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The Star Spangled Banner: A Short History

By Edited Jun 16, 2015 0 0

Everyone knows about the war of independence but how many of us recall the so called second war of independence? How many of us realize that as 1814 drew to a close the final breath of the young republic of America was also frighteningly close? President Madison and senior officials barely escaped from Washington after British ships had sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and captured the city in just five days. They had then set the city ablaze destroying many buildings, including the White House, flames that were only doused by a propitious downpour of rain.

Baltimore was to be the net target after Washington. During the events surrounding the attack a certain William Beanes, an American doctor had come across a British scouting party and been taken prisoner. Some of his friends who were concerned for him managed to have a lawyer sent to him. The lawyer was called Francis Scott Key. Key was taken aboard the British Flag ship where he eloquently convinced the British to release Beanes. However, because both had been witness to British maneuvers in preparation for the Baltimore attack they were both detained, albeit on a temporary basis.

If the British were to take Baltimore they would have to take a fort that stood at the entrance to the harbor, this fort was called fort McHenry. The defenders knew the Brits were on their way and decided to try to find something that would show the British the depths of their determination. They settled on the biggest American flag they could get and flew it from the fort. The flag measured 30 foot by 42 foot and was apparently visible from considerable distances, visible from some miles away.

On September 13th the British gave the command to attack at 7am. The bombardment lasted all day and into the night with both sides showing steely resolve to be the victors. The defenders in Fort McHenry, inspired by their massive flag stood firm and revisited fiercely.

Key could only observe the battle from a distance and we can imagine the nervousness and trepidation he must have felt at wondering how long the siege would last. He knew that all the time he could hear the blasts of the canon that the fort still stood. Rockets would illuminate the darkened sky and show the enormous flag in all its illuminated glory, still flying proudly from the fort. Around midnight the sound stopped. No more blasts from canons or rockets lighting the night sky. All was calm which must have seemed both odd and worrying after hours of noise and artillery fire. Key must have thought in his heart of hearts that the fort had fallen after a long valiant struggle.

Key was a prisoner, albeit a temporary one and he and Beames had no idea what had happened. He would not have been told so all he could do was wait, and how long that wait must have felt. As dawn slowly made an appearance he saw the fort slowly becoming visible with the massive flag still fluttering resolutely in the dawn breeze. The fort had withstood the bombardment and was free from capture.

Keys, like anyone was deeply effected by this and finding an old letter in his pocket speedily composed a few lines of poetry. Following his release he expanded the poem whilst in his hotel room back in Baltimore and gave it the title "The Defense Of Fort McHenry'. It took less than a week for the poem to end up in print after which nation wide newspapers started to print it. It did not take long for the poem to be put to music and renamed...you guessed it...'The Star Spangled Banner' from which point on it enjoyed enormous popularity as a patriotic song. It took a further 100+ years however, until March 3rd 1931 before 'The Star Spangled Banner' was finally officially chosen to be the national anthem of the United States.

Full Lyrics To 'The Star Spangled Banner'

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!



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