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Fort McHenry has played an active role in our nation's history from the founding of the nation through World War II.
Fort McHenry's history began in 1776 during the Revolutionary War. Originally an earthern star shaped fort, it was called Fort Whetstone because of its location on Whetstone Point.
The site was an excellent location for two reasons. It was located far enough from Baltimore to provide protection without endangering the city, and it was surrounded on three sides by water. Constructing the fort on this site meant that enemy ships sailing into Baltimore would have to pass the fort first.
The Revolutionary War ended without an attack on Baltimore. However, improvements to the fort continued. In 1798, a year after Baltimore was incorporated as a city, a French engineer, Jean Foncin, was selected to plan a new fort on Whetstone Point.
James McHenry, the Secretary of War under President George Washington, was instrumental in providing support for its construction. The fort was renamed "Fort McHenry" in his honor.
The fort became famous in the War of 1812 when the British attacked on September, 1814. For 25 hours the British bombarded Fort McHenry from ships outside of Baltimore harbor in the Patapsco River. The fort's defenders held firm, and Baltimore was saved.
During the American Civil War union troops were stationed at Fort McHenry to help keep Baltimore out of the hands of those who would have Maryland join the southern rebellion. The fort's guns were turned toward the city. The fort was used as a temporary prison where political prisoners suspected of being confederate sympathizers were held, often without trial. Following the Battle of Gettysburg in early July, 1863 nearly 7,000 confederate soldiers were detained in the fort.
Fort McHenry continued its active military service to the country until July 20, 1912 when the last active garrison left the fort.
From 1915 to 1917 the City of Baltimore used the site as a city park and beach.
In 1917 the United States Army used the fort site to establish U. S. General Hospital No. 2 for returning wounded veterans of World War I. It was the largest military hospital in the United States with over 100 temporary buildings. Some of the earliest developments in the fields of reconstructive and neuro-surgery were made in that hospital. When the war ended, the need for the hospital slowly diminished and in 1925 the hospital was torn down.
In 1925 Fort McHenry was made a national park, and it was transferred to the care of the National Park Service in 1933. Fort McHenry was redesignated a National Monument and Historic Shrine in 1939. It is the nation's only Historic Shrine.
During World War II the Fort served as a Coast Guard Training Center for fire control and port defense.