View Full Version : Marines helped defend Baltimore from British

08-23-05, 01:54 PM
August 29, 2005
The Lore of the Corps
Marines helped defend Baltimore from British

By Don Burzynski
Special to the Times

After burning Washington, D.C., British Maj. Gen. Robert Ross wanted to destroy Baltimore, the building place of swift privateers, the ships that cost England more than a million pounds in captured cargo.

While British troops were moving on land to Baltimore, the British fleet entered the Patapsco River in Maryland to attack Fort McHenry. On the morning of Sept. 12, 1814, frigates, schooners, sloops and bomb-ketches moved to within 2˝ miles of the fort. But scuttled American civilian merchant ships blocked their advance into the harbor.

The next morning, 11 heavy vessels, five bomb-ships and a rocket ship opened fire on the fort. Rocket ships were a new invention, and the rockets’ “red glare” was used primarily as a scare tactic.

U.S. Army Maj. George Armistead, Fort McHenry’s commander, returned fire, but his shots fell short. A shower of shells rained down on the star-shaped fort, but the American troops kept to their posts.

Baltimore’s defenders included four volunteer companies, a company of artillerymen and a detachment of 600 U.S. Army infantrymen.

Additionally, Commodore John Rodgers led a brigade of 1,000 Marines and sailors in Baltimore’s defense. Some were survivors of the Battle of Bladensburg, in which British forces overwhelmed Americans defending Washington. Others came from Marine detachments in Baltimore, Philadelphia and aboard the frigate Guerriere.

British warships disabled a 24-pound cannon on the fort’s southwest bastion; the ships moved in, bringing themselves within range of U.S. artillery fire.

After American fire disabled the rocket ship Erebus, the British ships fell back and increased their bombardment during the night.

British land forces tried to flank the fort, sending 1,250 Royal Marines toward it with scaling ladders. Marine artillery repulsed the attack, and the Royal Marines were forced to retreat.

The British naval bombardment lasted 24 hours. Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer, amateur poet and light artillery volunteer, was seven miles away on a truce boat awaiting the release of an American hostage.

When the shelling stopped the next morning, the fort’s defenders defiantly replaced the weather flag with a 30-foot-by-42-foot American flag that would become known as “Old Glory.”

When Key saw the flag, he was inspired to write a poem and became the first to refer to the flag as “the Star-Spangled Banner.”

The U.S. Marines repulsed the British land force while another Marine artillery battery returned fire on the British fleet. When its naval bombardment did not cause the Americans to strike the flag over the fort, the British fleet left Baltimore Harbor in defeat.

The U.S. Marines, as trained artillerymen, were often more accurate in their fire than untrained Army or military members. They were credited by Armistead as saving Fort McHenry and the city.

The grateful residents of Baltimore gave the Marines an engraved, solid silver bowl with a serving tray and cups, and the commodore remarked “that the brave officers, Marines and seamen whom I had the honor to command on that occasion did everything in their power for the defense of your city.”

If Baltimore had fallen, Philadelphia and New York would have been next.

The writer is a War of 1812 Marine re-enactor. He can be reached at dburzynski2003@yahoo.com.