Fort McHenry's history began in 1776 when the citizens of Baltimore Town feared an attack by British ships. An earthen star fort known as Fort Whetstone was quickly constructed. The fort, like Baltimore, was never attacked during our first conflict with England. In 1793, France declared a war on England that became known as the Napoleonic Wars. In 1794, Congress authorized the construction of a series of coastal forts to protect our maritime frontier. Construction began on Fort McHenry in 1798 and, by 1803, the masonry walls we view today were completed. The fort was named for James McHenry, our second Secretary of War. In 1809, the U.S. Army's first light artillery unit was organized here. On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on England, in part to "preserve Free Trade & Sailor's Rights." In August 1814, British forces marched on Washington, defeated U.S. forces, and burned the Capitol. Then, on September 13-14, the British attacked Fort McHenry. The failure of the bombardment and sight of the American flag inspired Francis Scott Key to compose "The Star-Spangled Banner."
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