Courage At Fort McHenry
By Michael J. Foster

Chapter One
Defenders of Fort McHenry

      Jim enjoyed the trip. It was a long walk that usually took over an hour, but Jim didn't mind. He enjoyed watching the large ships along the harbor. Some ships would be loading cargo while others would be unloading their goods onto the wooden piers. Their tall masts and rigging fascinated Jim. They towered high above the warehouses of Baltimore. He wondered if the sailors that climbed those masts could see his Grandfather's house from there.
      The docks were bustling with activity, so Jim wisely used nearby streets. He walked on the cobblestones of Pratt Street hesitating only to look carefully down each alleyway before continuing.
      Jim didn't think that he would run into the dreaded Wilson brothers, but he was still cautious. Since Jim moved into Baltimore to live with his Grandfather, the Wilsons had picked on him at every opportunity.
      The Wilsons were a family of bullies, all six of them. These bullies roamed the streets near the harbor usually torturing cats and terrorizing smaller children like Jim.
      Jim was fast, and on a few occasions, was able to outrun them, although Jim wasn't proud of this. His Grandfather always told him to stand up for himself; otherwise, people would be picking on him for the rest of his life.
      It was never talked about, but Jim knew that Grandfather's warnings were because of Father. Father was known throughout Baltimore as a kind and decent man, but a coward just the same. Even with Father gone, this dark legacy overshadowed Jim's life.
      Jim was ashamed of being called the son of a coward, and what made it worse was that Father and Grandfather never told him why. It was, for some reason, a family secret - one that haunted and tormented Jim on the streets of Baltimore.
      Safe on the opposite side of the harbor, Jim ascended Federal Hill. The climb was tough, but this was Jim's favorite view of the harbor. From atop the hill, he could watch the ships sail in and out of the harbor like ducks on a pond, and on special nights it was the best spot to watch fireworks light up the Baltimore sky.
      Some days Jim would watch the ships sail into the harbor and remember his father. He envisioned his father returning much like the way he left, standing near the wheelhouse waving and yelling "Goodbye, son, I'll be back soon. Keep your head up!" These hopeful daydreams made this place special for Jim. He never thought about it too long though, because he missed his father, and it would make him sad. Besides, Jim was anxious to get to the Fort.
      Jim knew the way to Fort McHenry well. Like the Indian scouts he read about in books, Jim prided himself on his sense of direction. Sometimes he took different paths just to test himself. On one occasion, after loosing track of time, Jim even found his way home in the dark. Today, however, was a beautiful September day and provided no challenge.
      After hiking the last stretch, Jim was rewarded with a familiar sight of splendor. Fort McHenry, the great fortress, with its walls of gray stone overlooking the Patapsco River, dominated the skyline. High above the rock structure waved a welcoming banner of brilliant red and blue.
      Jim, dissatisfied with merely walking, began running. As he approached, he began to see the sentries atop the wall in their blue and white uniforms.
      Jim came to a stop just outside the Fort's v-shaped entrance that the soldiers called a ravelin. Jim waited for permission to enter. A moment later, a short and portly guard with a long mustache waved his arm and yelled down. "Come on through Jim!"
      "Thanks, Jacob!"
      The guard looked over the edge as Jim walked under.
      "Hey Jim, where's your wagon today?"
      "I have a small delivery today. It's in my pocket."
      With this, Jim ran across the sally port, over the dry moat, and through the opening of the large iron door that had been cracked open for him.
      The metal gate opened to a short dark tunnel where Jim heard the echo of his footsteps and the amplification of his deep breaths. At the end of the tunnel shone the bright daylight of the Fort's courtyard.
      Once inside Jim saw familiar activity. A squad of soldiers was drilling in the middle of the compound just beyond the tall white flagpole. The flagpole grew out of the ground like jack's fairy tale beanstalk, reaching to the clouds. At the very top, Jim could see and hear the Stars and Stripes flapping in the strong breeze.
      A few men sat in first floor windows blackening their boots and polishing their shiny uniform buttons.
      Although the stone Fortress was a formidable structure with it's high walls and large cannons, Jim felt right at home. Outside the Fort, Jim had no one except Grandfather, but inside he was among friends.

      The interior of the Fort was lined with two-story buildings serving as the Fort's barracks, supply room, officer quarters, chapel, and arms room. The best feature of the Fort, however, was in its shape. It wasn't easy to see, but when Jim first climbed on top of the Fort's bastions, he saw the star shape of the fortress.
      Fort McHenry, built after a French design, was a five-pointed star. Each point was a bastion, or fortification, armed with cannons. One bastion overlooked the Patapsco River below, while the other bastions served to repel against any possible land attack.
      Jim hurried across the courtyard towards the junior officer quarters. Along the way, he was greeted by just about every soldier in sight. Everyone seemed to know Jim, from the cook to the captain of the guard. Jim tried hard to remember all their names, but sometimes he had to just acknowledge with a quick smile and a wave.
      "Hey Jim, lad! Shouldn't ya be in dat school learn'n bout all dem fancy words and such?"
      Jim looked over his shoulder. Sergeant Mahoney was laughing aloud at his own joke.
      "Sergeant Mahoney, hello. Our school master was called out by the militia so there's no school."
      Sergeant Mahoney hobbled closer to Jim. Sarge, as the men called him, had been with the Army longer than any man in the Fort. Artillery had been his life. On an unfortunate occasion, though, a cannon exploded killing his crew and injuring Sergeant Mahoney. Even with the wounded leg, he was in service at the Fort, but only to advise. All he could offer was his knowledge of artillery, so he did.
      "Well I'll tell you Jim lad, book learn'n is good and all, but no substitute for real life. You must enjoy your youth because someday you'll be like me, a crusty old man limping to the privy in the wee hours of the morn'n."
      Sarge looked Jim in the eyes.
      "But don't tell nobody I'm fill'n your head with bad ideas."
      Jim smiled. Sarge had a simple way of talking that made sense, and Jim liked it.
      Pointing with his crooked walking stick, Sarge nodded towards the south bastion.
      "Will you keep an old man company? Walk with me a spell, I'm on me way to inspect Battery Four."
      "Yes Sir."
      Jim's current mission would have to wait. He would be foolish to pass up a chance to spend some time with Sarge.
      As they walked, Sarge, with his thick Irish accent, did most the talking.
      "Now you might hear some of them people in Baltimore speaking doom and gloom 'bout this here time. Let me tell you a story Jim. Did you hear what the Redcoats had done down in St. Michaels last year. The townspeople see, they knew the British Navy planned a night bombardment of the town. So they hoisted lanterns to the highest points in town. Those lanterns were strewn from the masts of ships and treetops. Now, when night fell and the British sailed in close, the townspeople blackened out the whole town except them lanterns. When the British opened up with their thirty-two pounders, they missed. They overshot the whole city. You see, the British aimed their cannons at them lights. They thought St. Michaels was up on a hill. Only one cannonball struck the town, and even that landed without harming a soul."
      Jim was astonished.
      "Do you think those people were scared during the attack?"
      Sarge looked down at Jim.
      "You know that the town St. Michael is a religious name. Now, I ain't no saint, and no church pew has seen the likes of me hindquarters in a spell, but something must be said for the All-mighty in all this mess. I think that God gives you the courage you need when you need it."
      Jim and Sarge arrived at Battery Four over-looking the Patapsco River below.
      A few soldiers were cleaning the cannons and stacking cannonballs. Sarge placed his hand on the barrel of one of the cannons.
      "Here we have four twenty-four-pound cannons. Amongst the other bastions are nineteen cannons, some eighteen and some twenty-four pounders. If the British are foolish enough to sail within range, they'll have hell to pay."
      As Sarge inspected each bastion, Jim followed along listening to his interesting stories and colorful insight.

      Afterwards, Jim thanked Sarge and headed back to the officer's quarters.
Jim knocked on the door to the officer quarters. The door quickly opened, but just a crack, and out popped a man's head. Looking hard over Jim's head, the man squinted and shook his head. "Oh my, I must be hearing things. There's nobody here." The door shut just as quickly as it had opened.
      A puzzled look crossed Jim's face. Just then the door swung wide open.
      "Jim, my boy! I was just pull'n your knickers lad! Come on in!"
      Captain Martin filled the doorway with a smile as wide as his broad shoulders. His immense size and physical strength seemed an awkward match for his soft disposition and a slightly skewed sense of humor.
      As Jim walked in, Captain Martin gave him a hardy slap on the back. "Its good to see you again Jim. Have you completed your mission?"
      "Yes Sir!"
      "All right, let's see it."
      With that Jim and Captain Martin sat down at the table next to the window overlooking the courtyard. Jim reached inside his trouser pocket and pulled out a wadded handkerchief. Captain Martin anxiously waited as Jim silently unwrapped the handkerchief revealing a shiny gold ring. As he presented it to Captain Martin, the ring reflected the sunlight from outside. Wide-eyed, Captain Martin took the ring and squinted. He inspected it closely on the inner part and read, "To My Dearest Susan From Joseph." Captain Martin smiled. "Great work, Jim! I knew I could count on you."

      Jim and Captain Martin ate lunch together. Captain Martin cut the bread and cheese while Jim gazed out the window at the drilling troops.
      A Sergeant barked out commands "Left face. Present arms!" The Sergeant stepped forward to inspect their muskets. The precision of their movements and the splendor of their uniforms captured Jim's imagination.
      The vibrant red and blues matched those of his small toy soldiers at home. Jim remembered setting the toy soldiers up in rows by the light of the fireplace on Christmas Eve. He and Father spent hours drinking hot cider and engaging the soldiers in battle.
      Father taught Jim how to organize his soldiers based on battlefield tactics. Jim, of course, knew the ranks of the chain-of-command and insisted on being called "General" during each engagement.
      Jim was especially good at making the sounds of battle. Father would laugh as Jim made shooting and exploding sounds with his mouth. Sometimes, when Jim would get carried away, some spit would fly from his mouth. Father always commented, "O" my, I thought those were bullets, but I guess they're just raindrops."
      Father and Jim would take turns inflicting damage to each other's armies, but most of the casualties were caused by Bounty, their over-zealous terrier.
Jim knew that Father always let him win, but Jim didn't care. He was just happy to be with Father.

      "How old must you be to be a soldier?"
      Captain Martin smiled and handed Jim a plate of meats and cheeses.
      "Well, that depends. How old are you?"
      "I'll be thirteen this winter."
      "I fear you are too young."
      Jim put a piece of cheese in his mouth and frowned. He leaned back in his chair and looked back out the window. Captain Martin sat down next to him and also looked out the window.
      "Soldiers are unique people Jim. Most of them volunteer for this duty knowing the dangers. They are willing to sacrifice their lives for something greater than themselves. It is courage that brings them here, Jim. Not all people have this courage. It comes from within when it is time to stand up for what is right. There is honor in that. Your father was a courageous man, Jim."
      Jim looked uncomfortably to the floor.
      "He raised you after your mother passed away, and that's not easy, Jim, especially for a sailor. He also had the courage to stand up for our freedom by serving in the Navy."
      The Captain gently put his hand on Jim's shoulder.
      "But sometimes, Jim, in our efforts to fight for what is right, we pay the ultimate sacrifice - our lives. And although this is sad, we must remember to honor their sacrifice with our actions."
      Jim nodded, trying hard not to cry. He stood up stuffing the handkerchief back into his pocket.
      "I better leave so I can get back before dark."
      "All right Jim. Thanks for the ring, I owe you one. Say hello to your Grandfather for me. Oh! Before you leave, you'd better stop in and see Major Armistead. I believe he has another mission for you."
      This news lifted Jim's spirits and he darted for the door.
      Half way out the door Jim turned.
      "Jim, you don't need a uniform to have courage. Remember that."

      It was a short trip across the compound to Major Armistead's office. Major Armistead's aide asked Jim to wait in the commander's office until the Major was back from an inspection of the Fort's improvements. The improvements had begun months ago and were designed to repel bombardments from the river. Jim remembered when his grandfather would explain how the Fort used to be just earthen mounds and makeshift shelters during the Revolution. Back then it was called Fort Whetstone because of its location on Whetstone Point.
      Major Armistead's office was lavishly decorated with military regalia. Old muskets crossed above the fireplace, like the kind Jim's grandfather kept in the attic and occasionally brought down to show Jim when he retold vivid stories about the Revolution. Flags of all colors with gold fringe stood behind his large desk. Maps of the Fort, Baltimore Harbor, and the Chesapeake Bay covered an entire wall from floor to ceiling.
      Jim moved close to the wall of maps. With his finger he lightly traced the Patapsco River north into Baltimore Harbor. From there he easily found where his Grandfather's house would be. Keeping his finger firmly on the map, he leaned back and looked at the whole wall. He read the names of far off places like Trenton and Charleston, and also the familiar names of Reisterstown and Fort Look-out. It amazed Jim how this perspective made him feel small, but definitely not insignificant. The thin lines that arranged the world around his finger spelled out the impending danger.

      "Jim, thank you for coming."
      Taken by surprise, Jim gasped and turned quickly. Filling the door frame was a grinning Major Armistead.
      "I see that you take an interest in the world around you. That's good Jim."
      Walking across the room, Major Armistead removed his long black hat and silver scabbard and placed them on his desk. He reached into his coat pocket, withdrew a handkerchief and dabbed the sweat from his forehead.
      "When I was your age, I dreamed of traveling the world. I wanted to hunt elephants in Africa, and explore parts of the world not found on any map."
      Major Armistead stepped forward and glanced over his maps.

      "And maybe I will someday, when this business is long over and our freedom is secured. Which brings me to the matter at hand."
      The Major looked down at Jim who was transfixed on every word. Jim was a little intimidated. He had never spoken directly to the Major before.
      "Please, sit down."
      Jim sat in one of the large chairs in front the Major's desk. His feet barely reached the floor. The Major sat down letting out a relaxed sigh. Jim figured he must have been on his feet all day. He pulled a sealed letter from a desk drawer.
      "This, Jim, is why I asked to see you. I heard that you know your way around Baltimore."
Jim nodded but was still too affected to speak.
      "I need you to deliver this message to Mary Pickersgill. Do you know who she is?"
      "Yes Sir, she's the seamstress on Albemarle Street. I don't know her by sight, only by reputation."
      Major Armistead leaned across the table and handed the note to Jim.
      "That's right Jim, I need you to make sure she receives that letter. Can I count on you?"
      Jim looked at the folded paper. It had a red wax seal with blue ribbon. He didn't understand why, but remembered that a good soldier follows orders. Jim stood up from his chair.
      "Yes Sir! You can count on me!"
      A knock at the door revealed the Major's Aide.
      "Sir, I'm sorry to intrude, but we have a supply issue that needs your immediate attention."
      Major Armistead stood up and walked to the door. He and his aide talked quietly for a few moments while looking over some documents.
      Jim was thrilled to be helping. It made him feel important. Jim glanced back at the wall of maps and saw something he hadn't seen before. Red and blue symbols on one map were around Baltimore and in the Chesapeake Bay.
      "Do you know what those red markers are, Jim?"
      The Major had finished his business with his aide and began putting his sword back on.
      "Those are British."
      Jim followed Major Armistead back to the map.
      "There in the Chesapeake is the British Fleet. Most of these ships have been there for some time blockading our ports and boarding merchant vessels, but these new ships here at the mouth of the Patapsco have anchored recently."
      A somber expression crossed the Major's face. With his eyes transfixed on the little red markers, he slowly continued.
      "Our lookouts from North Point have counted as many as sixteen warships. These are under the command of Admiral Cochrane. His fleet is heavily armed with cannons, mortars, and rockets. I imagine many of them are also transporting elements of British Infantry."
Major Armistead turned from the map and lifted his hat from the desk.
      "Our spies in Washington tell us that they are planning to invade Baltimore soon."
      Major Armistead grew silent. After a quiet moment, the Major took a deep breath and looked down at Jim.
      "Which is why we are all here, at a time such as this."

      Major Armistead and Jim left his office and walked across the courtyard towards the gate. As the Major returned salutes from passing soldiers, Jim looked up at him. Any trace of fear or worry was not evident in his bold composure. His eyes possessed a determined resolve that wasn't there a few moments before while in his office. The confidence that Jim saw in the Major was effectively conveyed to his troops who respected and loved him.
      The gate sentry saluted with his musket at attention and opened the large door. Major Armistead, with Jim at his side walked together through the dark tunnel, which led to light of the outside.
      "Jim, you have served as good as any soldier in my command. You have helped us with the duties of this Fort and you have asked nothing in return, which is why it grieves me to tell you what I must."
      Upon reaching the end of the tunnel, Major Armistead bent down and looked Jim squarely in the eyes.
      "Deliver this message for me, Jim, but do not come back."
      Jim became distressed.
      "But why? I want to..."
      "Jim! Listen to me carefully. After you deliver this letter, go home and stay there. Do not return! Not until it is safe!"
      Tears began to well up in Jim's eyes.
      Major Armistead put one hand on each of Jim's shoulders.
      Jim realized the seriousness of the situation. He knew that Major Armistead expected the worst in the next few days.
      "You must be strong Jim. All of us here, Captain Martin, the soldiers, and myself, we stand vigilant in the defense of Baltimore and our country. This is our duty."
      A single tear ran down Jim's flushed cheeks. Major Armistead wanted to comfort Jim, but didn't know exactly what to say. The Major smiled reassuringly and stood up. He looked to the sky.
      "Do you see the colors Jim?"
      Jim wiped the tear, squinted against the sun, and saw the flag waving high above the Fort.
      "Soon you will hear the rumbling of war. You will hear the reports of the cannon and see bursts of light in the distance. Men will speculate and spread rumor in the streets of Baltimore, but I tell you this Jim. Don't loose heart. As long as you see our flag flying above these ramparts, all is well."

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