Courage At Fort McHenry
By Michael J. Foster

Chapter Four
Red Lines in the Distance


       Early morning thunder growled in the distance. Jim rolled over and went back to sleep.
       "Jim! Come downstairs! And bring my musket!"
       Jim 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.
       "What has happened?"
       The 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.
       Jim 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.
       "Grandfather, what is happening."
       "Jim, 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!"
       Jim 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 and ammunition.
       "Jim, get dressed! We are going to the church. We will be safe there."
       "Jim, go! We don't have much time!"
       By the time Jim returned from getting dressed, his Grandfather was waiting by the door with musket in hand.

       The 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.
       "Jim, I am going with the militia to the northeast entrenchments. The Redcoats will be there soon. I need you to stay here."
       Jim was shocked.
       "No! I'll go with you!"
       "You can't Jim, it is too treacherous. You will be safe here."
       Confused and scared, Jim's lower lip trembled fighting back tears.
       "No, Grandfather, I want to stay with you! Please don't go! Don't go!"
       "Be brave Jim."
       With that Jim's Grandfather removed himself from Jim's grasp and walked into the street and disappeared among the masses.

       Jim 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.
       "Don't be afraid, Jim."
       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.
       "God is with us Jim. You must trust that God is with us, and that he will lead us."
       Jim sat up and wiped his tears.
       Reverend Witherspoon put his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Your grandfather is a fine man. He loves you and wants you to be safe.
       "Here, I want you to have this."
       The Reverend handed Jim a small black book. The leather cover was old and worn.
       "What's this?"
       As Jim opened the book, the first words he read were, "In the beginning..."
       "A Bible?"
       "Yes, its nothing fancy, but let me show you something."
       Reverend 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.
       Following the words with his finger, Jim read.
       "Providence has heretofore taken us up when all other means and hope seemed to be departing from us, in this I will confide."
       It was signed, but Jim couldn't make out the scribbled signature. The Reverend pointed to the inscription.
       "This was written by President Washington before his death."
       Jim's eyes were wide with surprise.
       Reverend Witherspoon leaned back in the pew and stared into the distance.
       "Years 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."
       Jim looked back at the book with amazement.
       "I 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."
       The Reverend looked Jim in the eye and smiled.
       "Jim, 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.
       "I need to get back to the others. Will you be fine?"
       "Yes sir. Thank you!"
       The 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.
       Jim 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 Redcoats.
       Jim 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.
       Jim 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.

       Upon 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.
       As he approached the trenchworks, Jim could see lines of red across the open field. The British were marching forward in formation.
       The militia fired volleys into the thick lines, but whenever a Redcoat had been shot, the hole was quickly filled with another.
       From 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.
       Worried 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.
       Nearly at the end of the line, Jim saw his Grandfather sitting with his back against an earthen mound reloading his musket.
       "Grandfather, Grandfather!"
       Grandfather looked up and saw Jim approaching from a mist of smoke.
       "Jim! What are you doing here! I told you to stay at the church!"
       "I know, but I couldn't. I wanted to be here with you."
       A shot ricocheted nearby. Grandfather pulled Jim closer out of harm's way.
       "Jim, 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!"
       "I love you too Grandfather!"
       Jim 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.
       Jim 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.
       Grandfather waved and yelled down the line. A young man with a leather pouch responded by running towards them.
       "Jim, 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."
       The courier agreed to accompany Jim back to Baltimore and promised Jim's Grandfather that he would look out for Jim.
       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.
       The gray sky opened up with a light rain.

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