Written by Francis Scott Key, the “Star Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States of America. National Anthem Day commemorates the day our nation adopted “The Star Spangled Banner” as our National Anthem.
The story behind “The Star Spangled Banner” is as moving as the anthem itself. While an attorney, Key was serving in the Georgetown Light Field Artillery during the War of 1812. In 1814 his negotiation skills as a lawyer were called upon to release Dr. William Beane who was a prisoner on the British naval ship, Tonnant. Early in September Key traveled to Baltimore in the company of Colonel John Skinner to begin negotiations.
Key and Skinner secured Beane’s release, but since the British navy had begun attacking Baltimore, the trio had to wait at sea to return to Georgetown.
Fort McHenry is built on a peninsula of the Patapsco River, and the city of Baltimore is just across the Northwest Branch. In 1814, the population of Baltimore was roughly 50,000 people, hardly the metropolis it is today. The country itself was still young, and often families of soldiers lived nearby and provided support to their soldiers.
The British navy abandoned Baltimore and turned their full attention on Fort McHenry on September 13. As the 190-pound shells began to shake the fort, mother nature brought a storm of her own. Thunder and rain pelted the shore along with the bombs and shells. Throughout the night, parents, wives, and children in their homes could hear and feel the bomb blasts across the way. There were reports of the explosions being felt as far away as Philadelphia. It was a long night of fear, worry and providing comfort to one another.
At sea, Key had a similar night. Being a religious man, one who believed the war could have been avoided, he watched the bombs bursting in air over the water and steadily pummeling Fort McHenry. It was undoubtedly a sight to behold.
For 25 hours the star-shaped fort manned by approximately 1,000 American soldiers endured over 1,500 cannon shots. The Fort answered with their own with almost no effect.
In the early morning of September 14th, after Major George Armistead’s troops stopped the British landing party in a blaze of gunfire, the major ordered the oversized American flag raised in all its glory over Fort McHenry. Sewn a few months before by Mary Pickersgill and her daughter, the enormous banner replaced the storm flag which had flown during battle.
As Key waited at sea for dawn to break and smoke to clear, imagine the inspiring sight in the silence of the morning to see his country’s flag fully unfurled against the breaking of the day and the fort standing firm.
Key was so moved by the experience he immediately began penning the lyrics to a song which were later published by his brother-in-law as a poem titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry.”
HOW TO OBSERVE
Sing the Star Spangled Banner. Did you know there are three more verses to the original song? As a challenge, try learning them all. Use #NationalAnthemDay to post on social media.
Nearly 117 years passed after Key penned “Defence of Fort M’Henry” before it became the national anthem of the United States of America. “Hail Columbia” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” held honorary places as patriotic songs. But, the United States didn’t have an officially declared anthem until a congressional resolution, signed by President Herbert Hoover, until “The Star Spangled Banner” became the national anthem of the United States of America on March 3rd, 1931.
*Historical note: The spelling of “defence” in the original title of Key’s song is correct for the period.
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