Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happy Defenders' Day

Celebrated: The City of Baltimore, since 1814

Yes, Japanese troops did land on and occupy two Aleutian islands in 1942. But except for that, the last time American soldiers fought foreign invaders on U.S. soil was in 1815, at the end of the War of 1812, or the second war of independence.

A major turning point of that war was the Battle of Baltimore, which took place over September 12 to 15, 1814, after British troops had already sacked Washington, DC, burned the White House and destroyed the Washington Navy Yard. Alexandria, to the south, surrendered without firing a shot. Baltimore, to the north, took a stand.

Some 5,000 British troops started the attack in North Point, just outside Baltimore, on September 12, while a fleet of 19 British ships laid siege to Fort McHenry, in Baltimore Harbor. The British bombarded Fort McHenry while Baltimore waited, dark and silent; the cannonballs made a lot of noise and light, but did little damage. The Maryland Militia and more than 10,000 U.S. Army troops held off the British at Hampstead Hill, blocking the British plan to land troops from the water and close in on Baltimore from all sides.

Thwarted, the British army withdrew in the early morning hours of September 14, and fled to the waiting ships, which pulled out of Baltimore Harbor and headed for New Orleans (where they met with another defeat).

Later that morning, the American defenders raised a new, oversized flag over Fort McHenry, replacing the battle flag that had been shot to pieces. A young lawyer named Francis Scott Key, trapped on the HMS Tonnant after a visit to negotiate the release of American prisoners of war, watched it all happen, and wrote a poem about it that he called "Defence of Fort McHenry." We know it better as "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Since then, on September 12 and every other day, the Star-Spangled Banner has waved over Fort McHenry, commemorating the heroism of those who fought the Battle of Baltimore — then, as now, the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

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