Educational Resources

K-12 Classroom Lessons | Elementary School | Lesson Plan: After the Bombs Burst in Air


Authors: Glenn Johnston and Johanna Seymour, Education Consultants, Maryland Military Historical Society
Grade Level: Elementary (Grade 3)
Duration: 40-Minutes

This lesson will teach 3rd graders the differences and challenges between primary and secondary sources. In class, students will explore primary sources to understand how Baltimore citizens felt after the British attack on Fort McHenry (September 13-14, 1814). For homework, students will use their new social studies vocabulary to demonstrate what they learned.


At the conclusion of this block of instruction:

  1. Students will understand the differences and challenges between primary and secondary sources.
  2. Through exploring primary sources, students will understand how Baltimore citizens felt about the likelihood of another British attack after attack on Fort McHenry (September 13-14, 1814). For an assessment activity, they will use their new vocabulary words to demonstrate what they learned.


  • Step 1: Introduction to Primary Sources (5 Minutes) Explain to students that they are going to explore primary sources written during the War of 1812 to better understand how Baltimore citizens felt after the attack at Fort McHenry (September 13-14, 1814) and ask the following questions, “What are primary sources?” “What are secondary sources?” Hand out Resource Sheet #1. Do exercises together as a class. “How are they more or less helpful in understanding what happened?” (Note that they are the actual voice of someone living at the time but can be difficult to read, can contain unknown vocabulary, and are not written with hindsight).
  • Step 2: Lesson Rationale (1 Minute) Explain to students that they are going to analysis primary sources from the War of 1812 to research what happened after the Attack on Fort McHenry, whether Baltimore citizens thought the War was over or if the British would strike again.
  • Step 3: Framing the learning activity. (5-10 Minutes) Ask students questions about the War of 1812. What year did it start? By 1814 how many years had the US been at war? Hand out Timeline- Resource #2 exercise to Distinguish between Past, Present and Future Time. Who has been to Fort McHenry? The British Navy was trying to pass the Fort and attack what city? Did they succeed? If you don’t succeed at something, do you try again? Examples?
  • Step 4: Pair and Share Activity (20-25 Minutes) In pairs give students Resource Sheets #3-6 and the Vocabulary sheet. Instruct them to write their answers on Resource Sheet #6. Allow them to ask questions.
  • Step 5: Synthesis of learning and assessment (5-10 minutes) Discuss your findings as a group. Also worth discussing: how using primary sources is helpful and challenges that arose when reading the letters. What other primary sources would be useful in understanding how Baltimore citizens felt after the attempted attack on Baltimore. Assign the homework (located on Resource Sheet #7).


Standard 5.0 History

Students will use historical thinking skills to understand how individuals and events have changed over time.

Topic A. Individuals and Societies Change Over Time

Indicator 1. Examine differences between past and present time. Objective b. Explain relationship among events in a variety of timelines.

Indicator 2. Investigate how people lived in the past using a variety of primary and secondary sources. Objective a. Collect and examine information about people, places and events of the past using pictures, photographs, maps, audio or visual tapes, and or documents.  

Standard 6.0 Social Studies Skills and Processes

Topic A. Read to Learn and Construct Meaning about Social Studies

Indicator 1. Use appropriate strategies and opportunities to increase understanding of social studies vocabulary Objective a. Acquire and apply new vocabulary through investigating, listening, independent reading and discussing a variety of print and non-print sources d. Use new vocabulary in speaking and writing to gain and extend content knowledge and clarify expression

Indicator 3. Use strategies to monitor understanding and derive meaning from text and portions of text (during reading) Objective b. Reread slowly and carefully, restate, or read on and revisit difficult parts f. Periodically summarize or paraphrase important ideas while reading  

Topic F. Analyze Social Studies Information

Indicator 1. Interpret information from primary and secondary sources Objective c. Analyze a document to determine a point of view d. Analyze the perspective of the author  

Standards for Reading Literature (RL)

RL1 CCR Anchor Standard: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

RL1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers. (SC, 3)

Standards for Reading Informational Text (RI)

RI9 CCR Anchor Standard: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

RI9 Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic.

Topic Background

In 1814, Baltimore stood as the third largest city in the United States, with 40,000 citizens. After the defeat of the US Army at the Battle of Bladensburg in Maryland as well as the burning of the City of Washington, Baltimore’s citizens created the Committee of Vigilance and Safety, chaired by Mayor Edward Johnson. Meeting daily, it resolved to draft every white male between the ages of 16-50 and to provide each recruit with a firearm and accessories, including a bayonet, cartridge box, and tools necessary to maintain them. The Committee appointed Samuel Smith, a major general of the Maryland militia, to head the city defenses. Additionally, Smith served as a United States Senator (Federalist Party) and was a Revolutionary War veteran. Before accepting the position, he sought the approval of his uncle, Levin Winder, who was Governor of Maryland. Upon his uncle’s approval he took command of the Baltimore Military District from General William Winder, who had previously held command of the district.[1] The militia was under the control of the Governor of Maryland– not the President of the United States. General Smith answered to the Governor.

Nearly 9,000 citizens began work on August 27, 1814, digging earthwork defenses. Smith gambled that the British would approach by water so he concentrated citizens’ efforts along the waterfront and to the north and west of Baltimore. These workers could not rely on the federal or state government for aid such as blankets, tents and funds for workers’ families. The militia, under Major General John Stricker, had already appropriated local supplies, such as wagons which the defenders used to haul ammunition. Baltimore public funds became exhausted and Smith mortgaged his own property to replenish these funds.[2]

To aid the effort to gather any remaining supplies that the city’s residents possessed, the Committee of Safety and Vigilance required its residents to surrender any wheelbarrows and building supplies. Also they instructed hospitals to stand on alert. They appointed a relief committee to solicit cash for poor families whose chief breadwinner now worked for the city’s defense. Despite harsh conditions, Baltimore citizens felt a spurge of patriotism and eagerly joined the militia’s efforts to defend the city via these earthen works and water fortifications. Also joining the efforts, elements of the Regular Army and U.S. Navy, as well as militia and citizens from Pennsylvania and Virginia came to Baltimore’s aid. Although helpful in manning and maintaining the defenses, these out-of-state soldiers and workers further strained limited supplies.[3]

The Committee fears almost became realized, when the British fleet attempted to attack Baltimore on September 13th 1814. Thankfully for Baltimore citizens, American forces at Fort McHenry and the Lazaretto Battery thwarted British efforts. On land, American militia with the aid of the earthwork defenses again thwarted British efforts to capture Baltimore. On September 19th British Admiral Cochrane sailed to Halifax, Canada and British Admiral Cockburn to Bermuda. Their exit left Rear Admiral Putney Malcolm in charge of the British fleet, which he returned to the Potomac on September 27th but on October 14th he starting sailing most of it to Jamaica.

The British fleet would not return to the Chesapeake waters to mount a land nor sea attack. Still, fear remained among Americans as they knew that the British wanted revenge. Besides military defeats, British forces blamed Americans for putting poisonous wines along their path (no evidence found) and not honoring flags of truce/practicing proper conduct towards officers, reason enough to retaliate against savage Americans with fire, looting, arming runaway slaves and destroying commerce. Americans had good reason to believe that the British would return to the Chesapeake Bay and try to attack Baltimore again. They expected British forces attack with these newly arrived runaway slaves alongside reinforcements from the West Indies.[4]

Secretary of State James too expected another attack in the Chesapeake area and called for the militias of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia to be on alert. On December 1st, the British captured the town of Tappahannock, Virginia, located on the mouth of the Rappahannock River. American militia thwarted British efforts to advantage further or retreat and inflicted numerous causalities on them. By mid-January few British troops remained and Monroe discharged the Virginia militia; the threat of another attack in the Chesapeake area was over.[5] [1] Mahon, John K. The War of 1812. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press, 1972, 307.

[2] Mahon, The War of 1812, 308.

[3] Pitch, Anthony S. The Burning of Washington. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1998, 183-185.

[4] Mahon, The War of 1812, 310-314.

[5] Mahon, The War of 1812, 315.

Resource Sheets

  • Resource Sheet #1- After the Bombs Bursting in Air (PDF)
  • Resource Sheet #2- Timeline- After the Bombs Bursting in Air (PDF)
  • Resource #3- British Repulsed 13 Sept 1814 (PDF)
  • Resource #3- British Repulsed 13 Sept 1814 original (PDF)
  • Resource #4- Location of Enemy (GIF)
  • Resource #4- Location of Enemy (PDF)
  • Resource #4- Location of enemy II (GIF)
  • Resource #5- Need Volunteers (PDF)
  • Resource #5- Need Volunteers (PNG)
  • Classwork- Resource #6- After the Bombs Bursting in Air (PDF)
  • Homework- Resource #7- After the Bombs Bursting in Air (PDF)

Vocabulary List

(in order which unknown words appear)

  • Mortified– caused someone to feel embarrassed or ashamed
  • Second– to add to or support the action or vote of another person, to express formal support
  • Experimentally– having undergone a test, went through a test to reach result
  • Affords– makes available, provides
  • Obedient– someone who follows the commands, order or instructions of one in authority
  • Whence– from where, from a place
  • Reinforcements– additional personnel (people) or equipment sent to support a military action
  • Instruments– tools
  • Bear– to be accountable for; assume
  • Sufficient- being as much as needed
  • Prompt– carried out or performed without delay
  • Bombproof– an area or material made to provide safety from bombs
  • Mortar– a type of cannon designs to throw big cannonballs (known as bombs) over a fort’s walls


  • Mahon, John K. The War of 1812. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press, 1972.
  • Pitch, Anthony S. The Burning of Washington. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1998.
  • The Free Dictionary by Farlax. Assessed on March 19, 2013.

Lesson Plan Documents for Download