Fort McHenry - History and Facts | History Hit

Fort McHenry

Baltimore, Maryland, United States

Fort McHenry was the site of a siege during the War of 1812 and the inspiration for the American National Anthem.

Peta Stamper

24 Jul 2021
Image Credit: FloridaStock/

About Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry in Baltimore, United States, is a five pointed star shaped brick building originally constructed as a defensive structure between 1799 and 1802. Named after James McHenry, the Secretary of War from 1796 to 1800, Fort McHenry served its most famous role during the War of 1812.

Fort McHenry history

Partially ignited because the British, who were at war with France, had instigated blockades against the French which had hit American merchant ships, the War of 1812 was a conflict between the US and Great Britain which lasted until 1815.

From 13 to 14 September 1814, the British attacked Fort McHenry. Over 1,000 American soldiers defended Fort McHenry, managing to repel the British. Known as the Battle of Baltimore, this clash inspired the words of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ written by observer Sir Francis Scott Key. Key’s song would become the American National Anthem.

Fort McHenry was also at the centre of controversy in the American Civil War when it was the site of imprisonment of John Merryman. Merryman, who was accused of burning bridges in Baltimore to impede Union soldiers, was held at Fort McHenry without the right to legal counsel and without being charged.

This was against the constitutional right of Habeas Corpus – generally the right to either be charged with a crime or to be released. However, at that time, President Lincoln had suspended this right as an emergency measure in light of the war and refused to release Merryman.

Fort McHenry today

Today, Fort McHenry is a national historic site. Visitors to Fort McHenry can learn about its history and tour the fort as well as viewing a film about the structure. A trip to Fort McHenry usually lasts around 2 hours, an hour of which is spent touring the building itself at your own pace, as tours are self-guided.

Getting to Fort McHenry

The park is 3 miles southeast of the Baltimore Inner Harbor and just off I-95. Follow brown Fort McHenry signs to the park. From I-95 northbound, take Exit 55 to Key Highway and follow Fort McHenry signs. You can also get the 94 bus or Banner bus from Conway Street which stops just outside the park.

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