School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic C. Conflict between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 2. Explain the political, cultural, economic and social changes in Maryland during the early 1800s

Objective a. Describe Maryland's role in the War of 1812


Maryland played a central role in the War of 1812. The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain began as a result of the Napoleonic Wars between Great Britain and France, which began in 1793. Both of those European powers were intent on crippling the other's trade with the United States and other nations, while the young United States struggled to assert its neutrality and trade freely with both parties. With its stronger navy, Britain was especially bold in harassing American merchant vessels, regularly boarding them and impressing their sailors. Finally, in June 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain.

Because the United States was militarily unprepared for war when hostilities erupted, one strategy it employed was the use of privateers. Private merchant vessels were given letters-of-marque, which authorized them to stop and seize enemy ships and their contents. Baltimore, a major center for American shipbuilding, was the home port of a great many of these privateers. One hundred twenty-six privateer ships operated out of Baltimore during the war, and they were responsible for seizing 550 British ships, half of all those captured by American private vessels, worth a total of $16 million. As a result of this privateering activity, the British nicknamed Baltimore "a nest of pirates" and made it a primary target for attack.

During June 1813, the British attacked and badly damaged Havre de Grace at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. The British again focused their attentions on the Chesapeake region during the summer of 1814. In August, they attacked a poorly defended Washington, D.C. After soundly defeating American troops at Bladensburg, Maryland who were trying to defend the capital, the British entered Washington and burned the White House and other public buildings in retaliation for the destruction of the Canadian city of York at the hands of the Americans. Their real aim was the destruction of Baltimore, however. On September 11, the British anchored at the mouth of the Patapsco River the largest invasion fleet ever to enter U.S. waters. But Baltimore was ready. Over the past several weeks and days, its Committee of Vigilance and Safety had been directing the construction of fortifications and other measures for the defense of the city, including sinking vessels in the channel leading to the inner harbor and stretching chains across their masts to block the advance of enemy ships.

On September 12, the British landed near Baltimore at North Point and marched toward the city. On their way toward Baltimore, they met and easily defeated a group of American troops. The Americans retreated to a line of earthworks (fortifications) that Baltimoreans had built just outside the city. The British stopped their advance to wait until their warships could defeat Fort McHenry and sail into Baltimore Harbor to support their attack on the works. During the night of September 13-14, sixteen British warships bombarded Fort McHenry, remaining just out of range of Fort McHenry's guns. By the next morning, the Fort still had not fallen, and the British decided to abandon the attack. With support from the ships now impossible, the British also abandoned their plans to attack by land and retreated. Baltimore was safe. The Battle of Baltimore was a major turning point in the War of 1812, which ended just a few months later.

The Battle of Baltimore also produced our national anthem. Francis Scott Key watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry from an American truce ship anchored near the British fleet. He had recently negotiated the release of his friend, Dr. William Beanes, from the British, but the British insisted that Key and Beanes not be allowed to return to Baltimore until after the bombardment for fear that they would reveal the British plans to the Americans. Key was so inspired by the defense of the fort that he wrote a poem about it, which he called "The Defence of Fort McHenry." Key's wife's brother-in-law had the poem printed in the newspapers, and the poem, with its new name of "The Star-Spangled Banner," was soon set to the tune of an old English song "To Anacreon in Heaven." In 1931, Congress made the Star-Spangled Banner our national anthem.

Resources for Objective 5.C.2.a: