Little Bits of History

Fort McHenry

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2010

Fort McHenry

September 14, 1814: A young lawyer publishes his poem Defense of Fort McHenry after witnessing a battle during the War of 1812. He lived in Georgetown, just west of the site of today’s Key Bridge that crosses the Potomac River. At the time, Georgetown had a population of about 5,000 and was just a few miles from the Capitol, the White House, and the Federal building of Washington, D.C.

Britain was at war with France and while engaged thus, attempted to regulate American shipping and trade activity. The new American nation did not obey the mandate from the old Mother Country and the War of 1812 began. On August 24, 1814, British forces set fire to the Capitol and the White House with flames visible as far away as Baltimore. A dawn thunderstorm kept the fire from spreading. More fires were set during the following day, another thunderstorm put out the flames.

As America was preparing to repel an attack on Baltimore that they expected to come from both land and sea, Dr. William Beanes had been captured and was being held prisoner on the British flag ship. The lawyer and US Col. John Skinner boarded the ship soon after in an effort to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Rather than release the doctor, the lawyer and colonel were held as well because they may have seen too much on the ship.

Fort McHenry was attacked. In the year prior to this, a special flag had been made for the fort. It measured 42 x 30 feet, took 400 yards of the finest wool bunting to create and each of the fifteen stars were 2 feet wide. After a night of horrific bombardment, dawn broke and amazingly the flag remained flying over the fort. The lawyer was so overcome, he penned his poem on the back of a letter. It has since been renamed and put to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven. The poem is Francis Scott Key’s work and known today as The Star Spangled Banner.

“The whole inspiration of our life as a nation flows out from the waving folds of this banner.” – Unknown

“That piece of red, white and blue bunting means five thousand years of struggle upwards. It is the full-grown flower of ages of fighting for liberty. It is the century plant of human hope in bloom.” – Alvin Owsley

“We take the stars from heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity, representing our liberty.” – George Washington, attributed

“Cheers for the sailors that fought on the wave for it,
Cheers for the soldiers that always were brave for it,
Tears for the men that went down to the grave for it,
Here comes the flag!” – Arthur Macy

Also on this day, in 1607 the Flight of the Earls of Ireland takes place.

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