Fort McHenry Guard Living History Program

War of 1812 artillery demonstration. Crew beside six-pound field gun with fireball from muzzle
Summer War of 1812 artillery demonstration

NPS/Tim Ervin

Fort McHenry’s living history program is known as the Fort McHenry Guard. It is composed of specially trained park rangers and volunteers who provide visitors with a touchstone to the past.

Established in 1982, the Guard is trained and equipped by the National Park Service to represent several generations of men and women who served and worked at Fort McHenry and in the City of Baltimore from the War of 1812 through World War II. Throughout the year, Guard members provide historical interpretation and demonstrations at Fort McHenry, sites along the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, and related National Park Service sites that bring history to life for visitors.

To learn more, contact our Living History Coordinator.

Soldier in blue uniform aiming musket. Fort in background.
U.S. Corps of Artillery

NPS/Tim Ervin

United States Corps of Artillery

The members of the Fort McHenry Guard who take on the mantle of the professional soldier wear the uniform of the United States Corps of Artillery. This company of artillerists was the home garrison at Fort McHenry. These officers and soldiers of the regular army were under the command of Major George Armistead.

The life of the ordinary soldier was a daily routine of drill, guard duty, servicing weapons, clothing and accouterments, and maintaining the barracks and grounds. In this all-volunteer army, soldiers were drawn from many civilian occupations. Some were attracted by dreams of adventure and heroism while others saw the prospect of honorable employment. Patriotism motivated many but land bounties and cash bonuses also provided incentives for recruits.

Guard members representing the Corps of Artillery will receive training in 18th-century historic weapons, military drill, and safety procedures from certified National Park Service supervisors.

Drummer in red War of 1812 uniform looking over bass drum.
War of 1812 field musician

NPS/Tim Ervin

Corps of Artillery Field Music

The Fort McHenry Guard Field Musicians are an integral part of fort activity. Much of the routine of a soldier was dictated by the fife and drum. Fort drummers play on a variety of rope-tension drums with natural heads, and fifers use wooden fifes of various keys to provide the sounds appropriate to the War of 1812 era and help visitors experience what life in the garrison would have sounded like. Fort musicians are trained in a wide variety of drum calls as well as marching tunes as music was used to direct the troops.

Those interested in volunteering as field musicians will receive instruction in rudemental drumming, scales, musical notation, and military drill. The park hosts an annual fife and drum camp to welcome and train new recruits.

Living historian sailors pose with naval cannon with fort in background
Sailors manned gun batteries throughout Baltimore when the British arrived in 1814. The Fort McHenry Guard brings the service of fighting sailors to life.

NPS/Tim Ervin

Sailors in the War of 1812

Guard members provide two living history impressions of sailors during the War of 1812—the United States Sea Fencibles and the Chesapeake Flotilla.

The Sea Fencibles were organized after the passing of an Act of Congress on July 26, 1813. Sea Fencibles were military units commanded by Army officers and posted at a garrison but equipped as naval units. The United States Chesapeake Flotilla was formed in 1813 to provide naval protection for the key ports and waterways in the Chesapeake Bay. It was considered part of the US Navy and was under the command of Joshua Barney.

Guard members representing these units interpret the hardworking sailors who manned and maintained the Water Batteries at Fort McHenry and those who fought in naval and land engagements throughout the Chesapeake Campaign. Guard sailors will receive training in 18th-century historic weapons, military drill, and safety procedures from certified National Park Service supervisors.

Women in War of 1812 dress representing laundresses
Laundresses were some of the earliest military contractors. Fort McHenry Guard citizens demonstrate the work and contributions of Baltimoreans during the War of 1812.

NPS/Tim Ervin

Citizens of Baltimore

The Citizens of Baltimore welcome you to discover what it was like to live and work in Baltimore and Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The Citizens of Baltimore research and develop roles appropriate to the society and setting, such as committees formed to help in the defense of the city, the business proprietress, the merchant, the cook, the laundress and seamstress, the artisan and musician, and family members from all of the ranks and social classes of those who defended the City. We honor the memory of these early Americans and pay tribute to an unnamed citizen killed during the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Soldiers and officer in War of 1812 militia uniforms with fort in background
Fort McHenry Guard members representing the War of 1812's citizen soldiers in the militia.

NPS/Tim Ervin

Citizen Soldiers: Militia in the War of 1812

Several Militia units from Maryland and surrounding areas were called to defend the city of Baltimore as the British approached. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, able-bodied men in the U.S. between specific ages were expected to enroll in their state militia to serve in a military capacity should their service be required. However, the expectations of militia units were not high due to a decline in formal regulation. Many militiamen received minimal training and were given little in the way of equipment. Prior to the outbreak of war, most militiamen were expected to use their own personal weapons. Despite its shortcomings, the militias offered a key military resource needed to win the war: manpower.

Militia units represented by Guard members include the Baltimore Fencibles Artillery Company under Captain Joseph Nicholson, Washington Artillery under Captain John Berry, and Baltimore Independent Artillery under Lt Commanding Charles Pennington.

Guard members representing militia will receive training in 18th-century historic weapons, military drill, and safety procedures from certified National Park Service supervisors.


Explore the fort's long history!

  • Fifers and drummers performing in Civil War U.S. Army uniform.
    Civil War

    Fort McHenry Guard interpreters often bring to life the stories and sounds of garrison life at Fort McHenry during the Civil War.

  • Living historians in Red Cross nurse and Army Medical Corps uniform in Sally Port
    World War I

    Fort McHenry Guard members also interpret the lives and experiences of the medical staff and patients of General Hospital No. 2.

  • Living historian in U.S. Coast Guard uniform speaking with visitors
    World War II

    Share stories of the U.S. Coast Guardsman training at Fort McHenry during World War II and life in Baltimore during wartime.


Explore history beyond the park!

Living historians in 1800s clothing gathered in farm yard with houses in background
Harvest Day at Hampton NHS

NPS/Tim Ervin

Living History at Hampton National Historic Site

For special events, members of the Fort McHenry Guard also have opportunities to explore the lives and work of free, enslaved, and indentured laborers and craftsmen during the 1800s at Hampton National Historic Site. Members provide demonstrations of farm equipment, cooking, and 19th-century popular music. Guard members also provide informal interpretation of the stories of all those who lived and worked at Hampton, and the communities they built before and after Emancipation.

Last updated: January 7, 2024

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2400 East Fort Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21230


410 962-4290 x250

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