tv [untitled] June 17, 2012 5:00am-5:30am EDT
anniversary of the war of 1812 is under way. welcome to "american history tv" on c-span 3. we'll be live until 2:00 p.m. eastern today taking your calls and talking with historians about this little-known war. we go live to ft. mchenry now, the home of "the star spangled banner" where we're joined by vince vaise of the national park service. he is the chief of interpretation at ft. mchenry. vince, thanks for joining us this morning. >> good morning! >> before we get into our conversation with you about ft. mchenry, we do want to invite our viewers to join us by phone. an easy way to do that if you're in the eastern or central time zone. 202-737-0001, for mountain and pacific, that number is 202-737-0002. make sure you mute your television when you call in, and we will get to your calls in just a moment. vince vaise, when visitors come to ft. mchenry, what is the reason that you give them that
you tell them that the war of 1812 is significant in american history? >> this is really the war that defined us as a people and really made the american flag the great symbol of the spirit of american people that it is today. yes, we had already won our independence. yes, the american flag had already been invented, but it was really during the war of 1812 in which the american flag won international respect through the words of francis scott key and the successful defense of this fort during the war of 1812 from the british and also some of the great naval battles of the war of 1812, like the american ships, like "old ironsides," the "constitution." >> you are dressed in full battle or full formal regalia at ft. mchenry. why don't you tell us a bit about the uniform you're wearing and where exactly in the fort you're standing. >> sure. this uniform is the uniform of an artillery major from the war of 1812, and i heard you say
like battle, dress uniform, well, actually in 1812 that was your battle dress uniform so literally you would have worn something this ornate when you were going to a ball, but would you also wear something this ornate when you were going into battle so when the bombs were bursting in air, this is what they wore. this is the uniform of an artillery major. you can see the colors are red, white and blue, very prominent. patterned our uniforms after the french and the british from the same period, so the crest-shaped hat known as the shappio made famous by the emperor napoleon, and we're starting here on top of the ramparts so you've song ore the ramparts we watched, this old fort is where i'm standing and from that direction over there is from where the british were coming, where the rockets red glare were being fired from and the bombs bursting in air would have been shot right over there and burst right here on the bastion.
>> how far is ft. mchenry from the city of baltimore itself? >> baltimore really is right outside our gate, but during the war of 1812, it was a good mile and a half, so this was really outside the city, but it was the key. it was the linchpin. it was the main defensive work that stood between the city of baltimore and the might of the royal navy. >> our guest is vince vaise, chief of interpretation of ft. mchenry just outside of baltimore. he's with the national park service and we ask you to cole in with your questions, 202-737-0001 if you're in the eastern or central time zones, $202-737-0002 for mountain and pacific. vince vaise, us a stand there on the ramparts as you call them, tell us about the battle itself. how long did it last? how did it begin, and how long did it last? >> yeah. the battle was actually critical because from the angle you're
filming me behind me is south, and on two weeks before the battle, you could see a glow in the sky. that was when the british captured our capital, washington, d.c., and burned the government buildings, so people were really glum. i mean, no one knew where the president was. the declaration of british were heading right towards baltimore which was the third largest city in the cou heading right towards baltimore which was the third largest city in the country at the time. the war of 1812 wasn't a really popular war. it was more like the vietnam of the early 19th century, and so, really, you had a war that wasn't popular to begin with that comes home, and now have you this huge battle here t.lasts for 25 hours. the british shell the fort, firing shells that weighed 200 pounds, firing rockets, tried even an attack behind the fort, and that was fought off, and everything got quiet after 25 hours by dawn's early light. >> you talked about the british then, the burning of washington
that happened in august. the city of baltimore itself, what was the goal of the brit strategic defense initiative did they want to burn the city? did they want to capture the city? >> that's right, that's right. yeah. washington, d.c. when the british burned the government build national washington, that was because we burnt government buildings in york up in canada. a lot of the battles of the war of 1812 were fought along the canadian-american border. the americans didn't do so well up there. however, baltimore was a pro-war sentiment. baltimore sent out the fast sailing schooling that raided the british merchant ships and the pride of baltimore 2, baltimore city's own tall ships which led the procession into the city, the pride of baltimore 2 looks like it did in 1812 and the british said because of this
act of piracy they are going to come and destroy the city of baltimore. >> we have a call from muncie, indiana. leonard, welcome to the program. muncie, indiana, you're on the air. go ahead. looks like we lost leonard. vince vaise at ft. mchenry, tell us about this 25-hour battle between the u.s. and british. how large was the u.s. force at ft. mchenry and what about the british force, the fleet and i understand there was a concurrent land battle that happened outside of baltimore. >> that's right. here defending the fort you had about 1,000 defenders. there were 16 ships in the bombardment squadron and an armada of another 50 ships beyond it. now, in the city of baltimore, there were 15,000 soldiers dug in, and this is an interesting part of the story that hasn't always been told is that you had free african-americans. had you some of the richest
gentlemen of the city. you had some. poorest people of the city, women, children, digging these entrenchments side by side. as one eyewitness at the time said with no distinction being made to race or class whatsoever, so it's this huge coming together of the defenders defending their own hometown against a foreign invader. the british landed 4,000 soldiers, and they got pretty close to the city of baltimore. there was a battle known as the battle of north point. about 2,600 americans squared off against 4,000 british, and it was a pretty intense battle. about 150 americans killed and wounded, and many more british. the americans fell back to those entrenchments on the outskirts of the city, and the british followed them, but the british were very reluctant to attack city after that because they were beaten up so bad at the battle of north point. even one of their generals had been killed by a sharpshooter. >> let's go to philadelphia. harold's calling n.welcome to the program.
>> caller: hello. i -- i notice that the man on television said that the war was unpopular. yes, it was. it was so unpopular that the united states did not have any money, and where did they get the money? they went to the volunteering of the richest man in america, steven gerard, who lived in philadelphia, who was an immigrant from france, who lent the united states $6 million. without that money the war would have been lost. now, that man is often overlooked. he was the richest man in america at the time, and he -- when he died, he left his estate to be a school in philadelphia for orphan children called gerard college which is still there. >> harold, thanks for your conversation. thanks for your call.
vince vaise, are you familiar with mr. gerard of philadelphia? >> that's right, yeah. that guy was very intelligent. i'm glad he brought that up, because a lot of people don't know that the government was bankrupt during the war of 1812, and like i said, everyone thought the war would be a very fast war, over in a few months, and it really bogged down. i mean, here at ft. mchenry, in a way, you know, we've got the american flag and we repulsed the british and that's a very positive story. however in, what used to be the old northwest like ohio, the michigan territory, the story is compelling, but it's not quite as positive. i mean, there is brutal action between the native americans and our own people. when the americans fought tecumsah at the battle of the thames in canada, tecumseh the famous leader, the americans
skinned him. i mean, that's how bruteality war was on the frontier. very few prisoners taken on both sides. ethnic strife there between the two groups, but that also plays into the whole westward expansion that the united states was undergoing at that time so really these were formative years for the young republic. united states. there was another spinoff war with native americans down in what is now alabama and mississippi where u.s. troops were led by andy jackson, you know, who later would be president, andrew jackson, the creek war, a civil war between two native american factions of the creek country. so these actions paved the way for a lot of states in the south and the northwest. >> who were some of the heros of the battle of ft. mchenry? >> well, george armstead, major george armstead. i'm dressed in the uniform of a major so he would have looked like this, major george armstead was in charge of ft. mchenry. he was a hero.
my favorite hero was a man named sam smith who actually organized -- he was a senator at the time and organized the defenses of baltimore city, raising the money, just like -- like gerard did, but he did it for baltimore through the business community. john stricker was the commander of the american soldiers at north point, and we call these the rock stars of the war of 1812, and their portraits are in a new exhibit called "in full glory reflected" which you can see at the maryland historical society right here in baltimore city. you can also see the original first draft manuscript of "the star spangled banner" at the maryland historical society as well, so when you come to town, there's a lot to see, the fort, the historical society and also "the star spangled banner" flaghouse where the big flag was made and then it's only a hop, skip and a jump to go to washington and you can see the big flag in the american history
museum. >> there's actually two flags. can you tell us the significance of the flags and how big they were, how they were made. >> sure. like i said, "the star spangled banner" was made in baltimore, two flags, a smaller one, 17 x 25 feet and the enormous one, 30 x 42 feet. those flags are brought here. armstead wanted to show the british that the fort would not easily surrender. now, here's what happened. when the british attacked, they attacked during the rainstorm, so it was the actual smaller flag that was on the pole. bombardment continues during the day and into the night. could keys see the flag during the bombardment, probably not. he's too far away. it's nighttime. it's a smaller flag. dawn's early light, they changed the flacks. the morning gunfires from this bastion upon which i stand, and as the smoke drifts back, the fifes and drums play "yankee dodle," our national anthem in a way at that time as the flag it
hoisted, the big flag unfurls itself and that's when francis scott key does see the flag and is inspired to write "the star spangled banner." >> and vince vaise said, that flag, the original star spangled banner is on display. just showed you a photo of it a moment ago at the smithsonian's museum of national history. a call from dearborn, michigan. go ahead, steve. >> hi. >> caller: hi. i -- i'm calling you from dearborn when i understand is named after a war of 1812 general, and it's right outside of detroit. >> that's right. >> caller: a suburb of detroit which is one of the cities that fell to the british or surrendered to the british early in the war. somebody asked me the other day, and i don't know the answer to this question. what was the triggering event that caused congress to declare war or the british to declare
war on us? >> that's an excellent question. so to set the record straight, it was the united states that declared war on great britain. they only declared war on us after we declared war on them first. now, you can say we were bullied into it because they were stealing american sailors and ships on the frontier, like you guys up there in michigan, the accusation was made that they were giving guns and ammunition to the indians and urging them to shoot white settlers, and they have found, you know, at the time, they have found food and weapons amongst the native american nations up there. 1812 was a real critical year. great britain was in a bigger war with france, and a lot of people said, you know, we have to be decisive. it was an election year so actually we declared only a few months before the presidential election, so some of them say that had to do with it, and it was just a breaking point and there were just enough american senators and representatives to tip the balance.
even to this day, the war of 1812 was the most fairly declared of any american war in which congress voted to declare war. >> our caller from michigan, vince vaise, reminds us that monday marks the 200th anniversary of the signing by james madison of the declaration of war and that's why we're here with american history tv remembering the war of 1812 today and the festivities going on at ft. mchenry in baltimore. let's go to port st. lucie in florida. john, go ahead with your comments. >> caller: two quick questions. i heard that "the spar spangled banner" was not waving all night long. i guess they had raised it during it the morning hours, is that true, if that's correct. >> that's right. okay. let me -- >> go ahead with your second question, john, and then we'll get you the response from vince vaise. >> caller: quick question, armstead, that you mentioned, was he related to the armstead
general who helped lee pick the charge at gettysburg? >> two questions on the waving of the flag. >> i'll answer the first question first. >> okay. >> sure. right. there was an american flag the whole time. however, there was a smaller one during the night of the bombardment on the pole. and it was probably just sopping wet on the mast. that flag, the wet one, the smaller one, was taken down by dawn's early light and replaced with the large one which was carefully kept dry, and that's the one you see in the national museum of american history, but that flag did fly. the americans saw, it key saw it, the british saw it. he was inspired to write "the star spangled banner." now the second question was about armstead, and they are related. the armstead who was killed leading picket's charge was the nephew of george armstead who defended this fort, and actually last night i took a couple of
park rangers and we visited their grave here in baltimore. they are buried side by side in old st. paul cemetery right here in baltimore city. >> next up is hoboken, new jersey. jimmy, go ahead with your question. >> >> caller: i'm just wondering if they could have kept the flag in its original state wet. any way you can do that? >> sorry. >> caller: any way they could keep the flag wet from its original state? >> it's something with the flag. jimmy, i'm not -- i'm not hearing your -- your question very clearly. >> caller: i'm sorry, the flack, when it was wet, you guys say it was wet. >> yes. >> caller: is there any way they could have kept the flag actually wet? >> vince vaise? >> is there a way -- is there a way the flag could have been kept wet is that the question? >> that appears to be the question, yeah. >> okay. well, here's the thing. like now, under presidential order, we have to fly the flag 24 hours, so we use nylon flags
because they still wave even when they are wet. in this time the flag would just droop because it would soak up with rain water so they put the smaller flag up, it's wet and since it's still raining, they are like leave the wet one up there because it's already drenched, but when the morning came and the british are retreating, then the sun comes out. that storm front cleared off so they took that wet flag down because it's -- it's really not doing anything. it's there, but it doesn't look as cool as putting a larger one up that you had dry keeping it inside all night because you want that one to unfurl kind of like an in your face to the british, and that was really what set key off to write "the star spangled banner." >> you mentioned that just a moment ago the size of that big flag, that garrison flag as it's called, was it made specifically that big just to sort of thumb their nose at the british? >> well, yes and no. i mean, big flags were en vogue
in the early 19th century. if you look at sketches and paintings, you see these ships, these frigates with enormous flags, and -- and it's still partly like that today. when the tall ships were sailing into baltimore as part of this salebration we saw the mexican ship. it had a huge flag. the ecuadorian ship had a huge flag and so this idea of national pride being expressed through big flags, that's not new, and it's very popular, in the naval services to this day, and so really i think armisted was going by conventions, big flag, i'm there. interesting how stars lined up for our american history. he wants the big flag. big flags are en vogue. not like he knew francis scott key was out there and if he did he didn't know key would see the star and write "the star spangled banner. request ". it just happened that way.
>> just saw a replica of that flag. how many stars would have been on that flag? >> all right. there's 15 stars but make sure you count the stripes because there's 15 stripes, too. >> you mentioned francis scott key a moment ago. you see a lot of paintings or drawings of the time of francis scott key. it almost looks like he was right next to the fort when in fact he was quite far away. >> right. it makes a better painting, if you have key right next to the fort. in all honesty, he was four to five miles away, now, he could still see the flag but he's looking through a spyglass and even through a spyglass that flag would have looked small, four miles away. i went out there on a boat with my dad once and i brought a pair of binoculars, and my buddies were flying the big flag, and can you see it. you can see it four to five miles away. >> let's hear from mays landing, new jersey, hi to john. >> caller: hi. i just thought it might be interesting if you gave a little bit of information on the reason behind the war of 1812, the
background and why the war was foul. >> sure, excellent. i'm going to tell you. this one, go to ft. mchenry's website, tell your kids. we have a thing called cast your vote, click on that, all different perspectives from historic people from the war of 1812, but in a nutshell i'll give you two perspectives. the pro-war side said we had to declare war. the british were stealing american sailors or impressing them, stopping american ships and forcing american sailors off the ships and making them serve in the british navy. thousands of americans were impressed, and the idea was the american flag doesn't afford any protection. the american flag is not being respected. american citizenship means nothing to the british navy. no american sailor is safe. we tried negotiate. we tried embargoes or economic sanctions as we call them today. none of that worked, so we said
we're declaring war. also the british were dictating who we could trade with and who we could not trade with and urging the native americans to shoot settlers. these were the pro-reason reasons. the anti-war reasons were that we were trading with the french who were the enemies of the british. we wouldn't stop doing, it even when the british told us not to do it anymore. that's why they were stealing our ships. there were a lot of british sailors who were jumping jump away from the royal navy trying to get into that american melting pot and then shipping back out on american ships, and they were not naturalized americans yet. and so the brit wish like, hey, we're getting our own citizens back. don't accuse us of taking your people. we're getting our own people back. the whole native american things. well, i mean, you know, some americans were cheating the native americans out of their land. william henry harrison, the territorial governor of indiana,
like cheated the indians out of land for like a penny an acre, flimflammed them out so you can totally see why the native americans were pretty angry and the british were, like, hey we'll back you up so you can say hey, we brought that on ourselves. two real perspectives about the war of 1812. both make really good sense. can you understand why there was this soul-searching going into the war, and it wasn't like we just suddenly did it. we agonized over it for over ten years. so when you go to the ft. mchenry website, cast your vote. can you see those perspectives and then you can vote. can you print out a certificate saying i voted for or against the war of 1812. we keep a running tally of that, and we're going to read it out loud on monday, and i'll tell you this. right now the war -- the vote is trending away from the war, so it's looking like if it was the modern day, we wouldn't go to war. interesting to see how history is different and how it is the
same. >> a couple more minutes with historian vince vaise at ft. mchenry. we hear now from rehoboth beach, delaware and deanna. go ahead. >> caller: hi. my question is how powerful the bombardment was. is there still any present-day damage left to be seen from that? >> excellent question. the bombardment was the shock and awe of the early 19th century no. damage though because when the british left, the americans were afraid that they would come back, so they quickly repaired the damage and strengthened the fort for a second attack which never came, but they didn't know that, but the bombardment -- i mean, i'll give you some numbers. the british fired over 1,200 shells and 700 rockets. those shells made 200 pounds, literally tons of iron were hurled at the fort during that 25-hour period. >> how many americans died in the battle?
>> interestingly enough only five were killed and 25 wounded. the british were so far away that the shells were landing in the river, over the fort, in front of the fort, and then the fort did give the defenders a lot of protection so even though we had over 1,000 defenders, only 5 of them were killed. >> you talked very externsively about the causes of the war and who supported it and who was opposed. how much did the battle of ft. mchenry accelerate the end of the war? >> a lot. basically by that time both countries wanted out of the war of 1812. the british were spending a lot of money on the war. the americans were spending a lot of money on the war. it was clear that no one was going to win. the british were not in a position to reclaim the colonies, but our country was not strong enough to take over canada, so the war ended as a tie. this battle, because it was a victory, gave our negotiators some more wiggle room to push to
that tie, and so, really, we can say the canadians and the brit, won the war of 1812, but we could also say the americans won the war of 1812 as well. >> british left baltimore down the river. did they cause any further damage to parts of the chesapeake bay to maryland and virginia as they left? >> they -- they did. raiding small towns, burns small towns, but to be fair, maryland was a big slave-holding state and 4,000 enslaved african-americans went over to the british, so for them the british flag was a symbol of freedom. the british enlisted 200 african-american men into the british marines, and used them in the chesapeake bay as well, and the british didn't leave the bay until the war ended in february 1815. so the official end of the war was -- was february 16th, 1815.
so our bicentennial can go until 2015. >> let's get one more quick call. bob in baltimore. go ahead for vince vaise. >> caller: hi, thank you. here in baltimore. great job vincent. i'm really enjoying this. i just was very curious though. you're obviously very much an expert on the war of 1812. what got you interested in the war of 1812 in the first place? >> when i was a little kid, my dad took me to ft. mchenry, and i ran up and down the ramparts and then i made a little paper hat when i got home, and i had a little wooden sword that my dad made me as well, and i had good history teachers. when i was going to high school and they got me intrigued, and that's how i started volunteering at ft. mchenry and then i became a park service ranger with the national park service and now i've come full circle because new on weekend i get to portray a major from the
war of 1812. i tell people bring your kids to these battlefields, to these historic sites, independence hall, valley forge, whatever, because that's what gets them hooked. they don't have to remember all the dates. they don't have to remember the generals, but they remember the experience of being there and that history is cool and that it's part of them. >> one more call here for you, vince vaise, colonial, new jersey. brian, go ahead. >> caller: yes, good morning. regarding the unpopularity of the war, is it true that majority of the new england states did not even furnish troops for the cause? >> that's a half truth. in truth, the new england states bitterly opposed the war. their militia was called out, and their militia did stand, too, but it is also true that that militia did not -- the new england militia, with some exceptions, such as the vermont militia that fought up around there, around lake champlain, but by and large, you're right,