The Star Spangled Banner at the Battle of Baltimore
What were the circumstances of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner?
Do you know the story behind the Star Spangled Banner at the Battle of Baltimore?
It was common practice in the early 1800's as England and France fought each other, to confiscate American merchant ships, along with their cargo and crew. On June 18, 1812 in order to preserve "Free Trade and Sailors' Rights" the declaration of war against England was announced.
With the British fighting the French, they had little time to devote to America. After the defeat of Napoleon in April 1814, the British now had the time to answer America's challenge.
In August of 1814, a British force of some 5000 troops sailed up the Chesapeake Bay. After capturing Washington, and burning some of its public buildings, the British headed for Baltimore.
British troops first attacked Baltimore by land. Badly outnumbered by American militiamen, they withdrew. The battle turned to Baltimore's harbor as British ships bombarded Fort McHenry for 25 hours.
Fort McHenry commander Major George Armistead refused to haul down the American flag and surrender.
Francis Scott Key witnesses The Battle of Baltimore
Francis Scott Key was a son of an established Maryland family, and had established a law practice in Georgetown, Maryland.
A friend of Key, Dr. William Beanes was taken prisoner by the British in August 1814.
Beanes, a medical doctor, treated many of the injured British troops left behind from land battles fought in the Maryland countryside. Beanes was arrested for allegedly violating a pledge of good conduct.
Francis Scott Key hoped to obtain the release of his friend based on his humanitarian efforts. Key left for Baltimore to obtain the services of Colonel John Skinner, the government's prisoner of war exchange agent. Together they sailed down the bay on a truce ship and met the British fleet.
Key and Skinner successfully negotiated the doctor's release. But because the group had learned about the planned attack on Baltimore, they were detained for fear they would alert the city of the attack.
Key was detained with Skinner and Beanes on a ship 8 miles below Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore.
On the morning of the September 14th, 1814, inspired by the American flag waving above Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key would write a poem on the back of a letter he was carrying describing his first hand account of the battle.
The Star Spangled Banner
First titled "Defense of Fort McHenry" Key's poem was published the next day. The poem was later set to the tune of a British song and eventually became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The song, as well as the flag that flew over Fort McHenry, became symbols of the young American republic rejoicing in defending Baltimore harbor against a British naval bombardment.
Photograph of flag flying above Fort McHenry,
taken by Tom Peracchio, September 2001
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