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Recalling history on the anniversary of the War of 1812

History tells us both kinds of news.

The bad news, recalled during this year's 100th anniversary celebration of the War of 1812, is that the British army marched to Washington, D.C., torched the White House and other public buildings, and left our capital in flames.

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The good news is that when the Brits later tried to capture Baltimore, our citizen soldiers turned the tables on them.

This week, today's Baltimoreans are invited to honor those accomplishments.

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The city's "Star-Spangled Banner Spectacular" is a varied program including Navy ships and "tall ships" in the Inner Harbor, festivals, a celebrity-studded concert, fireworks and an air show and flyover by the breathtaking Blue Angels.

All this, plus more, if you're the kind of person who enjoys learning history at a place where history was made.

For us in the Baltimore area, Fort McHenry is such a place.

Are you the only one who has never visited the Fort?

On a roll after British troops routed Americans at Bladensburg and resisted them at North Point, the British Navy then learned a different story.

On rainy September 1814 nights, 18 British warships, seven frigates and other ships fired mortar shells, rockets and cannon balls on star-shaped Fort McHenry.

Historians quote General George Armistead, the Fort's commander, as guessing later that some 1,800 mortar shells landed around him during the battle.

Peter Snow's book, "When Britain Burned the White House" includes varied and interesting facts about the war whose anniversary we now celebrate.

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Britain's next move, he relates, was what Armistead awaited. They aligned their bomb-ships closer, unwittingly putting them in range of the Fort's guns.

Snow quotes an American sailor's writing: "We could see our shots strike the frigates … every heart was gladdened."

Four musicians, he continued, then struck up Yankee Doodle on their fifes and drums.

When Armistead announced that British ships were withdrawing, "we gave three cheers and ceased firing," the sailor wrote.

A footnote to the bombardment, but a big deal to future generations, was lawyer Francis Scott Key's writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" when, on a nearby boat, he witnessed the bombardment.

General Armistead had commissioned flag maker Mary Pickersgill to make a flag big enough so British ship captains could see it from afar.

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When Key saw that "the flag was still there," he wrote the poem that became our national anthem.

(Note: The "O" emphasized by today's Oriole fans during the singing of the anthem is a later addition.)

Eleanor Taylor is a Glyndon native and can be reached by mail at P.O. Box 43, Glyndon, MD 21070.


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