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Fort McHenry (U.S.)


Last modified: 2005-12-17 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | fort mchenry | star spangled banner |
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[Fort McHenry flag, September 13-14 1814] image by Hugh Pickrel

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Description of the flag

The 15 star and 15 stripe flag is flown day and night at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, a national park maintained by the U.S. government. This is the site of the Battle in 1814 that gave birth to the national Anthem of the U.S. It is lighted at night as is the current flag over the capital.
William M. Grimes-Wyatt and Nick Artimovich, 1996

The American Flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814 served as the focal point of Francis Scott Key's poetic efforts. The flag is currently in the possession of the Smithsonian Museum of American History. The flag has 15 stars and 15 stripes. On the 10th stripe from the top in the approximate center is what appears to be an inverted "V". It might simply be an attempt to repair a tear.
Hugh Pickrel

Proportions: most of mine are based on a photograph of the actual flag in the Smithsonian collection (I have omitted the inverted V) or from the receipt to the flag maker, which gives the dimensions as 30' x 42 3/4'.

Stars Orientation: in the early days of the republic (pre-Civil War) it seems to have been fairly common to arrange the stars like this, in alternating columns oriented horizontally, rather than vertically as is the convention today.

"V" sign: I wouldn't be at all surprised if it meant something, as people in those days tended to be a lot more casual about decorating the flag with unit designations and battle honors and whatnot. And if it's a patch, why put a red patch on a white stripe?

Steve Jacquot

History of the flag at Fort McHenry

1813 Flag was commissioned by Major Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry. It was sewn by a Mrs. Pickersgill of Baltimore. The flag was larger then. Armistead wanted a flag large enough for ships to see it from a distance.
1814 The battle occurred, and the flag won its glory. Armistead was promoted to Lt. Colonel by Madison, and given the flag when he retired.
1818 Armistead died, and legend says that the flag was used in his funeral. Afterwards, his daughter Georgiana Armistead retained possession of the flag.
1824 The flag was used in a reception for General Lafayette. Sometime afterwards, Georgiana gave the flag to her son, Even Appleton.
1860's The flag, ironically, was sent to England for safe keeping during the Civil War.
1873 The flag was displayed in the Charleston Naval Yards, and on June 24th, one of the first photographs was taken of it. The inverted red "V" was on it at that time.
1876 The flag was loaned to the Smithsonian for the Centennial Celebration.
1912 Even Appleton donated the flag to the Smithsonian.
1914 Almari Flowler was commissioned to replace the original "sack cloth" backing with linen.

The staggered row pattern of the stars was standard practice for Naval flags, and American flag appeared in many different designs and numbers of stripes and stars. It was not until 1818 that the design for the flag was standardized by act of Congress. A congressman by the name of Windemer introduced a bill to standardize the flag in 1816, but the bill did not pass until 25 March 1818. The law went into effect on 4 April 1818.

The flag is of a smaller length than originally made because patches were cut from the end for souvenirs.

The red patch has a "B" embroidered on it. It is not known who sewed it there, and it has not been removed. It is the practice of the Smithsonian to keep artifacts intact, and not take them apart. Legend has it that the patch covers the autograph of Lt. Colonel Armistead.

Fort McHenry's Rangers Plowman and Sweadt
Norman G. Rukert, Fort McHenry: Home of the Brave an illustrated history
Smithsonian Museum of American History - Joe Young - flags and banners specialist with the Armed Forces Division

Hugh Pickrel


The Star Spangled Banner that is currently being restored by the Smithsonian does have an upside down "V" or incomplete "A" on one of the white stripes. I do not think anyone can say for sure, but it is believed that the "A" was added in honor of Colonel George Armistead who commanded Fort McHenry. The flag was in his family's possession from his retirement until it was donated to the Smithsonian in 1907.
John Niggley, 25 May 2000