Life During Wartime

Life During Wartime > Military and Civilian Leaders > George Armistead

George Armistead

Major George Armistead (1780–1818) commanded the American forces at Fort McHenry during the Battle for Baltimore September 13 and 14, 1814. He hunkered down with his garrison of about 1,000 men as British Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane and his troops showered Fort McHenry with shells, bombs, and rockets for 25 hours before giving up the attack.

St. Leonard Creek
Lt. Colonel George Armistead by Rembrandt Peale. Courtesy Maryland Historical Society

Born in New Market, Virginia, George Armistead was one of five brothers serving in the War of 1812. In 1813 he distinguished himself in the capture of Fort George, Ontario, and during the American siege of Fort Niagara and was rewarded with the command of Fort McHenry.

Armistead commissioned flag maker Mary Pickersgill to sew a large garrison flag for the fort. It was this flag that Armistead ordered to be raised on the morning of September 14, 1814, signaling the successful defense of the fort and the Baltimore harbor. Seeing the flag waving over the fort inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the lyrics for a tune that would become the national anthem of the United States of America.

Armistead was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and remained in command of Fort McHenry until his death.

The celebrated flag—now known as the Star-Spangled Banner—remained in the Armistead family until it was loaned to the Smithsonian Institution in 1907 and later donated. The original flag is on exhibit there today.

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