Courage At Fort McHenry
By Michael J. Foster

Chapter Five

       Reginald quickly led Jim into Baltimore and then returned to his duties of relaying messages.
       Baltimore was still quiet, but now much darker. Just the distant rumble of cannon fire echoed through the streets. Jim didn't want to go home because he would be alone there.
       After a few hours of wandering the streets in the rain, Jim wound up on the steps of Mary Pickersgill. He knocked. Jim thought that perhaps they too had sought shelter somewhere else. About the time Jim decided that nobody was home, the door opened just a crack.
       "Mary? It's Jim!"
       Abigail reached out and pulled Jim inside.

       Mary's shop was warm. A fire was crackling in the hearth.
       Abigail guided Jim closer to the fire.
       "You're soaked! Where have you been?"
       Mary rushed in from the back room.
       "Jim, I'm so glad you're safe! We were worried about you."
       Abigail stoked the fire.
       "Have you heard any news?"
       Jim rubbed his hands together trying to shrug off the cold.
       "Well, this morning the British began bombarding Fort McHenry. I was out at the entrenchments this afternoon with Grandfather. The Redcoats were attacking with infantry, but our lines were holding. What have you heard?"
       Mary began pouring tea.
       "Abigail and I were on our way to the Fort this morning when the bombardment began. We were almost there when a nearby explosion spooked our horse. He was so riled that he overturned our carriage. Fortunately, Abigail and I jumped to safety. We ran all the way back in the rain."
       Jim reached for a steaming cup of tea. He held it in his hands, enjoying its warmth.
       "Why were you going to the Fort?"
       Mary looked at Abigail.
       "Didn't Abigail tell you?"
       Jim shook his head.
       "We were delivering the flag for Major Armistead, just like the note explained."
       Jim looked confused.
       "What flag?"
       Mary set her cup of tea down and reached for her sketchbook. She flipped it open to a specific page and handed it to Jim.
       On the pages were diagrams of an American flag.
Mary pointed to the book.
       "This wasn't just any flag. This flag was custom ordered by Major Armistead. It is the largest flag I have ever seen. Look at these dimensions. It is sixty feet long and forty feet wide."
       Jim stared at the diagrams in amazement.
       "Why would he want such a huge flag?"
       Mary pulled out the note Major Armistead had written.
       "He wrote here that 'I want to make sure the British have no trouble seeing it.' I suppose it's also good for the morale of the soldiers at the Fort. I pray that they are all safe."
       Jim nodded in agreement.
       "Where's the flag now?"
       Abigail walked to the window, pulled the curtain aside, and peeked out.
       "It's out there. When our carriage turned over, the crate fell out. Aunt Mary and I tried to carry it, but it was too heavy and the ground was muddy. The flag, the carriage, and that stupid horse are still up there."
       Mary reached over Abigail and pulled the curtains closed.
       "Well, we can all be thankful that we didn't get hurt."

       Mary and Abigail brought blankets from the upstairs.
       "I hope you will be warm enough tonight."
       "Yes, it will be fine. Thank you."
       Mary looked around making sure Jim had everything he needed for the night. Abigail finished arranging blankets on the floor.
       "Now if you need anything, just let Abigail or me know."
       As Abigail and Mary left the room, Jim stood up and thanked them again for their kindness.
       Jim put more wood on the fire before wrapping himself up in the warm blankets. Jim stared into the fire and fell asleep.

       "Jim, wake up."
       Jim opened his eyes.
       Jim immediately sat up and looked around, but nobody was there. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and began to remember where he was. Jim was dreaming about Father. The dream seemed so real that Jim was upset that he woke up. It felt better to be with his father in a dream than without him in real life.
       Jim saw that the fire was almost out so he retrieved a few more logs to put on. As soon as the wood began to take, Jim sat down on the floor and watched the flames grow.
       Jim thought about Grandfather. He wondered if he was safe and staying warm in this wet and cold weather. Jim also thought of the men at the Fort. He wondered if they were still alive. The bombardment had been going for almost twenty hours. Jim was scared and alone. He wished that his father was still alive, then everything would be right again.
       As he thought about his father, the words of Captain Martin came back to Jim.
       "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 thought for a moment before getting up and reaching for his clothes, which were mostly dry. He quietly gathered his belongings and headed for the door.
       The rain was still falling early in the morning, creating small rivers in the streets. Jim hurdled the puddles and dodged the muddy patches on his way towards Grandfather's house.

On the steps of Grandfather's house, Jim opened the door and shook off the rain. He crossed the dark front room toward the back wall stepping over his toy soldiers. The toy soldiers were still standing tall in formation preparing for battle. Jim had almost forgotten that he was playing with the soldiers the night before they evacuated.
       Against the back wall, under Grandfather's gunrack, Jim found his wagon. It was a Christmas present from Grandfather last year. Grandfather built it himself. It had gotten a lot of use on Jim's deliveries to and from the Fort, and tonight would be no different.
       Grasping the handle, Jim pulled the wagon across the room towards the front door. Jim was in such a hurry that he ran over a few toy soldiers. Jim stopped in the open doorway for a moment and looked back. Lightening struck outside, fully illuminating the room. Two soldiers and a cannon were toppled over.
       Jim dropped the handle of the wagon and ran back to the toys. He quickly placed them upright back into formation. Jim returned to his wagon and left the house.
       The trip to the Fort was dark, but no trouble for Jim. He walked quickly with his wooden wagon keeping pace behind him. Climbing Federal Hill proved to be arduous in the rain. The mud was slippery and it was difficult for Jim to keep his balance while pulling the wagon.
       This was one time when Jim didn't stop to admire Baltimore Harbor. There was no time for looking back to watch the ships sail in and out of the harbor, and there was no time to daydream about his father coming back aboard one. Jim was on a mission.

       After cresting the hill, traveling proved to be quicker and the sounds of explosions grew louder. Now that he was on level
ground, Jim picked up his pace to brisk walk. In the distance, Jim could see the sky light up with every explosion.
       Within minutes Jim came to the clearing between the forest and the Fort. The rain was so heavy now that Jim couldn't see the Fort until a cannonball hit nearby lighting up the area.
       In the flash of light, Jim saw an overturned carriage just up the road. He rushed ahead. There was no sign of the horse. Jim began looking for the crate that Mary told him about. He looked all around the carriage.

       Jim finally found the crate in some tall grass off the road. The crate was larger than Jim had imagined. As he tried to pick it up, he realized that it was even heavier than it looked.
Jim pulled his wagon along side the crate.
       A shrieking sound startled Jim. He looked up to see a red arch of light over the Fort, followed by another. The frequency of explosions seemed to be increasing.
       Jim quickly lifted one end of the crate onto the wagon and then the other. The weight of the crate caused the wooden wheels of Jim's wagon to sink into the mud.
       Jim heaved the wagon forward. Slowly, the wagon moved. The wheels turned caked with sticky mud.
       Bursts of light flashed all around tossing parts of the earth skyward. The closer Jim got, the more debris reigned down on top of him. The screeching and bombing was deafening, but Jim kept his head down and his feet moving.

       Jim looked up to see how far he was from the Fort. No sooner had he lifted his head, a bright light blinded him followed by silence.

       Jim was confused. He turned his head and looked into a blurry haze. He saw men in uniforms rushing about. He could see them talking, but couldn't hear anything except a constant ringing.
       Jim sat up. He realized he was on a cot. His whole body was sore, and he felt a little light-headed. Jim raised his hand to his head.
       Startled by the pain, Jim looked at his hand. Blood was on the tips of his fingers. Jim instinctively began to wipe the blood onto his shirt but noticed that his shirt was blackened with soot.
       "What happened?"
       Jim could barely hear his own words over the ringing.
       A hand on Jim's shoulder startled him. Jim looked up to see the familiar face of Captain Martin. Captain Martin's mouth was moving, but Jim couldn't hear what he was saying.
       "What? I can't hear you! What's happening?"
       Captain Martin pressed gently against Jim's shoulder urging him to lie back down. Jim reluctantly obliged.
       Captain Martin talked with another officer for a few minutes while Jim watched unable to hear. Soon, Jim saw Sergeant Mahoney. All three were talking and occasionally looking Jim's way.
       Somewhere in the silent haze, Jim fell asleep.

       Loud shouts jarred Jim awake. He raised himself up on his elbows and looked around. Nobody was there. Jim could hear now, but his body was still sore.
       Jim sat up on the cot for a few minutes before attempting to stand. At first his legs were wobbly, but Jim soon regained his balance. Other than the dizziness, Jim's chest ached horribly. Jim rubbed the sore area with his hand and rotated his arms trying to ease the pain.
       The cheering outside grew louder. Jim walked out the door into the blinding daylight. Jim figured it must have been morning. The rain had finally stopped and the sun was peeking through the clouds.
       Jim's shielded his eyes and stepped out onto the wooden porch of the soldier's barracks. Jim saw soldiers firing their muskets into the air and hugging one another.
       "Jim, how are you doing, lad?"
       Jim turned. Walking towards him was Captain Martin with an opened-mouth smile.
       "I thought that the British had done you in, but look at you! You're fit for duty."
       "Yes sir. But what happened?"
       Captain Martin gestured to Jim's shirt.
       "You nearly got blown up! Don't you remember the explosion?"
       Jim shook his head.
       "No. I mean what happened with the battle?"
       Captain Martin pointed across the courtyard.
       "Here Jim, let me show you."
       Jim and Captain Martin crossed the open courtyard and up the slope to the southernmost bastion. Several soldiers were standing on the Fort's wall nearby shaking their fists. When they reached the top, they stood next to a cannon and looked over the Patapsco River.
       "Look, Jim, the British are running! We have won!"
       Jim looked out across the wide blue expanse and saw a fleet of ships in the distance. They were raising their sails and moving out into the Chesapeake.
       Jim smiled.
       "We did it!"
       Jim's thoughts immediately turned to his Grandfather.
       "But what about the militia?"
       Captain Martin looked down into Jim's concerned face and smiled.
       "Don't worry, Jim. The militia held the ground. The British Infantry was forced to retreat. The militia has been ordered to muster here later in the day. We have already been sent a casualty list. Your Grandfather is safe."
       Jim was so happy that he joined the other soldiers in letting out a cheer. Jim's enthusiasm proved to be too painful. He grabbed his chest.
       "Careful Jim, don't overdo it. You're lucky to be alive you know."
       "Captain, Sir. I be begg'n your pardon, but me thinks Jim had a wee bit of help from above."
       Jim suddenly turned as Sergeant Mahoney limped up behind them. Sergeant Mahoney was waving a small black book in his hand.
       "I believe this is yours, lad."
       Sergeant Mahoney handed Jim his Bible. In all the excitement, Jim didn't realize it had been missing. The first thing Jim noticed was that the front cover had a wide hole in it. As Jim flipped through the pages, he saw the same hole throughout half of the book. Jim looked up confused.
       Sergeant Mahoney pointed to the book.
       "The doctor says that book there done caught a metal fragment the size of a walnut. I guess you can thank the Almighty that His Good Book has so many pages."
       Jim put a couple fingers in the Bible's hole, and then put his hand to his bruised chest as he looked back over the river.
       Jim smiled to himself.
       "What a sight the British must have had this morning when the sun came up saw that the Fort was still here."
       Captain Martin laughed.
       "That's not all they saw."
       Both Captain Martin and Sergeant Mahoney turned around and looked up. Jim turned around to see what they were looking at.
       Filling the sky above the Fort was the largest flag Jim had ever seen. The Stars and Stripes was waving defiantly in the morning wind. It had a few holes,but like Jim, was not the worse for wear.
       Jim opened the front cover of his Bible and examined the burnt pages. In the front cover, unharmed by the damage, was General Washington's inscription. Jim read it silently to himself.

       "Providence has heretofore taken us up when all other means and hope seemed to be departing from us, in this I will confide."

       During the battle, the British Navy carefully remained out of range of American cannons until part of the Royal Fleet broke away and moved in close, presumably to storm the Fort. Artillery positions from nearby Forts Babcock and Covington violently repelled their attempts and the British were forced to continue their long-range offensive. The failure to defeat the Fort kept the British from sustaining a land-based attack of Baltimore.
       The bombardment of Fort McHenry lasted for twenty-five hours. Between 1500 to 1800 shells had been fired upon the Fort. Of those, only 400 landed within the Fort's defense works. Of the 1000 defenders, only four were killed and 24 injured. The only other damage was to a couple of buildings.
       Old Glory, the flag that flew over the Fort, was specially commissioned prior to the battle. In the early hours of September 14th, 1814, the Fort's commander, Major Armistead, ordered the flag to be hoisted "so the British will have no trouble seeing it from a distance." To this day, it is the largest battle flag ever flown.
       On that fateful morning, Francis Scott Key, a young poet and lawyer was aboard an American truce ship. Seeing his country's flag still flying, he was moved and penned the famous "Star Spangled Banner:"

Star Spangled Banner

O say, can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad striped and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watches, were so gallantly streaming!
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

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