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Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage

About this collection

Paintings, manuscripts, American military accessories, prints, weapons, and photographs related to the War of 1812 from the Maryland Historical Society’s Museum and Special Collections Departments.

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Collection Location: Maryland Historical Society

Bombardment of Fort McHenry lithograph and handwritten Star-Spangled Banner

Collection Overview: The young United States declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, a mere 29 years after the Revolutionary War had formally ended. In the decade preceding the declaration of war, the United States had endured numerous abuses and violations of its national sovereignty at the hands of the British, particularly on the high seas where Britain restricted American trade with continental Europe and impressed thousands of American sailors into the Royal Navy to fight Napoleon's France. Although the heaviest fighting occurred along the U.S.-Canada border, the Chesapeake Bay became a critical theater of the war when Great Britain drew upon its naval might to impose a blockade on the east coast in February of 1813.  

For two years, the Royal Navy spread terror and crippled Maryland's economy by curtailing maritime trade and raiding port towns and plantations throughout the Chesapeake Bay. After receiving significant reinforcements in the summer of 1814, the British forces in the Chesapeake began an offensive that resulted in the burning of Washington. Motivated by the ease with which they captured Washington, the British targeted an even greater prize, the wealthy port city of Baltimore.

Unlike Washington, Baltimore, under the leadership of Major General Samuel Smith and Major George Armistead, was prepared for the attack. At the Battle of North Point on September 12, American forces slowed the British army’s advance toward Baltimore along North Point Road. Greatly outnumbered and stalled outside the city, British land forces called upon their navy for artillery support.

For twenty-five hours, British bomb ships lobbed mortars at Fort McHenry, hoping to crush the fort and enter Baltimore's harbor. Fort McHenry and its 1,000 defenders withstood the bombardment, and on the morning of September 14 raised an enormous flag in victory as the frustrated British retreated down the Patapsco River. Francis Scott Key, who had witnessed the bombardment from an American truce ship with the British navy, was so moved by the spectacle that he began putting his emotions into poetic verse, penning a song that forever changed how Americans looked upon their national flag.

Reproductions of paintings, manuscripts, American military accessories, prints, weapons, and photographs related to the War of 1812 are from the Maryland Historical Society's Museum and Special Collections Departments. Of particular significance are the Star-Spangled Banner manuscript in Francis Scott Key's hand and the first edition printing of Key's song, paintings and prints depicting battles such as Alfred Jacob Miller's Bombardment of Fort McHenry and J. Bower's A view of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry, and much more.

 

Collection overview prepared by Jennifer A. Ferretti, Curator of Photographs & Digitization Coordinator, Maryland Historical Society and Dustin Meeker, Associate Director for School Programs, Maryland Historical Society.

 
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