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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Armistead’s Account of the Battle

Major George Armistead was the commander at Fort McHenry in September, 1814.  This reading is transcribed from his report on the bombardment of the fort.  As an official government document, the original report is the property of the National Archives and Records Administration.


The Honble James Monroe

Secretary of War



                                                           Fort McHenry 24th September 1814



            A severe indisposition, the effect of great fatigue and exposure, has prevented me heretofore from presenting you with an account of the attack on this Post—On the night of Saturday the 10th inst the British Fleet consisting of Ships of the line, heavy Frigates, and Bomb vessels amounting in the whole to 30 Sail appeared at the mouth of the River Patapsco with every indication of an attempt on the City of Baltimore.  My own Force consisted of one Company of U.S. Artillery under Capt Evans, and two Companies of Sea Fencibles under Captains Bunbury and Addison, of these three Companies 35 Men were unfortunately on the Sick list and unfit for duty.  I had been furnished with two Companies of Volunteer Artillery from the City of Baltimore under Capt Berry and Lieut Commandr Pennington—to these I must add another very fine Company of Volunteer Artillerists under Judge Nicholson, who had profferd their Services to aid in the defense of this Post whenever an attack might be apprehended, and also a Detachment from Commodore Barney’s flotilla under Lt Rodman.  Brigadier Genl Winder had also furnished me with about six hundred Infantry under the Command of Lt Col Steuart & Major Lane, consisting of detachments from the 12th, 14th, 36th, & 38th Regts of U.S. troops, the total amounting to about one thousand effective Men.


            On Monday morning very early, it was perceived that the Enemy was landing troops on the East side of the Patapsco, distant about ten Miles.  During that day and the ensuing night He had brought Sixteen Ships (including five Bomb Ships) within about two Miles and an half of this Fort.  I had arranged my force as follows:  The Regular Artillerists under Capt. Evans, and the Volunteers under Capt. Nicholson, manned the Bastions in the Star Fort.  Captains Bunburys, Addisons, Rodmans, Berrys, and Lt. Comdt Penningtons commands were stationed on the lower works, and the Infantry under Lt Col. Steuart & Major Lane were in the outer ditch, to meet the Enemy at his landing if He should attempt one.


            On Tuesday morning about Sun rise, the Enemy commenced the attack from his five bomb vessels, at the distance of about two Miles, when finding that his Shells reached Us, He anchored, and Kept Up an incessant and well-directed Bombardment.  We immediately opened our Batteries and kept a brisk fire from our Guns and Mortars, but unfortunately our Shot and Shells all fell considerably Short of him; this was to me a most distressing circumstance as it left us exposed to a constant and tremendous Shower of Shells without the most remote possibility of our doing him the slightest injury.  It affords me the highest gratification to State, that although we were left thus exposed, and thus inactive, not a Man Shrunk from the conflict.


            About 2 OClock, P.M. one of the 24 pounders on the South West Bastion under the immediate command of Capt Nicholson, was dismounted by a Shell, the explosion from which killed his 2nd Lieut and wounded several of his Men; the bustle necessarily produced in removing the Wounded and remounting the Gun probably induced the Enemy to suspect that We were in a state of confusion, as He brought in three of his Bomb Ships to what I believed to be good striking distance; I immediately ordered a fire to be opened, which was obeyed with alacrity through the whole Garrison, and in half an hour those intruders again Sheltered themselves by withdrawing beyond our reach.  We gave three Cheers and again ceased firing.


The Enemy continued throwing Shells with one or two Slight intermissions, till one OClock in the Morning of Wednesday, when it was discovered that He had availed himself of the darkness of the Night and had thrown a considerable force above to our right; they had approached very near to Fort Covington, when they began to throw Rocketts, intended, I presume, to give them an opportunity of examining the Shores, as I have since understood, they had detached 1250 picked Men with Scaling ladders for the purpose of Storming this Fort.  We once more had an opportunity of opening our Batteries, and Kept up a continued blaze for nearly two Hours, which had the effect again to drive them off.


In justice to Lieut Newcomb of the U.S. Navy, who commanded at Fort Covington with a Detachment of Sailors, and Lieut Webster of the Flotilla, who commanded the 6 Gun Battery near that Fort, I ought to State that during this time they kept up an animated and I believe a very destructive fire, to which I am persuaded We are much indebted in repulsing the Enemy. One of their sunken Barges has since been found with two dead Men in it, others have been seen floating in the River.  The only means We had of directing our Guns was by the blaze of their Rocketts, and the flashes of their Guns, had they ventured to the same situation in the day time, not a man would have escaped.


The Bombardment continued on the part of the Enemy until seven OClock on Wednesday Morning, when it ceased and about nine, they Ships got under weigh and Stood down the River.  During the Bombardment which continued 25 Hours, (with two slight intermissions) from the best calculation I can make, from fifteen to Eighteen hundred Shells were [thrown] by the Enemy, a few of these fell short, a large proportion burst over us, throwing their fragments among us, and threatening destruction, many passed over, and about four hundred fell within the Works.  Two of the public buildings are materially injured, the others but slightly.  I am happy to inform you (wonderful as it may appear) that our loss amounts only to four Men Killed, and twenty four Wounded, the latter will all recover.  Among the Killed, I have to lament the loss of Lieut Clagget, and Sergeant Clemm, both of Capt Nicholsons Volunteers, two Men whose fate is to be deplored, not only for their personal bravery, but for their high Standing, amiable Demeanor, and spotless integrity in private life.  Lieut. Russel of the Company under Lt Pennington received early in the attack a severe contusion in the Heel, notwithstanding which He remained at his post during the whole Bombardment.


Was I to name any individuals who signalized themselves, it would be doing injustice to others, suffice it to say, that every Officer and Soldier under my Command did their duty to my entire satisfaction.


                                      I have the honor

                                                   to remain respectfully

                                                               Your Ob Servt

                                                  G. Armistead

                                                  Lieut Coll U.S.A.


Honble James Munroe

            Secty of War

Questions for Reading 1

1. How long after the battle did Armistead submit his official report?  What reason did he give for the delay?

2. How many men did Armistead have to defend the fort?

3. How did Armistead feel when he ordered his men to stop shooting back at the British?  How do you think you would have felt if you had been in the fort?

4. Using this account and beginning on Monday morning, September 12, draw up a time line of the events Armistead describes.  When did the British begin their bombardment?  When did the fort return their fire?  When and why did they stop?  When did the British attempt to attack the fort from the side?  What happened?

5. Armistead signed his report “Lieutenant Colonel,” the rank to which he was promoted after the battle.  Why do you think he was promoted?  Do you think he deserved it?  Explain your answer.


Comments or Questions

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