key does see the flag. he sees it the morning after the battle. key puts into words what everyone really felt in their hearts. private douglass described that september morning about the flag going up. another private, isaac monroe said yankee doodle played as the stars and stripes, the star-spangled banner as the garrison cheered from these rampar ramparts. there was a mutual feeling that a victory had been won. when word got out to the peace negotiators in belgium, that really almost canceled out our defeat at having lost our capital 2 1/2 weeks beforehand. we had a great victory to balance it out. a few months later, february,
february 16th, 1815, the war of 1812 officially ends. the treaty of gent is signed on christmas eve, 1814. it takes a while to get here. and it's signed off on the 16th and the war officially ends. and in a way, the war ends as a tie. we never took over canada. so the canadians and the british can legitimately say they won the war of 1812, but not entirely because they hoped they gained perhaps the illinois and indiana territories and they did not gain that. so we can legitimately say that we held our own. the united states really in a way gained what it hoped to gain, a sense of honor, a sense of respect from other nations. and we certainly didn't win the british hands down but we certainly fought them to a tie and that was respectable. it was a war that disunited us, but then in the last few minutes, united everyone suddenly and a perception of
victory. and it's that confidence, the national anthem and the american flag came from the war of 1812, it came from the events that happened right here at ft. mchenry in 1814. the way we see the flag today was born on these ramparts in september 1814 through the words of francis scott key. every american should visit ft. mchenry and you'll feel differently when you sing the star-spangled banner. you can watch this and other american artifacts programs by visiting our website c-span.org/history. you're watching american history tv all weekend, every weekend on c-span 3. sunday at 6:00 and 10:00 p.m. eastern time, house of representatives and curator farrah eliot use artifacts and
photographs. and ending with the story of margaret chase next on american history tv, a portion from a ceremony marking the 200th anniversary of the star-spangled banner. in september 1814, after an all-night bombardment by the british navy during the war of 1812, francis scott key saw an american flag signaling they had survived the attack. it inspired key to become our national an them. this event includes remarks by vice president joe biden and maryland governor martin o'malley. it's about 40 minutes. [ applause ] >> it gives me pleasure to introduce you to another great