Lt. Colonel George Armistead (1780-1818): Commander, Fort McHenry

On September 13-14, 1814, in the third year of the War of 1812, this 34 year old Virginia born artillery officer ordered an American flag raised over the ramparts of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor following a 25-hour British naval bombardment. The flag itself inspired a Maryland lawyer to write a song that would become the U.S. national anthem on March 3, 1931.

George Armistead was born near Bowling Green in Caroline County, Virginia, on April 10, 1780, to a well-established Virginia family along the Rappahannock River. He was one of six sons and three daughters born to John and Lucinda (Baylor) Armistead.

He entered the U.S. military in 1799 and rose through the ranks, serving at Fort Niagara, New York (1801-1805); Fort Pickering, Arkansas Territory (1807-1808); and Fort McHenry, Baltimore (1809-1813), where he arrived in January 1809 as second in command. In Baltimore he wedded Louisa Hughes (1789-1861), daughter of a wealthy Baltimore silversmith. In 1812 he returned to Fort Niagara, where on May 27, 1813, he distinguished himself during the American siege of Fort Niagara by capturing the British flags. For his gallantry he was appointed a major in the Third Regiment U.S. Artillery. Armistead returned to Baltimore in June 1813, and remained until his death five years later.

Armistead’s name has been immortalized in U.S. history because of one simple act. In August 1813, he requisitioned a U.S. ensign measuring 42′ x 30′ having fifteen stars and fifteen-stripes that gave inspiration to the defenders’ of Baltimore and inspired a new national song. Ever since, he has been known as the “Guardian of the Star-Spangled Banner.”

After the bombardment, President James Madison brevetted Major Armistead to the rank of lieutenant colonel to date from September 12, 1814. Upon this promotion, Armistead remarked to his wife that “he hoped they would both live long to enjoy.” Four years later, at the age of thirty-eight, Armistead died of causes unknown and was buried with full military honors by a grateful city.

His brother-in-law Christopher Hughes Jr. (1786-1849) served as secretary to the American Peace Commission at Belgium that concluded the War of 1812 on Christmas Eve, 1814. It is Hughes who brought the Treaty of Ghent to Annapolis, then Washington for the President’s signature

Fifty years later, his soon-to-be equally famous nephew, Brigadier General Lewis Addison Armistead, C.S.A. (1817-1863) died of wounds suffered in the Confederate assault (Pickett’s Charge) at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. Two months after the battle his remains were secretly brought to Baltimore and buried next to his famous uncle. A hero of Gettysburg lies with the hero of Fort McHenry within the grounds of Old St. Paul’s Cemetery in downtown Baltimore.

Two monuments honor Lt. Colonel George Armistead in Baltimore. The earliest, erected in 1882, stands atop historic Federal Hill overlooking Baltimore’s downtown waterfront; the other, at Fort McHenry, dedicated during the Battle for Baltimore Centennial Celebration in September 1914

Source: Guardian of The Star-Spangled Banner: Lt. Colonel George Armistead and The Fort McHenry Flag by Scott S Sheads (Baltimore: Toomey Press, 1999).

Published in: on April 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm  Comments Off on Lt. Colonel George Armistead (1780-1818): Commander, Fort McHenry  

A Flag for Fort McHenry, August 1813

SHIPS COLOURS – For all nations, private signals, military flags, etc., An elegant assortment of American Colours, of every size, made of fiort quality bunting. Apply to Mrs. R. Young, Albermarle St.”

In the summer of 1813, soon after his arrival from the Canadian frontier in northern New York state, where he had taken part in the capture that spring of British held Fort George on the Niagara River,  Major George Armistead, U.S. Artillery was assigned to command Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor. He found the fort without a suitable ensign and thus placed an order to James Calhoun, U.S. Deputy Commissary in Baltimore for two flags. Since the U.S. Arsenal in Phildelphia was currently without ensigns, Calhoun purchased locally for the ensigns from Mary Young Pickersgill (1776-1857) and her mother Rebecca Young (1739-1819), well established flag makers of colours since 1806.

 * * * *

Mr. James Calhoun, Jun., Deputy Commissary

To Mary Pickersgill

For 1 American Ensign 30 by 42 feet, first quality Bunting $405.90

For 1      do          do      17 by 25 feet,  do     do       do        $168.54

For Fort McHenry                                                                 $574.44   

August 19, 1813

Baltimore, 27th October 1813. Received from James Calhoun, Jun., Deputy Commissary, five hundred and seventy-four dollars and forty-four cents in full for the above bill.

Signed duplicates

For Mary Pickersgill

Eliza Young

* * * *

Received the within flags, signed duplicates

Gr. Armistead, Major Comm[andin]g.

A year later in September 13-14, 1814 both ensigns would be flown over Fort McHenry during “the perilous fight” and became the inspiration for a new national song – “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  The garrison flag (42’x30′) is on exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm  Comments Off on A Flag for Fort McHenry, August 1813  

Recruitment Notice: U.S.Marines at Baltimore, 1813-1814

“FORTY DOLLARS! To Men of Courage, Enterprize & Patriotism. – A RENDEZVOUS for the Marine service is now opened at the house of Landlord Richard Lee, No. 76, Bond-st. Fell’s Point. FORTY DOLLARS – Is paid at the outset – and the service promises honor and rich reward. The men now wanted are principally for Sergeants and Non-Commissioned Officers of high grade, to command separate detachments on board some of the fastest sailing vessels in the service. If adverse to the Atlantic, they can have the privilege of asserting their country’s honor on the Lakes, or doing garrison duty. Few inducements need to be held out at a crises like the present, when the services of all are required, to excite the ardor and enthusiasm of enterprise and bravery. BENJAMIN HYDE, Lieutenant Marines.”

By the Spring of 1813 a detachment of twenty-four U.S. Marines were assigned at Fell’s Point to guard the Baltimore naval yard of Wm. Parsons & Wm. Flannagain’s shipyard where the U.S. sloops of war Erie and Ontario were to be completed that fall. A year later on August 1, 1814 they were joined by the launching of the U.S. frigate Java.

On August 24, 1814, one hundred U.S. Marines from the Washington U.S. Navy Yard made a valiant but futile stand on the battlefields of Bladensburg, Md., prior to the British capturing the Capital. Afterwards they marched for Baltimore to join Capt. Alfred Grayson’s marine detachment at Baltimore. Arriving with Commodore John Rodgers were fifty U.S. Marines from Philadelphia’s U.S. frigate Guerriere.

Captain Alfred Grayson, commanding 170 U.S. Marines, informed the Marine Commandant “The whole force, sailors and marines, will be tonight one thousand. The enemy is expected every hour.” Marine Lieutenant John Harris, in the center of the naval lines, remarked “I think the handsomest sight I ever saw was during the bombardment to se[e] the bombs and rockets flying and the firing from our three forts [McHenry, Covington, Lazaretto]. I could se[e] plenty of red coats but could not get within musket shot of them.”

Together these 170 U.S. Marines waited behind the naval lines of Commodore John Rodgers, USN upon Hampstead Hill (Patterson Park) for the British land assault that never came. Captain Grayson who commanded the U.S. Marines at Baltimore informed the U.S. Marine Commandant earlier that “…an opportunity will be afforded our little handful of men to take a part in the contest.”

Sources: History of the U.S. Marine Corps by Maj. Edwin N. McClellan. (Washington: 1925); Commodore John Rodgers: Captain, Commodore, and Senior Officer of the American Navy, 1773-1838, by Charles O. Paullin (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1909, 1967); Baltimore Patriot, May 13, 1813; Hyde died on Feb. 10, 1815. Grayson died on June 28, 1823.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 11:34 am  Comments Off on Recruitment Notice: U.S.Marines at Baltimore, 1813-1814  

Recruitment Notice: “First Marine Artillery of the Union”

In the summer of 1814, Captain George Stiles (1760-1819), veteran sea captain of Fell’s Point issued a recruitment notice for those to enroll in this amphibious corps of 200 seamen and maritime artisans. The First Marine Artillery of the Union was organized in 1808 as a naval militia corps under the auspices of the City of Baltimore. During the War of 1812 “they were as a host to Baltimore.” This indefatigable corps of seamen built the marine dual gun batteries at Fort McHenry, Fort Babcock, and the Lazaretto as well as manning the gunboats of the harbor. In September 1814 they were stationed upon the defenses of Hampstead Hill (Patterson Park).  

First Marine Artillery on the Union

Meet at your gunhouse at 3 o’clock on Saturday next, in uniform complete, to exercise the heavy field ordnance. Knowing as you do, that the weight of this metal requires much strength, renders it unnecessary for any entreaties to be advanced by your captain, for your prompt attendance.

The object of this early hour is to admit agreeable to your constitution, new members; we have a right to expect every master and mate in port. The cloud gathers fast and heavy in the East, and all hands are called – few, very few, are the number of masters or mates belonging to this port that will be justified in excusing themselves from service by one of their skippers not being so firm as the other, or that he has seen five or forty; if he cannot sponge and ram as well as his messmates, he can pass a cartridge.

It is well known by all Tars the just stigma that is fixed by the ship’s crew on the man that skulks below, or under the lee of the long boat, when all hands are called; their services were not wanting until the present; but now your city calls all to arms, you are therefore invited and entreated to fall into our ranks.

Many 18 pounders are already manned and many more fit for service; come and join as we give a long pull, a strong pull and a pull altogether – and save the ship.

By order of the Captain, ROBT. G. HENDERSON, Secretary.

Source: Baltimore American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, July 22, 1814.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 11:10 am  Comments Off on Recruitment Notice: “First Marine Artillery of the Union”  

Salutes and Huzzas ! The American Frigate Java: Oliver Hazard Perry Commands

On August 1, 1814, at the shipyard of Messrs, William Parson and William Flannigan in Fell’s Point, the U.S. Navy’s newest frigate rated at 44 guns, was launched in the elegant naval tradition of her day. As she entered the water she was saluted by numerous discharges from U.S. Barges and the U.S. sloops of war, the Erie and Ontario that were launched a year earlier.

“She moved into her ‘destined element’ (as the phrase is ) in a very handsome style, amidst general and joyful cheers; that a very numerous assemblage of ladies and gentlemen attended…the Yager Band of music enliven the scene with appropriate marches and airs…”

Twenty thousand spectators, nearly one half the population of Baltimore had turned out to greet her and her commander Captain Oliver Hazard Perry, the “Hero of Lake Erie.”

The skilled craftsmen who built the Java, and those who cheered her at this moment, were unaware of other frigates and ships of war that were now moving under a full press of sail towards the Chesapeake from the British naval base in Bermuda. The festive spirit subsided as the war clouds approached Baltimore harbor.

Among the citizens who cheered her was John Murray, a free black ship’s carpenter. Born in Baltimore, the sixty-three old had been a caulker to shipbuilders since the inception of that craft on the Point. His well known self attained skill in playing a “few imperfect tunes” on the violin had earned him the name of “Fiddler Jack.”

She would take no part in the Battle for Baltimore as she was yet to be fitted with the armaments of war and her masts and rigging. Her commander stated, “It is, at this moment, said the enemy are now standing up the river for this place with about 40 sail. I shall stay by my ship and take no part in the militia fight. I expect to have to burn her.”

Sources: The Sun, December 20, 1861; Baltimore Patriot, August 1, 1814; American & Commercial Daily Adv., August 2, 1814. Dillon, Richard, We have met the Enemy (New York: 1980, 188.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 10:15 pm  Comments Off on Salutes and Huzzas ! The American Frigate Java: Oliver Hazard Perry Commands  

Major General Samuel Smith takes Command at Baltimore: August 25, 1814

“The victorious [British] army are in full march for this city, and will be here in 36 hours…”

For Brig. General William Henry Winder, nephew of the federalist governor of Maryland, the wind-swept stormy night of August 25, 1814 is one of apprehension and decision for his next military move as he rode towards Baltimore. A severe thunderstorm augmented the retreating passage from one of the darkest days of the War of 1812 as the U.S. capitol lay in smoldering ruins and national humiliation following Winder’s defeat at Bladensburg, Md.

At Montgomery County Courthouse, General Winder dashes off a letter to Brig. Gen. John Stricker at Baltimore; “There remains no doubt but the enemy are on the advance to Baltimore …Are the people animated there? Have you any reinforcements from Pennsylvania?” In the immediate crises, Baltimore seemed next as unfounded rumors spread that the British army were on the retreating heels of the Baltimoreans.

On August 25, a Committee of Vigilance and Safety was organized to coordinate Baltimore’s defense. A delegation of military and naval officers presented themselves; Commodore Oliver H. Perry, Major George Armistead of Fort McHenry, Commandant Robert Spence and Brig. Gen. John Stricker who unanimously agreed with three commitee members (Robert Stewart, Col. John Edgar Howard and Richard Frisby) that Major General Samuel Smith “take the command of the Forces which may be called into federal service.” Civilian and military confidence in Winder had diminished over his defeat at Bladensburg.

Outside the City Council Chambers, Samuel Smith is waiting, to be summoned, like Washington on his day of appointment to command the Continental army in 1775. General Smith informed the U.S. Secretary of War on August 27 that he had been “appointed by his Excellency Gov. Winder to the command of the quota of  Maryland under the general order of the 4th July 1814 and that I have assumed command conformably to my rank…”  of major general in the militia and now being called into federal service outranked Brig. General Winder as commander of Baltimore’s defense.

Smith’s experience as an Revolutionary officer, his leadership in the U.S. Senate and ability as a successful merchant, provided the necessary qualifications. On August 25 the Committee of Vigilance and Safety gathered in the Council Chambers. A committee member Richard Frisby remembered the critical conversation that took place in the council chambers when Colonel John E. Howard entered the chamber and rose to speak:

Mr. President, I believe that I have as much property at stake as most others and I have four sons in the field of Battle. I had sooner see my Sons dead and my property in Ashes, than agree to any capitulation with the enemy. No my friends never. All my property is here. My Wife, my Children, my friends, and all that is nearest to me on Earth are here, but I had sooner see them all buried in Ruins, and myself along with them, than see Baltimore make a last and disgraceful surrender to the Enemies of our beloved Country.”

His fellow Baltimoreans and gathered officers with” unbounded confidence in his patriotism, judgment, and valor” cheerfully rally around his standard in defense of their homes and firesides. General Smith, after a moments pause, in a most feeling and animated tone of voice answered.

“My friends I have but one life to lose, and that I have at all times been willing to hazard in defense of my beloved country. Tell the members of your convention that I willingly obey their call, and, confidently expect their hearty cooperation in every necessary means of defense….” Soon the General was on horseback animating his fellow citizens to buckle on their armor and prepare to defend their homes and all that is dear to freemen.

Sources: Samuel Smith Papers, MSS 18974, Reel 5, Cont. 7-8, Library of Congress. Dated 1839; Secretary Theodore Bland to the Committee Aug. 25, 1814.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 7:04 pm  Comments Off on Major General Samuel Smith takes Command at Baltimore: August 25, 1814  

The Star-Spangled Banner: Why 15 Stars and 15 Stripes?

On June 14, 1777 the Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia representing the thirteen colonies then situated along the eastern seaboard with the exception of Maine (1820) and Florida (1845) passed the following resolution:

“Resolved, That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

Eighteen years later the U.S. Flag Act of January 13, 1794 was signed by President George Washington altering the flag design with the admission of Vermont (1791) and Kentucky (1792) into the Union providing for fifteen stripes as well as fifteen stars.

“An Act making an alteration in the Flag of the United States Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, That from and after the first day of May, Anno Domini, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-five, the flag of the United States, be fifteen stripes alternate red and white. That the Union be fifteen stars, white in a blue field.”

Thus on June 18, 1812 with a declaration of War with England there were only 15 stars and stripes represented on the Fort McHenry flag, though there were actually 18 states with the admission of Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1803) and Louisiana (1812).

On April 4, 1818, a new Flag Act was signed by President James Monroe provided what is still honored today:

An Act to establish the flag of the United States. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled, That from and after the fourth day of July next, the flag of the United States be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be twenty stars, white in a blue field. And be it further enacted, That on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect of the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission

In 1907 the descendants of Lt. Colonel George Armistead, the commander of Fort McHenry during the war, presented the original star-spangled banner to the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. A replica of this flag is flown by the National Park Service at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, Maryland. by Presidential Proclamation day and night.


Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 8:33 pm  Comments Off on The Star-Spangled Banner: Why 15 Stars and 15 Stripes?  

Hezekiah Niles (1777-1839) News Editor-Niles Weekly Register

Born on October 10, 1777 in Chester County, Pa., to a Quaker family, Hezekiah Niles became one of the most influential journalists of the early 19th century as editor of Niles’ Weekly Register, published in Baltimore weekly from 1811 to the last issue in 1849.

Niles’ apprenticed in Philadelphia as a printer, then in Wilmington, Delaware for several years, until 1805,when he moved to Baltimore, and in 1811 printed the first issue of Niles’ Weekly Register. It is considered one of the most important primary source documents for studying the War of 1812 period. Niles was also known as the great compiler for the amount of  information it contained. It was in fact, illustrations not included, the most widely read national news magazine of his day. His services during the War of 1812 was that of a private in Captain Peter Pinney’s co., 27th Md. Regiment.

He died on April 2,1839 in Wilmington, Delaware of paralytic condition at the age of sixty-two years of age. “His life was well spent, for he raised himself by his industry and integrity…he labored in a purely philanthropic and patriotic manner to promote the views which in his opinion, were conducive to public benefit.”

Source: The Sun, April 3, 1839;

Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 8:01 pm  Comments Off on Hezekiah Niles (1777-1839) News Editor-Niles Weekly Register  

Old St. Paul’s Cemetery: In Memoriam of 1812 Patriarchs

“May they rest in peace in their narrow beds, covered by verdure ever fresh, and wild flowers ever blooming; and may the kindliest dew of Heaven distill upon their graves an emblem of our tears.” Niles’ Weekly Register, March 30, 1814.

Throughout Maryland are thousands of War of 1812 veteran graves and historic burying grounds yet to be found, recorded and remembered, as we begin to celebrate their achievements that gave inspiration for a new national hymn. One of the least visited, yet one of the famous burying grounds is also Baltimore’s oldest – Old St. Paul’s Cemetery of the Second Presbyterian Church in downtown Baltimore. Within its high protective stone walls are many citizen-soldiers who fought or contributed with legislature support to keeping the fire hearths burning on the home front in support of their neighbors and fellow citizens.

For nearly three years when the war raged on the bay, the voices of citizen-soldiers, the fife and drums of regimental music and company flags unfurled to the breezes continue to play no more. Herein within this sacred burying ground are the quiet voices of our past. Like those of the Revolution, they returned to their private pursuits as farmers, mariners, political and martial pursuits, until they too, passed on, leaving only their reputations and the records of their lives. Here are four notable burials:

Lt. Colonel George Armistead (1780-1818). Born in Caroline County Virginia he was one of five brothers, all of whom served in the War of 1812. In 1813 he delivered the captured British from Fort George, Upper Canada to President Madison, and subsequently commanded of Fort McHenry until his death on April 27, 1818.

Lieutenant Colonel Jacob H. Hindman, (1789-1827) A native of Centreville, Maryland served in the 2nd U.S. Artillery in 1812 and was brevetted a lieutenant colonel for his distinguished service in the defense of Fort Erie and Fort George, and at the Battle of Chippewa (July 1814) all on the Canadian frontier. Colonel Hindman died on February 17, 1827 at the age of 58 years.

Christopher Hughes, Jr. (1785-1849) A Baltimore native he commanded the Baltimore Independent Artillery in 1813 before becoming one of the U.S. peace delegates at the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, concluding the War of 1812. He was the brother-in-law of Lt. Colonel George Armistead, and died on September 18, 1849 at the age of sixty-three.

Jacob Small, Jr. (1772-1851). A former mayor of Baltimore and member of the Baltimore Mechanical Volunteers at the Battle of North Point, he designed the 1817 Aquila Randall Monument, still extant along the Old North Point Road.

“The patriarchs of the Revolution [and the War of 1812] are fast passing away: another and yet another year, and perhaps not one of those gallant spirits, who aided America in her struggle for freedom and independence, will be left to the living object of our gratitude & veneration…The Freedom achieved by their swords, and the institutions established by their wisdom, are now left in our hands.” Honorable Robert H. Goldsborough, 1827.


Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 7:55 pm  Comments Off on Old St. Paul’s Cemetery: In Memoriam of 1812 Patriarchs  
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John Montgomery (1764-1828):Captain, Baltimore Union Artillery

John Montgomery was born in Carlisle, Pa., studied and practiced law in Harford County, Md., and served as a state delegate (1793-1798); U.S. Congress (1807-1811) and as Attorney General of Maryland (1811-1818). He was commissioned a captain of the Baltimore Union Artillery, 1st Regiment Maryland Artillery and took an active role at the Battle of North Point, Sept. 12, 1814, the only American artillery of four guns at the battle, forming in the center of the American lines on the Old North Point Road to meet the British advance.

After the war he served two terms as Mayor of Baltimore (1820-22 and 1824-1826). He died on July 17, 1828 and is buried in Mount Carmel Methodist Church Cemetery, Bel Air, Harford County. “In Memory of JOHN MONTGOMERY, who died in Baltimore, A.D. 1828, aged 63 years. Also Mary, his wife, and his 2 Sons, John H. & James N. Montgomery.”

Sources: Baltimore Gazette & Daily Adv., July 23, 1828; Biographical Directory of the United States Congress;. Wilbur F. Coyle, The Mayors of Baltimore (Reprinted from The Baltimore Municipal Journal, 1919), 27-29.  

Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 7:47 pm  Comments Off on John Montgomery (1764-1828):Captain, Baltimore Union Artillery