Great Place Wednesday: Fort McHenry, Baltimore

Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland, is a coastal star-shaped fort best known for its role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy in Chesapeake Bay September 13–14, 1814. It was during the bombardment of the fort that Francis Scott Keywas inspired to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the poem that would eventually be set to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven” and become the national anthem of the United States.

Fort McHenry was built on the site of the former Fort Whetstone, which had defended Baltimore from 1776 to 1797. Fort Whetstone stood on Whetstone Point (today’s residential and industrial area of Locust Point) peninsula, which juts into the opening of Baltimore Harbor between the Basin (today’s Inner Harbor) and Northwest branch on the north side and the Middle and Ferry (now Southern) branches of the Patapsco River on the south side.

The Frenchman Jean Foncin designed the fort in 1798, and it was built between 1798 and 1800. The new fort’s purpose was to improve the defenses of the increasingly important Port of Baltimore from future enemy attacks.

The new fort was constructed in the form of a five-pointed star surrounded by a dry moat — a deep, broad trench. The moat would serve as a shelter from which infantry might defend the fort from a land attack. In case of such an attack on this first line of defense, each point, or bastion could provide a crossfire of cannon and small arms fire.