Fort McHenry was still standing when the sun peeked over Baltimore’s horizon on September 14, 1814. And that was something of a surprise in light of the relatively large array of firepower that was stacked against it the night before. As you recall, British ships of the line had set up camp just beyond a line of merchant ships that had been sunk by the Americans as a water defense in Baltimore’s harbor. And throughout the night, they had lofted cannon balls and rockets at the fort.
But whether it was the distance, or the not-so-nice evening weather, or that British gunners were terrible at hitting static targets (or some combination of all three), Fort McHenry survived the night not only intact, but largely undamaged. Arthur Brooke, the newly-appointed leader of the British assault team situated to the east of Baltimore (following the death of General Ross), saw McHenry in a “non-rubblized” state and realized that its capture would be impossible. He and his men withdrew from the city and made their way back to Cochrane’s ships.
The Battle of Baltimore is most famous for Francis Scott Key and The Star-Spangled Banner, which he penned on the morning of September 14th. But a couple of things should be noted. First, Key’s composition was called The Defence of Fort McHenry, and the lyrics of our national anthem comprise just the first part (I don’t know the exact literary term) of the larger piece.
Second, Key was sitting in a boat to write our national anthem (in fact, The Star-Spangled Banner didn’t become our official anthem until President Hoover made it so in 1931). Though a budding poet, he was first and foremost a lawyer, and his job was to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes (which he succeeded in doing). Forced by the British to wait out the attacks before returning to the city, his boatside view of the night’s spectacle gave inspiration to the prose he produced.
Finally, and most important of all, the British lost the Battle of Baltimore, and a major port was saved. Admiral Cochrane and his men would turn up again later in the year…in New Orleans. And their struggles there with General Jackson would see the end of fighting with the British. The Battle of Baltimore was, for the Americans, a resounding victory in the face of recent defeats, and a victory that accomplished much in the way of ending the War of 1812.