July 4th and the Star Spangled Banner

July 4th and the Star Spangled Banner

This week, from sea to shining sea, the United States will celebrate her hard fought independence from Britain, which was marked in 1776 by the signing of the Declaration of Independence, during the American the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). However, another anniversary is being celebrated this year, as well. This is the bicentennial of the War of 1812; fought when the United States was just shy of celebrating its 36th year as a sovereign nation.

Also fought against Britain, the War of 1812 raged from June 18, 1812 to February 18, 1815. It was fought at sea and on the Great Lakes and surrounding plains. The nation’s capital since 1800, Washington D.C. was captured and burned, and there were significant battles waged in New York, Baltimore, and New Orleans.

The busy port of Baltimore was defended by Fort McHenry as 19 British warships attacked. The Battle of Baltimore, fought September 12-15, 1814, was the inspiration for a poem entitled, Defense of Fort McHenry, penned by Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer. The poem describes the account given him by a friend, held captive by the British during the battle. The young man heard the British Admiral gloat that he would have the flag that was flying above the fort in his hands within hours. The anxious American set his eyes on the flag until dark. He waited through the long night, as explosions burst all around, wondering which way the battle was going. As dawn began to break, he watched until he at last saw – faintly but undeniably through the clearing smoke and mist – that the flag was still in its place above Fort McHenry.

Although the poem has four stanzas, only the first is generally sung today. But, knowing the story behind it truly gives more significance to the lyrics.

O! 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 through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we wach’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the Rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our Flag was still there;
O! say does that star spangled Banner yet wave,
O’er the Land of the free, and the home of the brave?

[The flag that flew over Fort McHenry had 15 stars. By 1812, Vermont and Kentucky had joined the 13 original colonies of the United States. Key’s poem was set to a tune that was popular in the day and was recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889, then by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. A congressional resolution was signed by President Herbert Hoover in 1931 that made The Star-Spangled Banner the National Anthem of the United States.]


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