When you think about the wars of the United States there are big ones that we can easily remember. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. But there are so many other wars. One of those was the War of 1812.
In 1812, Great Britain was at war with France. The US was neutral, but it didn't last. When war came it was fought on the Great Lakes and in Canada. It was fought ship to ship on the Atlantic Ocean. And in the south and on the frontier US troops fought the British and Native American tribes.
What people remember the War of 1812 they usually think of two things. One is that the British burned Washington, D.C., in 1814. The other is that when the British tried to take Baltimore they bombarded Fort McHenry, but failed to get past to attack Baltimore itself. Francis Scott Key wrote "Defence of Fort M'Henry," which became "The Star-Spangled Banner."
We had seen the immense flag from that night at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on one of our first days in Washington, D.C. To bring it full circle, the last stop on our tour of the mid-Atlantic states was Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.
The visitor center has two main focuses. It details the battle and the role Fort McHenry played in the War of 1812. Another section discusses the meaning the national anthem over the last two hundred years. Smaller exhibits show the army hospital that was built on the grounds during World War I.
The fort itself has been wonderfully restored. It's a "coastal pentagonal bastion fort," but that really means the inner yard is flanked by a set of buildings that form a pentagon. Cannon are positioned outside the fort pointing out to the harbor. Even though it's a relatively small site, it's a lot of fun to walk around to see the defenses and consider what it must have been like to be there during the bombardment.
If you can't get to Fort McHenry or the Smithsonian any time soon you can learn about the Star-Spangled Banner at the American History Museum's site and consider what it means. To some it stands for our country. To some it represents our troops. To others it represents a promise of freedom and equality. For most of us it's a blend of all these and more. Take the time to ponder it and figure out what it represents for you and then stand up or kneel down to honor it and the country.
When you go, there's a $10 fee per person 16 or older, but up to four adults can get in with a National Park Pass (aka, the "America the Beautiful Pass"). You can drive to the site, ride a bus, or take a water taxi. And since it's only about 10 miles from the Baltimore airport you can even swing by when you're just passing through.