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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fort McHenry- A 200 Year Star Spangled Banner Celebration- Baltimore, Maryland- Peter Rindlisbacher

By Peter Rindlisbacher

Often, my art efforts have a direct link to my historical re-enacting.  A recent case in point was in Baltimore, participating in the Star Spangled Banner celebrations.  I towed my 27-foot longboat up from Texas, met with a Canadian crew, and some Maryland-based Royal Marines, and joined in the 1814 festivities.

Driving to Baltimore, Md. from Texas with longboat in tow.
The Maryland Yacht Club hosted us for the week, and we obliged by performing a wartime British boat landing at the Club.  We exchanged cannon shots, then I had fun with the crowd attending as an arrogant British naval officer, “… in time, you impulsive colonials will learn humility and your proper place in the world…”, and afterwards enjoyed a buffet dinner and chat with all combatants under a temporary truce.  The MYC gave me a gift club burgee pennant, and I surrendered my masthead Union Jack as a trophy of the affair.

Re-enacting the landing of a British longboat in Baltimore,Md. during
the Star Spangled banner celebration.
On Saturday, we went aboard a visiting Canadian Navy frigate in Baltimore Harbor for a cocktail reception – appropriate because the British campaign of harassment on the Chesapeake was largely to take the pressure off British troops on the Canadian border.  The company and food were excellent. We later witnessed the tremendous fireworks show, then returned again on the Sunday morning to see the large 1814 flag raised over Fort McHenry– which we answered with our own Star Spangled flag and gun salutes.

“Artist in his 1814 British Navy uniform, addressing the reception
attendees aboard H.M.C.S. ATHABASCAN.”

The tie-in with my art is that I had learned in my research that longboats like mine had been sent in close to the Fort on that fateful night, to launch a diversionary cannon and rocket attack on the American batteries.  I painted a six-foot oil on canvas of that scene, from the point of view of the British boats milling about in the dark, as the Fort was pounded by the British ships.  It was a tense moment in American history because Washington had fallen, and the defenders under heavy bombardment also expected a land attack at any moment.

"Perilous Night." A painting by marine artist Peter Rindlisbacher.
Skipjack Nautical Wares & Marine Gallery was able to supply me with framed giclee prints of the painting to give as gifts to the yacht club and Canadian warship. All in all, it was a truly satisfying trip, and suitable wrap up to the 200th Anniversary commemorations.


Oil on canvas measuring 48 X 72 inches, unframed

The painting portrays the scene in the Ferry Branch of the Patapsco River off Fort McHenry about 1:;30 AM, September 14th, 1814. Nine armed barges full of picked men from the Royal Navy were discovered in the midst of their diversion attack, while Fort McHenry was being shelled with bombs and rockets from a line of British warships. The crossfire from the three U.S. forts and land batteries, and lack of progress in the British land attack, made the boats to withdraw out of range after a few hours of exchanging fire. Fort McHenry survived the night, of course, and a view of the flag still there by morning inspired the National Anthem. 

Previous portrayals of the 1814 bombardment of Baltimore have shown a view from the far distant line of British ships firing at Fort McHenry, or from the defenders` ramparts taking the punishment, or via a bird`s eye view of the Fort and distant enemy. 

Instead, the artist opted for what one historian has called "the first from this view", a little known element of the Battle, that a flotilla of armed British boats had been sent in close to the Fort as a diversion for the main land attack. Rindlisbacher's depiction is in among those boats, which likely had the best view of the Fort and battle that night. 

The boat assault coincided with one of the most dramatic and dangerous times in the Nation`s history. The Treasury was virtually bankrupt, weeks before Washington had been captured easily, the Whitehouse had been burnt, the First Family barely escaping, and Baltimore was expected to fall next. 

Portraying the high drama of that night was the artist’s objective in this painting, and its terror and violence cannot be overstated. Bombs, rockets and cannon balls relentlessly rained down on the Fort from the attacking ships and boats, while the Town waited in fear -- hours all in the midst of intermittent rain, thunder and lightning. 

A pivotal night in America`s history, before dawn broke, the British left and "the Flag was still there".

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