Two hundred years ago, desperation was in the air across the Baltimore region. That September of 1814, the British were coming. Three weeks earlier, redcoats under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert Ross had defeated an American militia at the Battle of Bladensburg and gone on to burn most of Washington, D.C.
Now, the target was Baltimore. The port city was a strategic prize. Having disrupted the American government, the invading British planned to gain a foothold in their former colony by seizing Baltimore.
That's not what happened.
On Sept. 12, 1814, Gen. John Stricker's Maryland Militia of about 3,200 soldiers confronted the British force of more than 4,000 men that had disembarked from ships on the North Point peninsula, near what is now Dundalk, and were marching on the city.
During the opening skirmish, an American rifleman fatally shot Gen. Ross, dealing a major morale blow to the British. The afternoon of Sept. 12, the British launched a frontal assault on the militiamen and, facing rifle fire as well as cannons firing scrap metal, took heavy losses. Still, the British managed to outflank the Americans, forcing the militia into a well-organized retreat in which, firing volley after volley, the Americans killed another British commander.
The British stopped their advance as night fell. They decided to wait. After all, British naval forces on the next day, Sept. 13, were going to capture Fort McHenry, leaving Baltimore defenseless.
That's not what happened either.
The fort guarding the harbor did not fall, despite a 25-hour bombardment, and the British eventually departed. Francis Scott Key, watching from a ship in the harbor, saw those "bombs bursting in air" and wrote a poem that, set to music, later became the National Anthem.
We in Maryland remember the Battle of Baltimore through Defender's Day, a holiday that has largely been forgotten. It deserves to be revived in memory of those determined Baltimore militiamen who saved their city and, probably, the young nation itself. And, there's no better time to keep the faith than now, the bicentennial of their heroic stand.