The brick fort at Whetstone Point designed by "Frenchman" Jean Foncin in 1798 and named after "James McHenry", a Scots-Irish immigrant and surgeon-soldier who became Secretary of War under President George Washington.
In the summer of July,1813, Major George Armistead, requested to General Samuel Smith who was the Commander of Baltimore defenses: "Sir it is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance." In July, 1813 three officers visited the home of Mary Young Pickersgill, a local well know flag maker, whose home is still preserved today on the corner of Pratt & Albemarle streets in Baltimore City Maryland.
The three officers were Commodore Joshua Barney, General John Stricker and Colonel William McDonald . Under contract by the U.S. Government, Mary Young Pickersgill with the assistance of her mother Rebecca Flower Young who was a professional flag maker in Philadelphia prior to the American Revolution and Mary's daughter 13 year old Caroline, and made the two flags, 400 yards of "first quality" long fiber English wool bunting was used. The wool bunting was imported from England in bolts 18 inches wide.
The garrison flag was 30 feet hoist (height) by 42 feet fly (span from the staff to the outer edge). The strips, however, were two feet wide, six inches were added by a "French fell." It had fifteen five-pointed stars, each two feet from point to point, and arranged in five indented parallel lines, three stars in each horizontal line.
It had fifteen instead of thirteen stripes, each near two feet wide. The cost of this garrison flag was $405.90, in March of 1938, Mary Pickersgill's original receipt was found, written in her fine cursive handwritting and "Signed in duplicate for Mary Pickersgill - Eliza Young." The reverse side of the receipt is signed "G. Armistead Major" and specifies "Fortification Vouncher No.10. Mary Pickersgill for flag." The total on the receipt was $574.44.
Mary Pickersgill worked many nights until twelve o' clock to complete it in a given time, the flag, being so large, was assembled in a nearby malt-house. Mary also made a "Storm flag" for the Fort it measured 17' by 25' and cost $168.54, the flags were delivered to Fort McHenry on August 19, 1813, a full year before the battle of Baltimore, September 12, 13, and 14, 1814.
During the rain-swept night of the bombardment on September 13, 1814 it was the smaller storm flag that flew over the "ramparts of Fort McHenry."
The "Hancock House" at Bayside Beach on the west side of Bodkin Creek entrance played an important role in the War of 1812, when it was the home and headquarters of Captain Francis Hancock. Whenever the British fleet came above Annapolis, Hancock would raise a signal flag, which signal was in turn taken up at "Steeple House Farm" above North Point, on the other side of the Patapsco, where it could be seen from the observatory tower at Federal Hill in down town Baltimore. The timrly warnings had much to do with the successful defense of the city at Fort McHenry in 1814.
Major Armistead, apparently alone knew that Fort McHenry's magazine was not bomb proof. He had sent his wife "Louisa Hughes Armistead, and his all most 2 year old daughter Mary, off to safety at "Gettysburg, PA."
Major George Armistead tried to coax just a little more range out of his guns. He had already increased the elevation as much as he could, but that wasn't enough. Now he loaded them with extra charges of powder.... a dangerous experiment, since the barrels could only stand so much. Armistead had tried ever thing, and the guns of Fort Mchenry still couldn't reach the British fleet.
The best the fort could do was 1,800 yards with the 24 pounder and 2,800 yards with the big French 36 pounders. But since the British ships were over two miles out , he was just wasting his shots. September the 13th at 10:00 a.m. Armistead grimly ordered his guns to cease fire, and the garrison settled down to a long, hard wait. The gunners crouched by their parapets; the infantry huddled in a dry moat that ran around part of the fort. Major Armistead estimated that perhaps as many as 1,800 shells had been fired by the British and about 400 had actually landed within his defenses.
It was just about 2:00 p.m. when a British shell landed squarely on the southwest bastion No 3 of Fort Mchenry, and exploded with a blinding flash. For a brief second everything was lost in a ball of fire and smoke; then it cleared away, revealing a 24 pounder dismounted and its crew sprawled at odd angles in the dirt. Several members of Judge Nicholson's Fencibles rushed over....it was one of their guns .... but they were too late to help Lieutenant Levi Claggett or Sergeant John Clemm, two of Baltimore's prominent merchants who served in the company.
As the dead and wounded were carried off , Private Philip Cohen must have felt lucky indeed. He had ben standing right next to Claggett when the shell landed, yet escaped without a scratch. Later a 186 pound shell crash through the roof of the magazine, but did not go off. Armistead ordered the powder barrels cleared out and scattered under the rear walls out side the fort.
On Friday night Major Armistead, had a dream that his wife had given him a son, He wrote Mrs Armistead, "So you see my dear wife," "all is well, at least your husband has got a name and standing that nothing but divine providence could have given him, and I pray to my Heavenly Father that we may long live to enjoy."
September the 14th at 4:00 a.m. the British boats were again alongside the (Surprize), Admiral Cochrane ship and the bombardment came to an end. Two or three of the vessels continued to take an occasional shot, but to all intents the fireworks were over, Francis Scoot Key wondered what to make of this strange new quiet, as he stood with John S. Skinner and Dr. Beanes on the deck of their flag-of-truce sloop. At 5:50 it was officially sunrise, but there was no sun today. The rain clouds hung low, and patches of mist swirled across the water, still keeping the night's secret intact.
But it was growing brighter all the time, and soon an easterly breeze sprang up, flecking the Patapsco and clearing the air. Once again Key raised his glass.... and this time he saw it. Standing out against the dull gray of the clouds and hills was Major Armistead's American flag. Capping the joy of the three Americans, at 7:00 a.m. the (Surprize signaled the bombarding squadron to retire down the river.... at 8:00 a.m. the (Erebus) and the five bombs ships were under way.... and at 9;00 a.m. the supporting frigates followed. The attack on Fort Mchenry was over.
Meanwhile other signs appeared, indicating to Key and his companions that the land attack too had failed. Key looked at the flag on the fort again, and it was about now that the turbulent, fervent thoughts racing through his mind began to take poetic shape. Using the back of a letter that happened to be in his pocket, Francis Scott Key began to jot down lines and phrases and likely couplets.
On the evening of September 16th, Baltimore was already celebrating when a small sloop arrived, and docked at Hughes' Wharf between eight and nine o;clock. On board was Francis Scott Key, John S. Skinner and the elderly Dr. Beanes. They retired to the Indian Queen Hotel on Baltimore Street.
After the battle Major Armistead, was absent from celebrations inside the fort that day. Brought on by what he later described as "great fatigue and exposure", he remained in bed for almost two weeks, unable to command the fort or to write his official account of the battle, Commodore John Rodgers takes command of Fort McHenry until Armistead regains his health, when he finally filed a 1,000-word report on September 24 he made no mention of the flag. His wife Louisa had a baby girl in Gettysburg on September 15, 1814 the day after the battle, Her name was Margaret Hughes Armistead.
Armistead died on April 25, 1818 at the age of 38, his interment was at Old Saint Paul's Cemetery in Baltimore City. He was born April 10, 1780 in Newmarket, Caroline County, Virginia. The keeper of the flag was his wife Louisa, she then pass it on to her daughter "Georgiana Louisa Frances Gillis Armistead", who was born in side Fort Mchenry Nov 25, 1817, and she married William Stuart Appleton of Massachusetts. They had 10 children, child number 5, was "Eben Appleton", he was given the flag, later he gave the flag to the National Museum, today is called The Smithsonian Institution.
Armistead also had a son, "Christopher Hughes Armistead" born in Baltimore City, April 21, 1816. Major Armistead and Louisa were married Oct 26, 1810, George's mother, "Lucinda (Baylor) Armistead died on November 26,1816, in Alexandria, VA. and was buried at the Baylor estate cemetery at "Newmarket", Caroline County, VA. She was married to John Armistead, whose father was William Armistead, whose father was Col. Henry Armistead, who had emigrated from "Yorkshire, England", to Elizabeth County, Virginia, in 1635. Henry increased his land holdings from 450 acres to 15,000 acres. His family estate was called "Hesse". take 198 to Chapel Lane (Rt 631) Hesse is just off 631, Mathew County Virginia.
Major Armistead, was at fort McHenry in in 1810 with his brother Lt.Col. Walker Keith Armistead, they were both with the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1816 George and Walker build a seawall to protect the military shore batteries from erosion at the Fort.
In Baltimore a "Union City"' with Confederate Sympathizers, Major George Armistead's grandson and his name-sake "George Armistead Appleton"' was arrested attempting to join the rebellion in the city. He was imprisoned in Fort McHenry which his uncle commanded in 1814. His mother "Georgiana Louisa Frances Gills Armistead Appleton", who was born in Fort McHenry November 25, 1817, found her-self in the ironic position of decrying her son's arrest and pulling for the South, while clinging to the "Star-Spangled Banner".
Lt.Col. Walker Keith Armistead went on to become a General, and is the father of "Confederate General Lewis Addison Armistead," who was killed at Gettysburg
Kenneth M. Carter
Charter Member of the
Fort McHenry Guard
Return to Home Page