At Fort McHenry
By Michael J. Foster
Red Lines in the Distance
morning thunder growled in the distance. Jim
rolled over and went back to sleep.
Come downstairs! And bring my musket!"
staggered down the stairs carrying Grandfather's
musket and wiped the sleep from his half-open
eyes. Jim knew that Grandfather only used that
musket for special occasions. The musket was
given to him, as ordered by General Washington,
as aparting gift at the end of the Revolution.
streets were full of people running. Men with
muskets were running in one direction and women
and children with wagonloads of furniture ran
the other way. Everybody was shouting.
stood in the doorway watching the chaos. He
heard another thunderclap, but the sky was clear.
Jim thought to himself that it might be fireworks,
but why. After all, it was September 14th, not
the Fourth of July.
what is happening."
get back inside and close that door! The Redcoats
have sailed up the Patapsco and have fired on
Fort McHenry. Also, British regulars disembarked
at North Point and are marching on Baltimore!"
stood there stunned. Even though the attack
was inevitable, he still couldn't believe it.
His thoughts were with Captain Martin, Major
Armistead, and the soldiers at the Fort. Jim
feared for their lives. Jim's Grandfather was
running through the house gathering supplies
get dressed! We are going to the church. We
will be safe there."
go! We don't have much time!"
the time Jim returned from getting dressed,
his Grandfather was waiting by the door with
musket in hand.
church was full of women praying and children
crying. Reverend Witherspoon was walking through
the masses trying his best to comfort them.
At the door of the church, Jim's Grandfather
put his hand on Jim's shoulder.
I am going with the militia to the northeast
entrenchments. The Redcoats will be there soon.
I need you to stay here."
I'll go with you!"
can't Jim, it is too treacherous. You will be
and scared, Jim's lower lip trembled fighting
Grandfather, I want to stay with you! Please
don't go! Don't go!"
that Jim's Grandfather removed himself from
Jim's grasp and walked into the street and disappeared
among the masses.
found a seat on a back pew, lied down, and cried
silently to himself. He must have been there
over an hour with his head in his hands when
he heard a soft still voice amongst the noise.
be afraid, Jim."
lifted his red eyes. Reverend Witherspoon was
sitting beside him. The Reverend was a tall
man with a gentle smile. His old age showed
through his wrinkled face.
is with us Jim. You must trust that God is with
us, and that he will lead us."
sat up and wiped his tears.
Witherspoon put his hand on Jim's shoulder.
"Your grandfather is a fine man. He loves
you and wants you to be safe.
I want you to have this."
Reverend handed Jim a small black book. The
leather cover was old and worn.
Jim opened the book, the first words he read
were, "In the beginning..."
its nothing fancy, but let me show you something."
Witherspoon reached over and turned back the
pages of the book to reveal its inside cover.
Jim could discern a hand-written inscription.
He looked up and the Reverend nodded, intending
for him to read it.
the words with his finger, Jim read.
has heretofore taken us up when all other means
and hope seemed to be departing from us, in
this I will confide."
was signed, but Jim couldn't make out the scribbled
signature. The Reverend pointed to the inscription.
was written by President Washington before his
eyes were wide with surprise.
Witherspoon leaned back in the pew and stared
into the distance.
ago I was attending a conference of pastors
in Virginia. President Washington was invited
to speak to us on the topic of God's providence.
After his speech, Bishop Brown and I had the
opportunity to meet him. He shook my hand and
asked for my Bible, which I carried under my
arm. As I stood there in awe, he put on his
reading glasses and wrote this in the cover."
looked back at the book with amazement.
have carried it with me for years. Whenever
I was scared or uncertain of what to do, I read
these words. It reminded me that God will provide
for us. He will never depart from us."
Reverend looked Jim in the eye and smiled.
carry this with you as long as you need. You
can return it later."
Jim was at a loss for words, but Reverend Witherspoon
knew he was grateful.
need to get back to the others. Will you be
sir. Thank you!"
Reverend left and began tending to small groups
of women and children. After reading the inscription
half a dozen times, Jim tucked the Bible safely
into his shirt.
couldn't sit still. He felt that he couldn't
stay at the church with the women and children
while Fort McHenry was under bombardment and
his Grandfather was skirmishing with British
slipped out of the pew and out the side door
of the church unnoticed. Once outside, he could
hear the distant echo of explosions. The day
was getting late and the attack was still raging.
headed east towards where he knew he could find
his Grandfather. By now the streets of Baltimore
were empty so Jim had no problem running east
and eventually away from the city.
leaving the city, Jim knew exactly where to
go. He followed the sounds of musket-fire. As
he got closer, he could see clouds of smoke,
and he could smell the gunpowder.
he approached the trenchworks, Jim could see
lines of red across the open field. The British
were marching forward in formation.
militia fired volleys into the thick lines,
but whenever a Redcoat had been shot, the hole
was quickly filled with another.
Jim's vantage he could see into the trenches.
Hoards of men huddled close together behind
large mounds of dirt with their hunting muskets.
He recognized Mr. Smith the butcher and the
Thompson brothers. He looked hard, but he couldn't
find his Grandfather.
for his Grandfather's safety, Jim ran along
the trenches searching. He ran next to the lines
careful to keep his head down. White smoke from
the muskets filled the trenches making it difficult
to see, but Jim wouldn't give up.
at the end of the line, Jim saw his Grandfather
sitting with his back against an earthen mound
reloading his musket.
looked up and saw Jim approaching from a mist
What are you doing here! I told you to stay
at the church!"
know, but I couldn't. I wanted to be here with
shot ricocheted nearby. Grandfather pulled Jim
closer out of harm's way.
this is too dangerous! I lost your father and
I won't lose you too! Do you understand Jim?
I love you and you are all I have!"
love you too Grandfather!"
realized that his Grandfather had left him at
the church for his own safety. He now understood
that his Grandfather was fighting not just for
the country, but also for him.
sat low between his Grandfather and another
militiaman. Jim looked hard down the trenches.
He saw the dirty determined faces of men who
were doing the same. Each man had family back
in Baltimore, and each man was prepared to give
their life in their home's defense.
waved and yelled down the line. A young man
with a leather pouch responded by running towards
this here is Reginald. He is a courier for the
militia. He is heading back towards Baltimore.
I want you to go with him. I need to know that
you will be safe."
courier agreed to accompany Jim back to Baltimore
and promised Jim's Grandfather that he would
look out for Jim.
reluctantly agreed and left with the courier.
As he left the battlefield, Jim looked back
to see his Grandfather fire another shot across
the field. Soon, they could only hear the distant
sounds of the battle.
gray sky opened up with a light rain.