Lecture No. 14 – September 2014


Fort McHenry

Jim Russell, Lecturer
Jim Russell, Lecturer

[dropcaps]I[/dropcaps] mentioned in July that I was saving my Independence Day comments until September. Since then, I have been asked to comment on another topic, so this evening you get a two-for-one lecture.

First, I have a short quiz for you. Anyone recognize this? If you do, please raise your hand.

“O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”

And the Star -Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Fort McHenryThe morning of Sept. 13 dawned cold and rainy. As was the custom, the “storm flag” was hoisted to the top of the flagpole. The sentinel looked out across the harbor to see what was, at that time, the largest fleet of enemy war ships assembled for a single assault anchored a few short miles off shore, just out of range of the batteries’ guns.

The fleet had arrived, not unexpectedly the previous day. As he watched, he saw the flash of gunpowder and, moments later, heard the boom of the cannon as the first of what has been estimated to have been between 1,500 and 1,800 rounds was fired and the bombardment of Fort McHenry began. It was 6:30 on the morning of Sept. 13, 1814, almost 200 years ago.

The British, under the command of Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane and Colonel Arthur Brooke, had a force of 19 ships and 5,000 men. The Americans were outgunned and outnumbered, having only the fort’s 20 guns and approximately 1,000 men.

It was quickly obvious that the British had superior firepower and greater range. Due to the limited depth of the harbor, however, only the smaller warships could be used, forcing the larger ships to stand off from the battle. The American guns fell silent for the most part as the bombardment continued.

In 1814, the British had guns with an estimated range of two miles. Their gunners had experienced plenty of practice while fighting the French. They had also developed a mortar round that would deliver 150 pounds of powder and explode on impact. One such round landed in the American powder magazine. Fortunately, it failed to detonate but did cause the garrison to spread their powder around the fort.

Although the British had superior guns, their accuracy at the maximum range that they were forced to fire from left much to be desired. That, coupled with the limited range of the American guns, resulted in little damage to either side.

On Sept. 12, the British had launched a land force of 4,500 men under the command of Major General Robert Ross with the objective of capturing the city of Baltimore and effectively surrounding the fort. In the ensuing battle, Ross was killed and command fell to Col. Brooke. The Americans, under the command of Brigadier General John Stricker, were able to delay the British land force until the 13th.

Brooke, thinking he had defeated the city’s defenders on the 12th, ordered his force to advance, hoping to take the city and surround the fort. The British land assault ended in a hasty retreat when his men encountered an American force of an estimated 12,000 armed soldiers and militia.

Most of the British land force withdrew to rejoin the fleet, thus ending the British land attack. The bombardment that began at 6:30 on the morning of the 13th continued for 25 hours, ceasing at 7:30 on the morning of the 14th.

At 9:00, Major George Armstead, commander of the garrison, ordered the 17 x 25-foot storm flag that had flown over the fort throughout the bombardment lowered. As the British anticipated the appearance of possibly a white flag, Major Armstead instead had it replaced with a mammoth, 42 x 30-foot garrison flag, signaling the determination to continue the battle.

The raising of that flag signaled the end of the War of 1812. British and American negotiators were already meeting in Ghent to negotiate a peace treaty. The battle ended with the British having about 330 dead, wounded or captured. The garrison at Fort McHenry had four killed and 24 wounded.

The flag passed through several families over the years until it was finally donated to the Smithsonian. Two flags of 15 stars and 15 stripes were originally sewn by Mary Pickersgill at a cost of just over $400. The flag that actually flew during the battle has been lost. The garrison flag has recently undergone a multimillion-dollar, two-year restoration and is now on permanent display at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington.

It has become national tradition that when a new flag is designed, it first flies over Fort McHenry. Congress has redefined our flag 39 times. The first official 49- and 50-star American flags were flown over the fort and are still located on the premises.

Corporate Communion

The second subject tonight deals with our coming Corporate Communion.

Most of us, when we hear the word corporate, think in terms of a business corporation. The word is derived from the Latin word corpus, meaning “body.” So, to incorporate is to unite a group of individuals into a single body or group.

We all know what communion is, but what does the word mean?

Communion is the act of sharing, as of thoughts or feelings. It is also a religious or spiritual fellowship, and it is a body of Christians who share a common spiritual faith and practice the same rites.

I was told this council does very well with the first principle of our order, charity, but could do a bit better with the second and third principles – unity and fraternity. “Corporate Communion” has existed in the church since at least the Middle Ages. Supreme adopted the phrase and the practice as a means of building unity and fraternity within the Knights as they and their families sit and pray together at Mass.

Most councils do this quarterly. The Knights also serve as Eucharistic Ministers, ushers, readers, servers, etc. during that Mass. Some councils rotate the Mass times to accommodate brothers’ schedules. Our practice at Holy Spirit includes having the Fourth Degree Honor Guard present and a meal or social gathering following the Mass.

Our next Corporate Communion is Nov. 22. I look forward to seeing you there.