At Fort McHenry
By Michael J. Foster
quickly led Jim into Baltimore and then returned
to his duties of relaying messages.
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.
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.
reached out and pulled Jim inside.
shop was warm. A fire was crackling in the hearth.
guided Jim closer to the fire.
soaked! Where have you been?"
rushed in from the back room.
I'm so glad you're safe! We were worried about
stoked the fire.
you heard any news?"
rubbed his hands together trying to shrug off
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?"
began pouring tea.
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."
reached for a steaming cup of tea. He held it
in his hands, enjoying its warmth.
were you going to the Fort?"
looked at Abigail.
Abigail tell you?"
shook his head.
were delivering the flag for Major Armistead,
just like the note explained."
set her cup of tea down and reached for her
sketchbook. She flipped it open to a specific
page and handed it to Jim.
the pages were diagrams of an American flag.
Mary pointed to the book.
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."
stared at the diagrams in amazement.
would he want such a huge flag?"
pulled out the note Major Armistead had written.
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."
nodded in agreement.
the flag now?"
walked to the window, pulled the curtain aside,
and peeked out.
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."
reached over Abigail and pulled the curtains
we can all be thankful that we didn't get hurt."
and Abigail brought blankets from the upstairs.
hope you will be warm enough tonight."
it will be fine. Thank you."
looked around making sure Jim had everything
he needed for the night. Abigail finished arranging
blankets on the floor.
if you need anything, just let Abigail or me
Abigail and Mary left the room, Jim stood up
and thanked them again for their kindness.
put more wood on the fire before wrapping himself
up in the warm blankets. Jim stared into the
fire and fell asleep.
opened his eyes.
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.
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.
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.
he thought about his father, the words of Captain
Martin came back to Jim.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
heaved the wagon forward. Slowly, the wagon
moved. The wheels turned caked with sticky mud.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
could barely hear his own words over the ringing.
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.
I can't hear you! What's happening?"
Martin pressed gently against Jim's shoulder
urging him to lie back down. Jim reluctantly
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.
in the silent haze, Jim fell asleep.
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
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.
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
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
how are you doing, lad?"
turned. Walking towards him was Captain Martin
with an opened-mouth smile.
thought that the British had done you in, but
look at you! You're fit for duty."
sir. But what happened?"
Martin gestured to Jim's shirt.
nearly got blown up! Don't you remember the
shook his head.
I mean what happened with the battle?"
Martin pointed across the courtyard.
Jim, let me show you."
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.
Jim, the British are running! We have won!"
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
thoughts immediately turned to his Grandfather.
what about the militia?"
Martin looked down into Jim's concerned face
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."
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.
Jim, don't overdo it. You're lucky to be alive
Sir. I be begg'n your pardon, but me thinks
Jim had a wee bit of help from above."
suddenly turned as Sergeant Mahoney limped up
behind them. Sergeant Mahoney was waving a small
black book in his hand.
believe this is yours, lad."
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.
Mahoney pointed to the book.
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
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.
smiled to himself.
a sight the British must have had this morning
when the sun came up saw that the Fort was still
not all they saw."
Captain Martin and Sergeant Mahoney turned around
and looked up. Jim turned around to see what
they were looking at.
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
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.
has heretofore taken us up when all other means
and hope seemed to be departing from us, in
this I will confide."
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.
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.
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
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
Star Spangled Banner
say, can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail at the twilight's last
Whose broad striped and bright stars, through
the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watches, were so gallantly
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting
Gave proof through the night that our flag was
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the