With the country in shock after the burning of Washington, the British next set sights on Baltimore—America’s third largest city and the region’s commercial and shipbuilding hub.
They did not attack immediately, and in the roughly three weeks that followed the Bladensburg defeat and invasion of Washington, the Americans called all available forces to defend Baltimore. Military and civilians, including free and enslaved blacks, rallied to fend off the anticipated British attack.
By the time the enemy came into view, an impressive line of earthworks and some 10-15,000 Americans were positioned to defend the approaches to Baltimore. At the entrance to the harbor, Fort McHenry, with a small garrison commanded by Major George Armistead, stood guard.
In the early hours of September 12, 1814, a British fleet of more than 30 warships and transports landed about 5,000 troops on the North Point peninsula under the command of Major General Robert Ross. They began marching toward Baltimore.
American Brig. General John Stricker and 3,000 Maryland militiamen met Ross’s forces at Godly Wood on Patapsco Neck, eight miles north of the British landing at North Point. The Americans faced British musket and artillery fire for nearly an hour before moving back toward the main lines near the city. The British held the battlefield, but suffered heavy casualties, including Major General Ross who was mortally wounded in a skirmish prior to the battle.
Resuming the march toward Baltimore the next day, the British troops stopped when they saw the formidable defenses lining Hampstead Hill (now Patterson Park). Rather than test the well-defended earthworks, they waited for support from the Royal Navy on the Patapsco River.
British ships launched a coordinated attack on Fort McHenry early on September 13, 1814. For 25 punishing hours they bombarded the fort, sending a constant barrage of solid shot, mortar shells, and Congreve rockets.
Finally, at 7 am on September 14, the firing ceased. Remarkably, the fort had withstood the bombardment.
British Vice Admiral Cochrane signaled his ships to retire down the Patapsco toward the Chesapeake. The British land forces, realizing offensive support would not be coming from the navy, also withdrew, marching back to North Point and re-boarding their ships.
Baltimore had held. The American success there, close on the heels of victory at Lake Champlain a few days before, bolstered American spirits and the United States position in peace negotiations already under way.
The successful defense of Baltimore also produced a flag and a song that would come to symbolize the United States of America.
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