The Battle for Fort McHenry and Its Role in “Captain Stanwick’s Bride”

On Friday, I welcomed another Book Baby. Captain Stanwick’s Bride: A Tragic Characters in Classic Lit Series Novel is a Regency romance that is set against the fiercest battles of the War of 1812 between England and the United States. My hero, Captain Whittaker Stanwick, is a captain in the British army. My heroine, Miss Beatrice Spurlock, is half Native American and half Scottish. Her father is a Scot practicing medicine in America. Her mother is modeled on my sixth great-grandmother, a Powhatan Indian “princess” named Elizabeth by her white father.

It was not uncommon during the War of 1812 for British citizens in America to be held by the U.S. government. They were not “exactly” prisoners, but many were forced to abandon their homes and places of business, especially if they were not naturalized citizens, and move into an area where they could be “watched,” so to speak. Therefore, in my story, Beatrice’s father has been “encouraged” to abandon his surgery practice in Richmond, Virginia, and serve as the physician/surgeon for the American forces at Fort McHenry and Fort Babcock.

Whittaker and Beatrice meet at the fort when he arrives in a wagon filled with prisoners from a battle along the Canadian front. Whit is only at the fort for a matter of weeks before he is traded for an American captain and sent back to England. [Because neither country could withstand the cost of feeding and clothing prisoners, during the War of 1812, the Americans and the British made “equal” trades: an American captain for a British captain, etc.] Those weeks were enough to convince Whit that Beatrice held his heart. Once Whit learns of the British turning their full force on the United States, he races against time and circumstances to reach Beatrice before she is killed at Fort McHenry, a prime target for the British forces in its quest to squash the Americans.

Map of the bombardment on September 13-14, 1814 at Fort McHenry, Maryland.  The American forces withstood the British bombardment on Fort McHenry, forcing the British to abandon their land assault on the crucial port city of Baltimore and inspiring the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner.  ~

What of Fort McHenry’s significance in turning the war?

“And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” are part of the lyrics of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States. “These few words . . . are some of the most recognizable in American history. . .. Nearly every [American] school child in America knows that Francis Scott Key wrote the anthem as a poem after observing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor throughout the night of 13 September and into the morning of 14 September 1814. From his vantage point on a British ship, he watched through the rainy night as British guns pummeled the fort. As dawn broke, Key saw a massive American flag defiantly flying over the fort signaling that the British attack had failed. Had the British captured and burned Baltimore, as they had Washington the month before, Philadelphia and New York City would have been the next likely targets.” [Battles that Saved America]

Unbeknown to the British, Baltimore had been preparing for an attack by the British for more than a year. Ordered by the Maryland governor at the time, Levin Winder, the commander of the state militia, Major General Samuel Smith he built a line of defense of the city. Using what funds the federal government provided, along with donations from the local citizenry, Smith managed to place 56 long-range cannons at Fort McHenry. He also ordered the installing of several other lesser-sized forts, Fort Babcock, Fort Covington, and Fort Lookout around the Baltimore Harbor. Fort McHenry also sported a 32-pound cannon battery along the water’s edge, as well as fortifications at Lazaretto Point and other points along the Patapsco Rivers. The Americans had lined up barges across the approach on the Fort Babcock and Fort Covington side. They left the channels open to lure the British fleet into the “kill zone.”

The Americans knew the British were better armed force. Therefore, volunteers dug large trenches east of Baltimore itself. The Baltimore militia drilled regularly and, in many ways, were better prepared than the British. As expected, the British began their attack by land at the North Point Peninsula. The Americans were prepared for the onslaught—squeezing Baltimore between a land and sea advancement. 5,000 infantry troops landed at North Point and marched in an arc toward the city from the east. The British had won an easy battle when they overran Washington City weeks prior. They expected the same at Baltimore. The Battle of North Point began at predawn on September 12, 1814. Major General Robert Ross had three brigades of infantry, plus a company of Royal Sappers and a contingent of Royal Marines at his command, but the battle was not to turn in the favor of the British. [Battle of North Point]

Expecting success from their ground troops, the British Royal Navy moved into place at 0630 on September 13, 1814. The British had 5 bomb ships, a rocket ship, and 10 other war ships in place. “British troops outside Baltimore were probably heartened by the sound, but what they saw must have shocked them. They believed that the day before they had defeated the entirety of the American defenders and expected to march easily into the city. The rising sun revealed the spectacle of 12,000 soldiers facing them. Among the defenders were militia units from the city and surrounding counties; some units came from as far away as Pennsylvania. Furthermore, the Americans possessed 100 cannon, giving the Americans a three-to-one advantage over their British foes. The land between the American and British lines had been largely cleared, offering little in the way of cover of concealment, and the heavy rains from the night before turned much of it into a quagmire. [British] Colonel Brooke sent patrols out to probe for weaknesses in the American lines, but none were discovered. All Brooke could do was wait for support from the heavy naval guns of the British fleet. Before it could get within supporting range of the troops in Baltimore, however, it would have to reduce Fort McHenry.” [Battles that Saved America]

Major George Armistead was the commander at Fort McHenry. He had only a few days’ notice to prepare for the British attack. He had 527 men from the 12th, 36th, and 38th, U. S. Infantry Regiments, along with a contingent of regular and militia artillery units at his disposal. McHenry’s major weakness was its massive munitions structure. It was a brick structure and vulnerable if it took a direct hit from the British. One bomb actually struck the ammunition magazine, but, fortunately, for the Americans, it did not explode. Armistead ordered the 300 barrels of powder redistributed throughout the fort so it would not explode and cause massive destruction to the fort or the loss of lives.

The British began their assault with Congreve rockets, mortars and cannon balls. This went on for hours. Surprisingly though, at the end only 4 men had lost their lives and 24 had been wounded. Few guns were put out of action by the engagement. After some six hours of constant bombing of the fort, Rear Admiral Cockburn, moved his ships closer, thinking they would do better with a close range. However, the 32-pound cannon battery, a French style cannon, forced them to retreat. The French battery was smaller and could not reach the British when so far removed, but up close, they were “deadly,” for they were more accurate than the larger cannons.

“After dark, with the rain falling and their army still menacing the outskirts of Baltimore, the British attempted to bypass the guns of Fort McHenry. Just before midnight on 13 September, boats carrying 1,200 soldiers slid under the guns of Fort McHenry making their way into the middle branch of the Patapsco River. The British obviously intended to mount a ground attack on the rear of the fort. Thinking that they were out of danger from the fort’s guns, they sent up rockets. Perhaps the firing of the rockets was an ill-advised celebration of their having bypassed Fort McHenry, or perhaps it was meant as a signal. In either case, it gave away their position and pinpointed them as targets for the guns at Forts Babcock and Covington. Many of the 1,200 unfortunate British troops were killed or drowned in the ensuing crossfire. Most of those who survived were taken prisoner.” [Battles that Saved America]

Despite having filled the air with close to 1700 rounds of mortar and bombs, on the morning of September 14, 1814, Fort McHenry still stood and was very much intact. Major Armistead ordered the raising of a special American flag over the fort as a signal they would continue to fight. Reportedly, the fort’s musicians played “Yankee Doodle” [“Yankee Doodle”is a well-known American song“, the early versions of which date to before the Revolutionary War. It was sung by British military officers to mock the disheveled, disorganized colonial “Yankees” with whom they served in the French and Indian War. It was also popular among the Americans as a song of defiance, and it mocked the British, who could not defeat George Washington. By 1781, instead of an insult, it became a song of pride.] as the flag was raised. The flag was 42 ft x 30 ft and could be seen easily. The fact the British had thrown all they had at Fort McHenry and it still stood convinced them to withdraw. The war was not to end until December 24, 1814, but, for a moment in time, the Americans could celebrate.


Captain Stanwick’s Bride: Tragic Characters in Classic Lit Series Novel

[Released February 19, 2021]

“Happiness consists more in conveniences of pleasure that occur everyday than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.” – Benjamin Franklin

Captain Whittaker Stanwick has a successful military career and a respectable home farm in Lancashire. What he does not have in his life is felicity. Therefore, when the opportunity arrives, following his wife’s death, Stanwick sets out to know a bit of happiness, at last—finally to claim a woman who stirs his soul. Yet, he foolishly commits himself to one woman only weeks before he has found a woman, though shunned by her people and his, who touches his heart. Will he deny the strictures placed upon him by society in order learn the secret of happiness is freedom: Freedom to love and freedom to know courage?

Loosely based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish” and set against the final battles of the War of 1812, this tale shows the length a man will go to in order to claim a remarkable woman as his.

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About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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2 Responses to The Battle for Fort McHenry and Its Role in “Captain Stanwick’s Bride”

  1. Michelle H says:

    Thank you for this compelling bit of history. I am not well versed in American History, much to my shame. I did not excel at history in school except those taught be really motivated and talented teachers, otherwise I struggled because memorizing dates and matching them to events seemed impossible no matter how I studied. Tell me a story of that event which I can connect to and it all falls into place. Place that on a timeline of events in other parts of the world and remember enough to actually know what I want to look up if I’ve forgotten a detail. I hesitate to say any of this in front of you Regina, because you have been a teacher among many other things. I had some fantastic teachers though. And unfortunately some not fantastic ones.

    I’m really looking forward to reading this new book, I just purchased it yesterday. Best of luck with its launch. And stay safe and warm.

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