- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

The events of September 11 have meant, for many, a return to patriotism and renewed respect for the American flag. That is why Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine should be a stop on everyone's tour of American history in the Washington-Baltimore area.

The fort, located near Baltimore's Inner Harbor, was the site of the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. Lawyer-turned-poet Francis Scott Key was among those who witnessed the American forces' defense against the British attack. He was inspired to write "The Star-Spangled Banner," the poem about our flag and the American spirit that has become our national anthem.

Paul Plamann, a National Park Service ranger at Fort McHenry, says about 700,000 people have visited the fort in the past year, an increase over previous years.

"I think the patriotic fervor right now has meant more visitors here," he says, although the park has something for everyone, whether they are history buffs or not.

"We get locals who use the park for an outing," he says. "There are picnic tables here. They can fly a kite or jog on our paths."

Indeed, a recent weekday morning saw dog walkers, retirees and schoolchildren all enjoying the fort. The fort's large cannons, secret hideaways and view of the Patapsco River and Chesapeake Bay drew the biggest response from Pennsylvania grade schoolers visiting the fort.

A trip to the site starts indoors, though, where visitors can see a 16-minute film about the War of 1812 and "The Star-Spangled Banner." They also can see the 1930 documents from President Hoover proclaiming "The Star-Spangled Banner" to be the official national anthem. There is a large photo reproduction of the flag that inspired the song. The actual flag is on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in the District, where it is undergoing a massive restoration.

The visitors center also recently welcomed back a refurbished model of the fort as it looked in 1814, Mr. Plamann says. The fort, which also was used as a prison camp during the Civil War and a 3,000-bed hospital during World War I, underwent many changes during those eras, so looking at the model gives young historians a clearer picture of the fort during the Battle of Baltimore.

A short walk up the path takes visitors to the star-shaped fort, where markers provide information about long-ago battle tactics, such as the dry moat that surrounded parts of the fort, as well as the use of the ravelins, the wedge-shaped outworks that provided cover for the front lines.

Walking into the fort, one can see and climb into the underground rooms that were used as bombproof chambers. Mortars, guns and cannons are on display, including two of the 1,500 British "bombs bursting in air" that failed to explode.

In this era of "star wars"-type warfare (both real and on the video screen), Fort McHenry gives today's generation an idea of how heavy a war operation used to be. The fort features rooms to house barrels of gunpowder; displays of the swords, muskets and rifles; and the clunky uniforms of American soldiers. One also can get a look at the living quarters for officers and enlisted men. Most impressive, though, are the bus-size cannons that face the water.

The site for Fort McHenry was chosen during the Revolutionary War as an ideal place for defense because it was far enough from Baltimore not to endanger the city and because the area was a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water. Enemy ships sailing into Baltimore would have to pass Fort McHenry first.

The Revolutionary War ended without an attack on Baltimore. Afterward, though, plans were drawn and money raised to build a bigger, stronger fort in the same spot.

The attack on Sept. 13, 1814, marked the only time the fort was used in a battle. One thousand soldiers defended it against British bombardment for 25 hours. The fort's artillery fire kept the British away and saved Baltimore.

During the Civil War, Union soldiers were stationed at the fort, and the guns were pointed at the city. Troops were given the task of keeping Baltimore out of the hands of Confederates. The fort also was used as a prison for suspected Confederate sympathizers.

When the fort was in use as a military hospital in 1917, more than 100 buildings were erected at the site, making it the country's largest military hospital at the time. In 1925, the temporary buildings were torn down, and soon after, the site became a national park.

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