The “Star Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States of America. March 3rd is National Anthem day, commemorating the day our nation adopted our national anthem.
Few people realize the moving story behind the National Anthem. The author of this song was a lawyer named Francis Scott Key. The date was September 14, 1814. We were almost three years into the second war of independence against the British. The British had a large war-hardened army and a large armada of ships. The young United States had no national army, only a few state militia and some volunteers. As for our Navy, there were a few private ship owners that had outfitted their ships with cannons.
We were on the brink of annihilation. Two weeks earlier the British Army had marched into our nation’s capital, plundering and burning every building but one. Now with renewed confidence, the British were marching on to Baltimore, our largest shipping port on the East Coast. Guarding the entrance of Chesapeake Bay was the star-shaped Fort McHenry, under the command of General George Armstad. He was 38 years old. He realized how important this fort was and that if it fell to the British, we would again be under the control of England. The British navy abandoned Baltimore and turned their full attention on Fort McHenry.
Francis Scott Key had been sent out to a truce ship that held war prisoners to negotiate a one-on-one trade of prisoners. As he was working for the prisoners’ release, he was informed that he would not be able to leave the ship because the British Navy was preparing to attack on Fort McHenry. The entire British fleet was loaded with 200-pound cannon balls and was being called upon to demolish the fort. The cannon balls were two stage. First they would explode as they were fired from the ship. Then as they were half way to the target they would explode again to send them even farther, so we had bombs bursting in air.
At dawn on September 13th, the bombing began. It continued all day and into the night. A storm began with thunder and lightning and rain fell in torrents. The fighting continued; the sound was deafening as there were so many guns. Francis Scott Key went up on the deck and told the men that he would shout down and let them know what’s going on. Hour after hour as the shelling went on, the men below deck in chains would ask, “Is the flag still up?” and always the answer was yes.
Sunrise came; a heavy mist hung over the land, but the rampart of the fort was tall enough. There stood the flag completely non-descript, and in shreds. Eighteen hundred to 2000 cannon balls had been fired and it was still standing. At 7:30 the British ceased firing, 25 hours after the first shot. They had lost the battle. The shredded flag was immediately replaced by a large one, and as the Royal Navy turned to sail from the harbor they could see the flag flying over the rampart.
Francis Scott Key could also see the flag flying, and he took a piece of paper from his coat pocket and began to write, “O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light…” May we never forget the meaning of our “Grand Old Flag” and our National Anthem.
Mayor Brent Chugg