You know the song, at least you better.
Oh, say can you see…
It was just a poem by a local Frederick County (now Carroll County) boy who was aboard a British truce ship while they bombed the crap out of Fort McHenry. He was born about 10 miles from my house (which was probably on its second or third generation of residents by then) at Terra Rubra Farm. Terra Rubra means red earth and it is a literal name. The dirt and rocks there are brick-red. In fact, when they were taking down a stone house in nearby Middleburg I grabbed a few Bronco’s worth of them and they are featured prominently in our gardens. If you ever visit I’ll show you just how red they are.
Regardless, this Carroll County boy wrote the song we sing before every ball game. Now I don’t want to downplay the significance of Fort McHenry’s brave defenders, but the Battle of Baltimore was a much larger affair. In fact, due to the recent upgrades to the defenses, Fort McHenry pretty much shrugged off the bombardment and turned back a British night landing (almost a feint) easily. That landing was in support of the British troops that had landed a North Point, the main British thrust.
Those troops were under the command of Major General Robert Ross, the man who had just ordered the burning of the White House. They met an advance force of militia at the Battle of North Point and Ross was killed. That was probably a good thing for Baltimore. You see, the British felt the same way about Baltimore as Obi-Wan felt about Mos Eisley. They figured most of the privateers ripping up their merchant fleet came from Baltimore. They were probably right, which makes the outcome of the battle dat much nicer for dem Bawlimer boys, hon.
After North Point, Ross was succeeded by Col. Brooke, a much less astute commander, who ran into the Nattie Boh brigade at Hampstead Hill (now Patterson Park) Brooke faced around 12,000 Baltimoreans, who had strong defensive lines with mobile flanking forces. Once the landing force out in the harbor was turned back, Brooke called it a day and went back to his troop ships with his 4,000 redcoats.
They sailed away to New Orleans which didn’t work out so well for them either, but that’s another story.
I guess why we’re doing this hike is to highlight the Battle, and its significance. Sure, it’s where we got the National Anthem, but it was pretty much the only major victory for the American side that took place during the war (N’orlins was 2 weeks after the Treaty Ghent ended the war). Due to poor American strategic planning and military policy pre-war, the war was a series of colossal failures on land, with a few shining lights of victory at sea. I cannot stress enough how poorly we fought the War of 1812 or how well we fought the Battle of Baltimore, by contrast.
It is a truly American story, part of our lore, and beautiful in that the lore is mostly true.
So to celebrate, I’ll be making an amphibious landing in the early morning hours of Flag Day, June 14th. I hope to have Karlos on the boat with me, but he may have to be waiting on shore. We’ll be landing at the VA hospital at North Point, a completely fitting use for the spot the British landed. It is an old facility, but has beautiful bones, and there are perennial hopes that it will be rehabbed into a veterans’ home.
From there we’ll march out past Todd’s Inheritance, where militia in the attic watched the British lanterns and raced off to warn Baltimore. In retaliation, the original mansion was burned by the retreating British.
Next up is the Battle of North Point. As I wrote above, Maj. Gen. Ross met his end here, and the small American delaying force probably carried the whole battle in that one shot. Karlos and I will take our first break here.
We have a pretty long haul from there to Patterson Park, where the British met the Baltimore main force and elected to scoot back to their ships. The Park is a puppy’s paradise and we’ll hop around to the various sights there. We might take another break and then head on over to the Flag House. That is where Mary Pickersgill and her daughter Caroline stiched the huge flag that Fort McHenry flew to salute the British fleet after their bombardment.
From there it is probably lunch at Isabella’s (can you say imported porchetta?) which we’ll eat at the bocce court right around the corner. I love Little Italy. I work just a block past Little Italy, right at the end of the Jone’s Falls. I definitely want to stop at work and introduce everyone to Karlos. The crew there has been so supportive. In fact PAETEC, my employer, has a requirement of community service and actively encourages things like I’m doing this year.
We’ll trot through the Inner Harbor, right past the National Aquarium, the USS Constellation (love that ship!) the Science Center, then head out of the Harbor past my second favorite museum, The American Visionary Art Museum. (The USMC Museum is the answer to the question you were about to ask). This is the last leg, and I’ll head out to Ft McHenry. We’ll hike past the Phillips Seafood plant and HQ, and then plant our flag out at the Fort.
The reason we chose this day is that the Fort really celebrates the Flag. That evening there will be a naturalization ceremony, re-enactors and bands. Karlos isn’t allowed inside the Fort so we’ll go out to the Bay, plant our flag, and call it a day. I’ll probably sing the Anthem. I sang it every night aboard Parris Island. I was briefly a theater major at Montclair State College and have a strong, if undisciplined, voice. My DIs asked for volunteers for the duty and I stepped up. For the thirteen weeks of training my rendition was the last thing any of us heard until zero-dark-thirty the next morning. I do okay as long as I start nice and low.
That’s it, folks. I encourage you to contact me if you’ll be in Baltimore on Tuesday. I’ll be live-blogging over at the Facebook page if you want to track my progress. If you are free that day and want to do a section of the hike with me, I’ll have a number you can call for status. I’d guess I’ll be downtown around lunchtime, and finish up by 2PM or so.