The rockets used against the fort in 1814 were designed by William Congreve, who, intrigued by the military potentialities of self-propelled missiles, began his experiments in 1804 with the largest skyrockets then available in London. By substituting iron for paper in the construction of the body, reducing the length of the balancing shaft, and improving the black powder propelling charge, Congreve was able to introduce a military rocket with an extreme range of 3,000 yards. After an initial failure, the British successfully employed incendiary rockets against Boulogne in 1806, and thereafter the weapon was employed by both the Army and Navy with satisfactory results. In 1812, the War Office established an independent rocket unit.
British land and naval forces employed the
rocket frequently during the Chesapeake campaign. At Bladensburg, they
stampeded the inexperienced American militia; but at North Point they
were ineffectual, and at Fort McHenry they failed as a military weapon.
It is ironic to note that after a long string of successes the rocket
is commemorated in a poem which was inspired by an occasion on which
they failed miserably.
After 1815, the radical improvement of
weapons, powder, and projectiles caused the gradual abandonment of the
rocket as a military weapon until World War II, when powerful
self-propelled missiles in many forms were designed and used very
effectively. Park Net