The site of Fort McHenry occupies the star shaped Fort Whetstone, which was constructed during the Revolutionary War to protect Baltimore from British forces.
Fort McHenry, a fort named after James McHenry; the former aide to George Washington and his friend Lafayette during the Revolutionary War, a foreign born signer of the U.S. Constitution, and former Secretary of War under the administrations of George Washington and John Adams, was established during the Quasi-War with France in 1799.
Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead, whom had been an artillery officer during an attack against Britain’s Fort George in Canada On May 18, 1813 and was given the honors to deliver the captured British flags to President James Monroe, had been granted command of Fort McHenry on June 1813.
After assuming command of Fort McHenry, Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead ordered that a 30 foot by 42 foot “Great Garrison Flag” that would be, “so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.”
On September 1814, British land and naval forces attacked Fort McHenry, and the U.S. military ended up successfully repelling the British forces away.
After the American victory, the army was ordered to raise “Great Garrison Flag”. Francis Scott Key saw that garrison flag, the morning that it was raised, which inspired him to write the poem, “The Star Spangled Banner”. That poem would eventually become the United States National Anthem.
During the U.S. Civil War Fort McHenry served as a prison for thousands of political and confederate soldier prisoners. The fort became known as the “Baltimore Bastille” during its time as a prison. Fort McHenry served as an active army fort until 1912.
In the 1930s the U.S. Army and the Works Progress Administration restored the fort. In 1933, Fort McHenry’s ownership was transferred to the United States National Park Service. In 1939, Congress designated the structure as the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historical Shrine.
In present day there is a Fort McHenry Monument and Historic Shrine Visitor and Education Center with various exhibits of the fort.
Outside of the visitors center are statues honoring Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead and others who were part of the history of Fort McHenry.
In 1916, the Fine Arts Commission had sponsored a competition to honor Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” anthem. The commission chose to install Charles Henry Niehaus’s statue “Orpheus” in Fort McHenry on Flag Day June 14, 1922. An annual “Star Spangled Defenders Day”, which is the oldest holiday for the City of Baltimore, is hosted at the fort, and other ministry installations, to commemorate the Battle of Baltimore.