The commandant of historic Fort McHenry in 1861 simply followed orders from his superiors to turn his guns on Maryland citizens, though military officers are sworn to defend the United States Constitution and know when not to obey orders contrary to that document. The land was ceded by Maryland and the fort was constructed to defend Baltimore from its enemies.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Fort McHenry’s Guns Turned on Baltimore
“On Saturday, April 20, Captain John C. Robinson, now a Major-General, then in command of Fort McHenry, which stands at the entrance to the harbor, wrote to Colonel L. Thomas, Adjutant-General of the United States Army, that he would probably be attacked that night [by Baltimore citizens], but he believed he could hold the fort.
[Robinson stated] that about nine o’clock on the evening of the 20th, Police Commissioner Davis called at the fort, bringing a letter dated eight o’clock of the same evening, from Charles Howard, the president of the board . . . that from rumors that had reached the board, they were apprehensive that the commander of the fort might be annoyed by lawless and disorderly characters approaching the walls of the fort, and they proposed to send a guard of perhaps two hundred men to station themselves on Whetstone Point, of course beyond the outer limits of the fort . . . a detachment of the regular militia of the State, then called out pursuant to law, and actually in the service of the State.
“. . . then the following conversation occurred:
Commandant: I am aware sir, that we are to be attacked to-night. I received notice of it before sundown. If you go outside with me you will see we are prepared for it. As for the Maryland Guards, they cannot come here. I am acquainted with some of those gentlemen, and know what their sentiments are.
Commissioner Davis: Why Captain, we are anxious to avoid a collision.
Commandant: So am I sir. If you wish to avoid a collision, place your city military anywhere between the city and that chapel on the road, but if they come this side of it, I shall fire on them.
Commissioner Davis: You would fire into the city of Baltimore?
Commandant: I should be sorry to do so, sir, but if it becomes necessary in order to hold this fort, I shall not hesitate for one moment.
Commissioner Davis (excitedly): I assure you Captain Robinson, if there is a woman or child killed in that city, there will not be one of you left alive here, sir.
Commandant: Very well, sir, I will take the chances. Now, I assure you Mr. Davis, if your Baltimore mob comes down here to-night, you will not have another mob in Baltimore for ten years to come, sir.”
His interview was not, however, confined to Captain Robinson, but included other officers of the fort . . . A junior officer threatened, in case of an attack, to direct fire of a cannon on the Washington monument, which stands in the heart of the city, and to this threat Mr. Davis replied with heat, “If you do that, and if a woman or child is killed, there will be nothing left of you but your brass buttons to tell who you are.”
(Baltimore on the 19th of April, 1861, George William Brown, Johns Hopkins Press, 2001, pp. 67- 69)