In the War of 1812 galleries of the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, artist Alfred Jacob Miller’s famous panorama oil painting entitled “The Bombardment of Fort McHenry, September 13-14, 1814.” This unique painting, circa 1829, remains the quintessential War of 1812 image complete with “the rockets red glare and bomb bursting in air.”
Miller was born on January 2, 1810, to a successful sugar merchant and grocer, George Washington and Harriet Jacobs Miller. During the bombardment of Fort McHenry, George Miller, served as a private in Captain John Berry’s Washington Artillerist, 1st Regt. Maryland Artillery. He would later share his experiences for his son’s painting. Young Miller, while not a veteran of the war, but as an artist, captured the imagination of the events for history.
In the spring of 1829, eighteen year old Alfred Jacob Miller set up his easel and sketch book upon a promontory in South Baltimore, and sketched out the view of Fort McHenry in the distance. The site was old Camp Look-Out (Riverside Park), a circular earthen redoubt that took an active role in the city’s defense. Later at his studio/residence his canvas revealed the colorful events of what had occurred during September 13-14, 1814. The Baltimore Gazette gave notice of the young painter’s talents: “It is the production of a young gentleman of Baltimore…His painting is marked by a beautiful richness of colouring, and a graphic faithfulness in the delineation of the shores of the bay, the British fleet, the smoke of the cannon, and the bombs “bursting in air” over the Fort. With attention instruction commensurate with his genius, he will most assuredly attain a high rank as an historical painter.”
Alfred Jacob Miller is best remembered for his famous paintings and watercolor sketches of his 1837 travels to the American West, capturing the scenes of the American native Indians and early western plains culture. He died on June 26, 1874 at the age of seventy-four and was buried, it is believed, with his parents in the Old Glendy Burying Ground (est. 1807) of the 2nd Presbyterian Church at Broadway and Gay, near Baltimore’s Fell’s Point.
Sources: “Alfred Jacob Miller and ‘The Bombardment of Fort McHenry, Sept. 13-14, 1814.” by Scott S. Sheads (New Discoveries and Interpretations: The War of 1812 in Maryland, (unpublished, No. 14); “On the Trail of Alfred Jacob Miller,” Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 97, Fall, 2002); Baltimore American, July 23, 27, 1874; Six Months in America, by Godfrey T. Vigne (London: 1831).