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   Flag & Fort McHenry - War of 1812

    God-Awful Rain Of Fire and Shrapnel Hell - -



Couple of years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution the Fire and Shrapnel Hell was invented by Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel of the British Royal Artillery. Thirty years later his shrapnel bomb was an advanced technology weapon with one purpose; to kill, frighten, demoralize humans while wrecking everything within thirty yards of a strike area.


God-Awful Rain Of Fire and Shrapnel Hell - -The original shrapnel bomb was a basketball sized hollow iron ball with explosive black powder charge in the middle and space around the charge was filled with iron or lead balls. Lt. Shrapnel's highly developed "bomb", weighing about 200 pounds, was fired from squat, fat, short, thick walled canon shaped like, and forever called, the "Mortar".


The British and French developed fleets of "Bomb Vessels" in the 1700s, usually modified from wooden commercial or maritime ships to have two of these hugh mortars, each weighing many tons. mounted in the center firing at high arch along the centerline, keel line of the boat. The boat was usually at anchor and windage was adjusted with anchor rigging. Later vessels could swivel Mortars mounted in the center to fire out the side.


Range to target was adjusted by elevation angle and size or weight of powder charge propelling the 13 inch diameter, 200 pound ball or cylinder "mortar round".  The "fuse" or "detonator" had become sophisticated and much more accurate during thirty years of development. Each mortar shell (bomb) detonator was adjusted for flight time to detonate for maximum killing or destructive effect, 10 to 30 yards above target or ground level.


God-Awful Rain Of Fire Hell - -
1805 -- Sir William Congreve witnessed bamboo rockets utilized against British troops in India and took to redesigning and improving the device. By 1814 this Congreve rocket, a 32 pound rocket device was made of iron and had a 7-10 pound incendiary or shrapnel warhead and also was capable of God-Awful Rain Of Fire and Shrapnel. Congreve rockets were fired from a specially designed wooden rocket ship with below deck firing tube system firing rockets out the side at an angle of about 55 degrees.


Ranging was adjusted by weight or size of black powder propellant. Devastating as the incendiary warhead was on the target, inaccuracy and many pre-mature warhead detonations in flight made them demoralizing as the terror weapon of the war but, less effective than the overhead detonation Mortar as a killer.


Ratio of Terror and Destruction

Royal Navy Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane had 30 to 40 ships in harbor just out of range of Fort Mc Henry's guns. After looting the entire area, burning everything including Washington, D.C., attention was turned to the ratio of 1:5. One Congreve rocket ship and five Bomb boats.


"Rockets Red Glare And Bombs Bursting In Air" was actually the:

 God-Awful Rain Of Fire and Shrapnel Hell.


When Major George Armistead started preparing the defenses of the fort he had a really big flag made, 30 by 42 feet so the British would be able to see it from almost any distance. There were actually two flags; the normal storm or battle flag, 17 by 25 feet flown normally and the larger flag. As the British approached for the siege Armistead displayed the new 30 by 42 flag.


When the God-Awful Rain Of Fire and Shrapnel Hell began he ordered the big banner struck and the smaller battle flag hoisted.


British ships rained 2,000 of these awful weapons to Fort McHenry during 24+ hours of the siege. On the morning of September 14, 1814 the area and fort had been devastated, wrecked, the flag support mast and battle flag destroyed. The rocket ship and bomb boats had rained all. All ordinance expended, all quiet.


Armistead's Fort McHenry defenders appeared from their areas of cover or safety, moved through the rubble, arranged support for a mast and hoisted the really big Fort McHenry "Star Spangled Banner" for Major Armistead's intended purpose, to make sure the British knew, they were out of ammo, our flag was still there and we're not defeated.



Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane probably considered he had accomplished his objectives and could now withdraw his strike force to his Bermuda base, completely resupply, rearm and finish off America by invading from the West, up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, starting by introducing Shrapnel and Congreve's inventions to General Jackson's U.S. Army of the South at New Orleans.


The devastating loss by the British at the Battle of New Orleans, finished January 8, 1815,  was the last attempted invasion of the United States.


The God-Awful Rain Of Fire and Shrapnel Hell was so terrible. Following the battle, Armistead was soon breveted to lieutenant colonel. Much weakened by the arduous preparations for the battle and the The God-Awful Rain Of Fire and Shrapnel Hell, he died at age 38, only three years later.


Next time we're aware of some person disrespecting our "Star Spangled Banner" perhaps we should remember just exactly what God-Awful Rain Of Fire and Shrapnel Hell patriots went through in these early and later battles to guarantee them their right to have adverse opinion.  


~ Bob Hutchinson

 Until digital special effects came along Hollywood could not provide a representation of the devastating effect of the overhead detonation of a mortar round.

Late in WWII the proximity electronic fuse or detonator was developed for antiaircraft weapons. These devices, which operated similar to a metal detector, built into the projectile would detonate the round when a close by object, like an aircraft, was detected. After this development proximity detonator mortar rounds could be set to accurately sense proximity to the earth or ground and explode a certain distance above, focusing a conical rain of deadly shrapnel downward,

The real action of these mortar weapons, overhead explosives, was too dangerous and expensive for Hollywood movie production until tod