The Bloody Reality Behind the Star-Spangled Banner
15 Stars and 15 Bars
Our national anthem, also known as The Star-Spangled Banner was written during the War of 1812 at a time when our mid-Atlantic states were under attack by the British. The Star-Spangled Banner was in reality, one very large flag that flew over Fort McHenry, which protected the city of Baltimore. Since this flag was the largest ever made at the time, this and only this flag earned the nickname. By chance, this was the very same flag that Francis Scott Key saw flying on the September 1814 morning.
The Storm Flag
Since the Star-Spangled Banner was partially made from wool, the fort had in its possession a smaller "storm" flag that was flown during inclement weather. So whenever bad weather commenced, the big banner was taken down and replaced by the smaller and more durable storm flag that would not become waterlogged.
During the British bombardment, rain storms appeared during the night and so the big flag was taken down by soldiers at the fort and then replaced with the storm flag. But when the rain stopped, the Star-Spangled Banner was again raised...and that was what Francis Scott Key saw from his vantage point. Amazingly only four soldiers died during the bombardment of Fort McHenry.
Historical Visual Account
Why The British Were Attacking the Maryland Fort
When the British attacked Fort McHenry, the War of 1812 had been already ongoing for over two years. Just prior to the Maryland attack, British forces had marched through the nation's capitol, burning much of the city in the process. The situation was so bad that President Madison and many Washington lawmakers had fled the city in fear of their lives.
After razing the District of Columbia, both British naval and land forces set their sights on Baltimore, home of numerous privateers, who had done considerable damage to the British war effort. In other words, they were going to make the whole city pay.....in blood if necessary.
The Result of the Battle for Fort McHenry.
Also called The Battle of Baltimore, this important military maneuver began when 19 British warships sailed up the Chesapeake Bay towards the Baltimore harbor. The fighting commenced when 3,000 land troops landed southeast of the city and marched northward, threatening to take over the busy port.
After the land invasion was repelled on September 12, the naval shelling of Fort McHenry began on September 13th and lasted for 25 hours. On the morning of the 14th, the flag was still flying at the fort and the British soon withdrew their forces from the that part of the Chesapeake.
Francis Scott Key
Why Francis Scott Key Was Present
Francis Scott Key lived in Washington, not Baltimore. He was a lawyer, amateur poet and all-around Washington insider, who had come over to the Chesapeake Bay in an attempt to gain the release of some American citizens that were being held prisoners aboard British ships. In fact, he had been personally dispatched by President Madison, who was particularly interested in the release of a Dr. William Beanes, who had been just recently captured by British forces.
Key along with a few others, sailed up to the British fleet on Sept. 7, 1814 in an American ship. They met their adversries (onboard a British ship) and were able to obtain the release of the doctor, but were not allowed to return to shore until after the battle was over. When the bombardment commenced several days later, Francis Scott Key watched the aerial display from an American ship anchored behind the British fleet.
The Musical Score
Putting Words To Music
There is some difference of opinion as to whether Key wrote the words of the Star-Spangled Banner as pure poetry or whether he already had a tune in mind. According to information presented by the History Channel, Francis Scott was already aware of the tune, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” and in fact had already set several stanzas of verse to the popular drinking song.
Further evidence can be derived from the fact that the words of the anthem fit the unusual music structure of the song to a tee.
The Musical Roots of the Star Spangled Banner
Original Fort McHenry Flag
The Flag and Song Today
Today, the larger flag, the Star-Spangled Banner, is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, the song that Key penned first bore the name, The Defense of Fort McHenry. Over the years, the name of the song was changed to The Star-Spangled Banner, and in 1931 it became the official national anthem of the U.S.
Despite its popularity, it remains a difficult tune to sing, occasionally creating some embarrassing and humorous moments for soloist trying to render the large range of high and low notes. Much of this difficulty is due to the fact that tune was originally created by a London men's club, who enjoyed singing about the benefits of drinking large amounts of wine.