The Star Spangled Banner

The Star Spangled Banner -- A flag of 15 stars and 15 stripes adopted in 1794

The Star Spangled Banner -- A flag of 15 stars and 15 stripes adopted in 1794

A brief excerpt from Roy & Lesley Adkins’ superb The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo, concluding their discussion of the British attack upon Washington and Baltimore in the War of 1812:

“Francis Scott Key became famous for having observed the bombardment [of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry]. He was a lawyer who worked in Georgetown, a small settlement adjacent to Washington. At the time of the attack on the capital he was a volunteer in the light artillery, and he found out that his friend Dr. William Beane had been taken prisoner by the British. Beane was a physician at Upper Marlborough and had himself been involved in capturing marauding British stragglers from the army. Because it was feared that Beane might be hanged, President Madison gave his approval for Key to go to Baltimore on board a vessel (the Minden) that was used as a flag of truce. He was accompanied by John Skinner, the American agent for prisoner exchanges, and the pair had caught up with the British fleet at the mouth of the Potomac, preparing for the expedition against Baltimore.

“Because of the kindness shown to the wounded British prisoners, it was agreed that Beane could be released, but for the time being they all had to stay on board a frigate in case they leaked news of the plan of attack. Once the fleet neared Baltimore they were allowed to return to the Minden, with a guard of marines, from where they witnessed the bombardment. The previous year two new flags had been commissioned for Fort McHenry, including one that measured 30 by 40 feet with fifteen stars and eight red and seven white stripes (the official United states flag authorised in the Flag Act of 1794). As the three Americans watched they had no idea whether or not the town had surrendered, but in the morning the smaller flag was still flying over the fort, and as the British left, it was replaced by the huge one that so impressed Barrett. It survives today in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington.

“During the assault Key began to jot down a poem, which he finished when back at Baltimore. The red glare of the rockets and the bombs bursting in the air of the first verse refer to the bombardment. Copies were printed in the Baltimore Patriot newspaper on 20 September, with an editorial comment that the song ‘is destined long to outlast the occasion and outlive the impulse which produced it.’ It was sung to the tune of ‘To Anachreon in Heaven’, a British drinking song, and was adopted as the national anthem in 1931.”

(For more information on the flag itself, see “The Star Spangled Banner, the 15 Star Flag” at USFlag.org.)

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Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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