It was first occupied for military purposes in 1775, and later established as a permanent Federal fortification in 1794. In 1798, Jean Fon cin, a French engineer, was asked to build this fort. In 1799, construction began. In 1805, the completion of the fort was done.
The fort was named after James McHenry, 1753-1816. An American army officer, born in Ballymena, Ireland. After serving on medical staff of Revolutionary forces, 1775-1778, he became secretary to General George Washington, 1778-1780 and to Lafayette, 1780-1781. He was a member of the Maryland senate for two terms, first term, 1781-1786 and second term, 1791-1796. He also served in the Continental Congress, 1783-1786. He also served in the Constitutional Convention, 1787.
Lastly, he served as secretary of war under Washington and Adams, 1796-1800. Ft. McHenry became popular during the War of 1812 when, it was under attack by the British fleet under the command under Admiral Cockburn in 1814. During the night of September 13, Francis Scott Key, an American patriot, 35 years old poet- lawyer, held aboard a British vessel during the attack of the fort, kept a constant eye out to see if the American flag was still flying above Ft. McHenry. When the fort successfully withstood the attack, Key was inspired to write a song called “Star- Spangle Banner” which later became the United States national Anthem.
During the American Civil War union troops were stationed at Fort McHenry to help keep Baltimore out of the hands of whose whom would have Maryland join the southern rebellion. The fort’s guns were turned at the city. Ft. McHenry was a temporary prison facility.
Nearly 7,000 prisoners were held there just from Gettysburg. Nearly 15,000 prisoners were held throughout the war. The execution rate was low, one hanging and two firing squads. July 20, 1912 Fort McHenry was no longer active. From 1915 to 1917 the City of Baltimore used the site as a city-park and beach. In 1917 the United States Army used the fort site to establish U.S. General Hospital No. 2 for returning wounded veterans of World War I. It was the largest military hospital in the United States with over 100 temporary buildings.
Some of the earliest developments in the fields of reconstructive and neuro-surgery were made in that hospital. When the war ended, the need for the hospital slowly diminished and in 1925 the hospital was torn down. In 1925 Fort McHenry was made a national park, and it was transferred to the care of the National Park Service in 1933. Fort McHenry was redesignated a National Monument and Historic Shrine in 1939. It is the nation’s only Historic Shrine. During World War II the Fort served as a Coast Guard Training Center for fire control and port defense.
Important visitors to the Fort include, John Adams (1817), James Madison (1817), Black Hawk (Indian chief, 1818), Andrew Jackson (1824), Robert E. Lee (1843), Admiral David Farragut (1865), Walter Reed (1883), Warren Harding (1922), Gerald Ford (1975), Jimmy Carter (1975), Ronald Reagan (1980, 1981, and 1986), George Bush (1989), and Bill Clinton (1994).