The National 9/11 Flag is on display at Fort McHenry for the September 11 commemoration and Star-Spangled Spectacular events. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun Video)
Amid celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of "The Star-Spangled Banner," leaders in Maryland have hammered home a point: If it weren't for Baltimore, American history might well have turned out very differently.
"For many Americans, the War of 1812 was a minor event, but not for us," Gov. Martin O'Malley said Thursday.
He spoke at the March of the Defenders, which commemorated the 6-mile trek of the Maryland militia to defend the city on Sept. 14, 1814.
"We call the War of 1812 the Second War of Independence, and for good reason," O'Malley said. "Baltimore was to be our final stand. Baltimore would be our beginning, or end."
Throughout this week's Star-Spangled Spectacular events, O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have highlighted the city's role in shaping U.S. history and inspiring Francis Scott Key to pen the verse that would become the national anthem.
"When the British advanced on our city, it was the people of Baltimore, united by faith and a common purpose, who stopped the ... attack," Rawlings-Blake said.
Thursday's event featured the 175th Infantry Regiment of the Maryland National Guard, a unit that traces its lineage to the Fifth Regiment, which delayed the British advance. The Marylanders inflicted hundreds of British casualties before withdrawing.
On Thursday, guardsmen retraced their predecessors' march from Patterson Park to Dundalk's North Point, weaving through neighborhoods lined with flag wavers.
"I'm a big history person, so it's nice to see Baltimore celebrating what was a very pivotal battle," said Spc. Shane Bagwell of Laurel. "Baltimore doesn't get the appreciation it deserves for the amount of history that's in the city."
Vince Vaise, a park ranger at Fort McHenry, surveyed the landscape.
"If you look around Patterson Park, you see a neighborhood," he said. "But 200 years ago, this is where the last stand was to be made.
"These guys went out there and defended their homeland from a direct invasion."
Maj. Gen. James Adkins, commander of the Maryland National Guard, said today's guardsmen are well versed in the history of the 175th. Members of the unit fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the War of 1812, both world wars, Afghanistan and Iraq.
"They understand the sacrifice," Adkins said.
In Dundalk, officials gathered at the newly renovated Battle Acre Park for a wreath-laying ceremony to honor American and British soldiers in the Battle of North Point.
The event included a representative from the 1814 adversary.
"The way we like to reflect on it is 200 years of the closest partnership that one can imagine," said Royal Navy Cmdr. John Kelly, assistant naval attache at the British Embassy in Washington. The war, he said, "was a coming of age for America, the creation of two great families."
"It might have started with a little argument, like family. But family is family," Kelly said. "We are so pleased to be part of it."
Thursday's events recalled not only the March of the Defenders but the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
A flag that has a connection to both the War of 1812 and 9/11 was unfurled and displayed at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.
The flag, on loan from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, once hung from 90 West St. in New York, facing the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. The 30-foot banner was tattered, stained and infused with smoke after the attacks, and a construction foreman sent workers to collect its pieces.
Seven years later, that foreman volunteered with the New York Says Thank You Foundation to aid survivors of a tornado in Kansas. He took the flag pieces along, and women there began patching it together using their own flags that had survived the storm.
Jeff Parness, founder and chairman of the foundation, said that gesture began a 50-state, three-year journey in which survivors of natural and man-made tragedies offered their own banners to be stitched into the fabric.
Also sewn in were patches of flags that had flown over Fort McHenry and over Key's grave in Frederick.
"This flag shows that love is stronger than hate," Parness said.
Parness said a key moment in the flag's rebirth came with a call from Maryland officials, who offered three red threads from a most special banner: the one that flew over Fort McHenry during the British bombardment in September 1814.
"It ties the whole story neatly together," said Gregory Weidman, Fort McHenry's curator. Weidman escorted the flag from New York and on Thursday helped spread it smoothly on a series of tables under a large tent.
"For us to have the flag here in Maryland, it seems incredibly fitting."