The Battle Monument, Baltimore’s official emblem honoring the casualties of Fort McHenry and North Point, is distinguished as America’s first war memorial. 19th century historian John H. Latrobe described the monument “erected by the survivors, to the memory of those who fell” in the defense of Baltimore as “most striking” in 1832. Baltimoreans laid the cornerstone in September 1815, as part of the first Defenders’ Day commemorations led by generals Samuel Smith, John Stricker, and George Armistead. Ever since 1815, the location at the site of the old court house at Calvert and Fayette streets has been known as Monument Square. The 52’ tall marble monument took ten years to complete with support from both personal donations and municipal appropriations. The total cost came to $40,000. The donors included some of Baltimore’s most prominent citizens in the early 19th century: Jerome Bonaparte, Samuel Chase, the Clagetts, Merrymans, Warfields, Hoffmans, and McKims.
The French architect Maximilian Godefroy designed the Egyptian Revival monument to be rich with symbolism. The base—built in the style of an Egyptian tomb—is made up of 18 rows, representing the number of states in the Union at the time of the Battle of Baltimore. Atop the base sit four griffons, symbolizing immortality. The shaft of fasces, or sticks, bound by the names of the 36 fallen soldiers recall the unity needed to successfully defend Baltimore. The monument is crowned by a statue of lady Baltimore, holding a laurel wreath (connoting glory or triumph) and a rudder (stability or navigation) and shadowed by an American eagle. Godefroy, who also designed the St. Mary’s Seminary Chapel on Paca Street and the First Unitarian Church on Franklin Street, commissioned the Italian sculptor Antonio Capellano to shape the personification of Baltimore. The height of the base and column, 39 feet, represents the number of years America had been independent during the Battle of Baltimore. Surrounded by a sturdy iron railing, illuminated by gas lamps, and highly visible at a central intersection of the city, Godefroy designed the Battle Monument to be a constant reminder of the sacrifices made during the defense of Baltimore.
The monument underwent restoration in 1964, for the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore. Architectural writer John Dorsey wrote that by the mid-1960s, "she has been almost forgotten amid the rush of traffic and modern-day business, isolated and all but approachable because of the steady flow of cars on all sides." A second major restoration took place in 2013 in preparation for the bicentennial. The original lady Baltimore now resides at the Maryland Historical Society, with a concrete replica carrying on her legacy as the icon of the Monumental City.
Since its completion in 1825, the Battle Monument has served as the focal point of Battle of Baltimore commemorations. Gatherings of the Old Defenders—and afterwards, their descendants in the Society of the War of 1812—nearly always began or concluded at the Battle Monument. The image of the monument has appeared on the city seal since 1827, cementing the Battle of Baltimore as central to the city’s identity for the better part of two centuries.