Fort McHenry – Battle of Baltimore

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore Harbor, sits among some of the most hallowed ground in America. Although not notable for the loss of life (only four defenders were killed) like Gettysburg or Pearl Harbor, it is far more famous because what its defense inspired among a still very adolescent nation.

The action at Fort McHenry was part of a much larger Battle for Baltimore that occurred in mid-September 1814. Following the Battle of Bladensburg and subsequent burning of Washington, Maj. General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane’s invasion fleet moved further up Chesapeake Bay to attack the city of Baltimore. On September 12th, Ross landed the main British army at North Point and was met by an advance guard of American soldiers and militiamen along the North Point Road. In a sharp action that day Ross was killed, but the British carried the field, forcing the Americans back to the defenses protecting Baltimore. Prior to the larger attack on Baltimore, Col. Arthur Brook took command of the British ground forces and marched within two miles of the city.

To augment the ground campaign, an attack by the British Navy was necessary. What stood in the way was Fort McHenry and a number of smaller works protecting the entrance to the harbor. The British bombardment of Fort McHenry commenced early on 13 September and lasted some 25 hours. Maj. George Armistead, the fort’s commanding officer, estimated that somewhere between 1,500 and 1,800 shells and rockets were fired by the fleet. Because of the types of weapons used by the British, the bombardment fleet could sit well outside of the effective range of the fort’s guns. A sortie of British landing craft were sent under the cover of darkness to attack Fort McHenry, but they were driven back by a combination of American guns, defective barges and poor reconnaissance.

The bombardment continued throughout the early morning until 7AM on September 14, when the British fleet departed. Aboard a truce ship in the harbor was a Washington lawyer named Francis Scott Key who was seeking the release of a friend captured at the Battle of Bladensburg. Key was able to view the hoisting of the Fort’s garrison flag in the morning light. This inspired him to write a poem entitled “Defence of Fort McHenry,” which was published three days later and soon set to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heave.” Later, the poem and tune would become the America’s National Anthem.

Much like other fortifications along America’s East Coast, Fort McHenry has undergone significant changes in its history. The 1814 Upper and Lower Water Batteries have been moved closer to the Fort and bristle with Civil War-era Rodman canons. A reconstructed Water Battery does provide some insight into the outer defenses of the fort. The Sally Port has been strengthened with a brick guardhouse instead of the wooden walkway extending that extended to the ravelin. At the time of the bombardment, the barracks were only one-story and not the two-story structures that you see today.

Some of the places of interest throughout the National Monument include:

  • Visitor’s Center: The visitor’s center has been recently renovated and incorporates a number hands-on activities for children. Kids can compare their heights to the size of Star Spangled Banner, find their favorite version of the National Anthem, examine a reproduction of a Congreve Rocket, learn about some of defenders of the Fort, and follow the history of Francis Scott Key. The highlight is a ten minute video (shown on the hour and at half past) on the Battle and the authoring of National Anthem.
  • Shore Battery Reconstruction: Although many of the cannon at Fort McHenry are from the period of the Civil War, the reconstructed shore battery provides a glimpse into the types of cannons used to defend against the British Navy.
  • 1814 Barracks: One of the primary stops for the Junior Ranger badge is the 1814 Barracks, which houses displays on the history of the fort through the ages, a multimedia overview of the Battle of Baltimore, and a reproduction of the living quarters for the common soldier defending the fort. Unfortunately, only tables and bunks populate the barracks.
  • Powder Magazine: Although enlarged after the battle, the powder magazine is stocked with powder barrels. Outside there are a number of canons that children can view.
  • Commanding Officer’s Quarters and Guardhouse: The Officer’s Quarters features a mock-up of Maj. George Armistead’s quarters, with an electronic map focusing on the Battle of Baltimore. Visitors then move through the barracks where they can view a presentation on the making and history of the Star Spangled Banner after the battle. Before exiting, you are taken past the guardhouse, where a reproduction of the flag is stored.

Junior Ranger:

Both M1 and M2 took part in the Fort’s Junior Ranger program, which is for 5 to 13 year old students. The Fort McHenry Activity Booklet is broken up into easy, medium and difficult program. We decided to go with the easy portion, which is still pretty difficult and may require the assistance of parents to assist in answering many of the questions in the visitor center. The NPS provides black and white copies of the booklet, which can be difficult to read. I would recommend printing out the required pages at home an bringing them along. You can determine the required pages, by looking at the top of the page red for easy, white for medium, and blue for difficult.



There are a great number of resources available for students to take advantage of prior to visiting Fort McHenry. Their is a great overview of the Bombardment of Baltimore in the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. There are also a number of children’s books that focus on Francis Scott Key and the authoring of what would become the National Anthem. Among them are Step into Reading’s Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner and Rebecca Jones’ The Biggest (and Best) Flag That Ever Flew, which recounts the story of the flag’s maker Mary Pickersgill. 

Know Before You Go: The majority of the grounds are accessible via paved or brick walkways. There are bathrooms at the visitor center and inside the center barracks in the fort. A gift shop that sells some of the books listed above is located in the visitor center. A number of living history (seasonal) and talks are provided by the park staff, so check the site’s calendar before heading out.

Location: Fort McHenry is located at the tip of Locust Point at 2400 East Fort Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21230. Baltimore Bus #1 is the only public transportation option and stops at the main gate. From there it is about a 100 yard walk to the Visitor Center.

Hours: The Park is open daily, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Hours are from 9:00 to 5:00 PM.

Admission: Admission to the park is $10 for those 16 years and older. Children 15 and under are free. Purchase of admission allows free entrance to the site for the next seven days. A yearly pass is available for $40 and provides admission for three adults. Educational groups can seek a waiver to the fee.


Week 2 Review – The Earliest People

Story of the World:

Listened to the audiobook version for Story of the World, The First Nomads & the First Nomads Become Famers on two separate occasions. Completed review questions and narration exercise.


Cave Painting: We actually did cave painting a few years ago, but it was a project that both girls really loved. SotW has you use black, ochre and yellow paint, so we upped the ante. We used raspberries (red), blueberries (purple), ground mustard (yellow), and charcoal (black) combined with a little water and some vegetable oil for an emulsion. There are a number of sites where you can get more exact measurements, but we just free-poured until we got the right consistency.

Map & Color Page: Both M1 and M2, shaded in geographic features of the Fertile Crescent and colored the provided SotW coloring page featuring a farmer using a shaduf.

Read Aloud: 

The First Dog, by Jan Brett (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 1988). My seven and four year old loved reading this book! First off the illustrations are great, incorporating images of some of the first tools and works of art created by early humans ring the periphery of every page. The story is also very approachable for young children, but parents can tie in questions related to the domestication of animals, what nomads may have worn in the Ice Age, and what tools they carried with them.

Little Grunt and the Big Egg, by Tommy dePaola (G.P. Putnam, 2006). I checked out this book based on the recommendation of SotW and because my kids loved Strega Nona and The Clown of God. Even though it is listed as a fairy tale that concept might be lost on younger children. The most problematic aspect is the presentation of early man and dinosaurs living together.

The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, by Jane Bingham, Fiona Chandler and Sam Taplin (Usborne, 2009). We own this book and our girls love looking through the pictures and reading the excerpts. Pages 80 to 101 focus on the periods from 5 million to 10,000 BC years ago, to cover the SotW’s First Nomads. Pages 108 to 113 cover SotW’s The First Nomads Become Farmers.

Watch Together:

Flint Knapping

Atlatl Throwing

The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1 (little advanced in terms of concepts and sometimes content, recommend parents watch in advance)

Mesopotamia: Crash Course World History #3 (jumps some of the subjects that are later taught in SotW).

Horrible Histories –

City of Jericho 3D Tour

Listen Together:

Probably one of the best podcasts on history is the BBC’s History of the World in 100 Objects. Although more geared towards older students, you can play them in the morning at breakfast or while your homeschooler is doing other activities. The objects linked to early humans are the most extensive set, so playing one per day over a week is a good idea. You can find the podcast on ITunes or listen directly from the web page below:

Olduvai Stone Chopping Tool

Olduvai Hand Axe

Swimming Reindeer

Clovis Spearpoint

Bird-Shaped Pestle

Ain Sakhri Lovers (statuette) 






Fort McClary, Kittery, Maine


When it comes to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States are littered with coquina, stone, brick and dirt fortifications. For many, Fort McHenry, Fort Sumter and Castillo de San Marcos have become major tourist destinations, while other languished and deteriorated. For the most part a fortification stands in direct relationship to the era that it was built and can inadequately tell the history of the U.S. seacoast defenses. Maine’s Fort McClary, despite its size is equal to the task, providing a rich history of coastal fortifications from the early Republic to the end of World War II. 

Fort McClary was built on Kittery Point at the mouth of the Piscataqua River to protect the northern approach to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and the nearby U.S. naval shipyard. Prior to the fort’s construction costal defenses were present at the site since the late 17th century. William Peppered, a local shipbuilder, oversaw the construction of a crude dirt and log fortification in 1689. A permanent battery of six guns was constructed in 1715 and given the name Fort William. Following the American Revolution, the site was transferred to the United States government in 1808 and the newly constructed fortification as named Fort McClary. Throughout the early 19th century, a number of structures were constructed at the site to include a blockhouse, rifleman’s houses, barracks and a magazine. Since its construction, the fort was manned during the War of 1812, American Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II.


Fort McClary may not have the grandeur of its southern cousins built during the same era like Fort Washington (Washington, DC) or carry the same gravitas as Fort McHenry (Baltimore) or Fort Sumter (Charleston), but it does punch above its weight in other aspects. The importance of the U.S. naval shipyard at Portsmouth has ensured the almost constant presence of fortifications at the site. In the site’s current state, Fort McClary presents elements from the Second and Third systems, the Endicott Board, and the World War I and II eras. This allows the visitor to view changes in military architecture and technology to counter improvements in naval technology and offensive fire power.


Kids will love exploring the caponiers at either end of the fort, playing on the granite slabs of the incomplete outer wall and climbing the circular stairs of the blockhouse. When open for the season, the blockhouse (built in 1844) features interpretive displays that provide a history of William Pepperell, an overview of the site throughout history, and the use of naval artillery. If a ranger is on hand, be sure to ask if you can handle one of the fort’s 12 lbs cannon balls. Fort McClary also participates in the Maine State Park’s passport program. 

Know Before You Go: Most of the lower site is accessible via level paths, but the path to the blockhouse can be steep or requires climbing stairs. To order a Maine State Park passport, visit their website

Location: The Fort is located off of Pepperrell Road in Kitty, Maine. Parking is provided but limited near the Fort. Overflow parking is available across the street, but care should be taken when crossing with children. .

Hours: Facilities are open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, from 10AM to sunset (unless otherwise posted). The site (but not the blockhouse) is open the remainder of the year, but is not staffed by a park official.

Admission: There is an honesty box at the entrance to the fort. The cost for adult entrance is $3/$4 (resident/non-resident) and $1 for children between the ages of 5 and 12.


Maine State Park’s Fort McClary Site 

Wikipedia Entry on U.S. Seacoast Fortifications

Week 1 Review – How Do We Know What Happened

Story of the World:

Listened to the audiobook version for Story of the World, How Do We Know What Happened on three separate occasions. Completed review questions and narration exercise.

Read Aloud: 

Archaeologist Dig for Clues, by Kate Duke (Harper Collins 1997). Great overview of the archaeology process told in a manner similar to the Magic School Bus Books. There is a narrator providing an overview of the activity, with conversations between the kids and adults contributing additional insight. This book helped provide context to an archaeology site we visited in 2015 in York, England.


Personal History: Had M1 complete personal histories for herself and her parents. Provided overview of genealogy, to include pedigree and documenting personal history.

In-House Archaeology Dig: Used kinetic sand, glass dish and objects around the house to create an archaeology dig site. Had M1 map finds on paper to provide a context to what she was finding.

Archaeology Site Visit: In 2015, we visited a dig site at the The Shrine and Parish Church of All Saints North Street in York, England. The focus of the dig was the yard, which contained artifacts from the 19th Century back to the Roman occupation of England. You can read more about the dig site at ArchaeologyLive.

S.S. John W. Brown Liberty Ship


Project Liberty Ship [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

One of our favorite homeschool curriculums is Five in a Row, which seeks to develop a love for literature in children through in-depth study of an illustrated child’s book. Since we recently moved back to the mid-Atlantic, near Chesapeake Bay, we felt that Jane Yolen’s All the Secrets of the World was the perfect choice to start the school year. The story follows Janie, who moves to her grandparent’s house on Chesapeake Bay, after her father’s departure to fight in World War II. The story deals with a number of topics to include family, perspective in relation to distance and time, and the home front during the war. While playing with her cousin one afternoon, Janie spots a convoy of Liberty Ships leaving the Chesapeake, similar to the one her father departed for Europe on. The ships and the perspective of distance

Liberty ships were an important part of the Allied war effort. Built quickly and on the cheap, their role was to overwhelm the shipping channels between America and Europe with a steady supply of cargo and troops. These ships were crewed by Merchant Mariners, with a compliment of U.S. Navy Armed Guards to man each ship’s defensive weapons. During the war, over 200 ships were lost due to enemy action, fire or collision. The S.S. John W. Brown was one of these Liberty Ships.

Built in Baltimore, Maryland and completed in the summer of 1942. During World War II, the John W. Brown completed a total of 13 voyages, to include the the transport of soldiers to the European Theater of the war. During World War II, she supported the invasion of Italy on several voyages, carrying cargo and men across the Atlantic. Following the war, the John W. Brown was converted into a floating school in New York City. In the late 1980s, the ship was acquired by Project Liberty Ship. The John W. Brown has since undergone a process of restoration and acts as a living monument to the Merchant Marine and the sailors and soldiers who sailed on the ship.

The Blue Line Tour is the primary visitor circuit through the ship and hits nearly all of the high points. A brochure outlining the tour is available, allowing visitors to see the ship at their own speed. If arrangements are made in advance or if a crew member is available, guided tours are available. As this is a working ship and renovations are constantly being undertaken, there are plenty of crew members to ask questions along the way. The tour hits all of the primary points of interest on the ship, to include the fore and aft gun mounts, flying bridge, wheelhouse, crew and officers quarters and the galley. The tween deck has a number of collections outlining the history of the John W. Brown, Liberty Ships, the Merchant Marine and the U.S. Navy Armed Guards during the war. Of interest to those visiting the ship in connection to All the Secrets of the World, is a section of bunks and interpretive displays outlining life as a soldier traveling to the European Theater. Just like Janie’s father did.

In addition to Five in a Row, the ship can be used to study topics like the Merchant Marine, World War II (especially the home front), and sailing. Display areas in ship also feature topics like semaphore, knots and nautical terminology. In addition to the printout for the Blue Line Tour, young visitors can receive a Young Mariner Activity Guide.

Know Before You Go: The S.S. John W. Brown is a working ship requiring constant upkeep. Elevators are not available and passageways/stairs in the ship can be cramped an steep. Visitors should take care and watch their step when on the deck.

Location: When in port, the ship is located at 2020 South Clinton Street, in Baltimore Maryland. To park, turn onto the John W. Brown’s pier and proceed about 300 feet. The pier’s shed offers free parking.

Hours: Visits to the ship, when in port, can be made on Wednesday and Saturday between 9AM and 2PM. Check the ship’s website or call 410 558-0646.

Admission: Admission is free, but donations are highly recommended. There is also a ship’s store where memorabilia can be purchased.