Sunday, September 14, 2014


14 SEPTEMBER 2014: We’ll carry on bravely in any case with our story of the Star Spangled Banner and how it came to be. When we left yesterday’s post, Francis Key was pacing the deck of HMS Tonnant in pouring rain, agitated over not knowing whether the bombardment was proving too much for Major Armistead’s defenders in Fort McHenry. The weather, you will recall, was horrendous: thunder and lightning, heavy rain, and the accompanying winds. Finally, the storm started to abate as dawn began to break over the Eastern Shore. The clouds pushed back and all that remained was the haze and fog and the heavy pall of smoke from the cannon on both sides. The silence was suddenly pervasive and Key was terrified that the end of the firing meant the fort had succumbed. His glass was glued to to his eye as he focused in the direction of the fort, willing the smoke and fog to clear. The 25 hour bombardment had fired over 1500 shot and mortar shells as well as uncounted Congreve rockets at Fort McHenry, which along with the almost continuous heavenly cannonading, had created a soul penetrating cacophony, now gone. In its place, a now gentle breeze sighing through the rigging of the British flagship and the water of Baltimore Harbor lapping peacefully at the hull. Then, with a sudden gust, the obscuring haze lifted. In Key’s own words:

“Sometime must yet elapse before anything definite might be ascertained. At last it came. A bright streak of gold mingled with crimson shot athwart the eastern sky, followed by another and still another, as the morning sun rose in the fullness of his glory, lifting the mists of the deep, crowning a Heaven-blest land with a new victory and grandeur.”

A descendant of Key, Francis Scott Key-Smith, adds to his forebear’s observation in a letter written a couple of years later:

“As it caught ‘The gleam of the morning’s first beam,’ and, ‘in full glory reflected, shone in the stream’ his (Key’s) proud and patriotic heart knew no bounds; the wounds inflicted ‘by the battle’s confusion’ were healed instantly as if by magic; a new life sprang into every fiber, and his pent-up emotions burst forth with an inspiration in a song of praise, victory, and thanksgiving as he exclaimed:
“Tis the Star-Spangled Banner, Oh! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Key-Smith’s letter continued:
“As the morning’s sun arose, vanquishing the darkness and gloom; lifting the fog and smoke and disclosing his country’s flag, victorious, bathed in the delicate hues of morn, only an inspiration caught from such a sight can conceive or describe, and so only in the words of his song can be found the description.” End quote.

The British troops on North Point, realizing the bombardment had failed, withdrew, retracing their steps back down the peninsula to again board the transports. Cochrane made the decision to abandon his hope of reducing Baltimore as he had done Washington City and, once his men had re-embarked, ordered the fleet out, and south down the Bay. They headed for the Caribbean where they would regroup for the attack on New Orleans.

Key, Skinner, and Doctor Beanes reboarded their truce vessel and sailed into Baltimore proper. The town was going wild; spontaneous parades, speeches, and celebrations were everywhere. Key, his words hastily scribbled on a soggy envelope while still in Tonnant, hastened to his rented rooms in the Indian Queen Hotel where he would touch up his poem. He showed his poem, which he had written to fit the tune of a popular song of the time, To Anacreon in Heaven, to his brother in law, Judge Joseph Nicholson who had endure the British bombardment inside the fort. Nicholson took the work, had it printed on handbills and distributed them liberally around the city. The people fell instantly in love with it and, a few days later, while the taste of victory was still sweet on the tongue, an actress sang it on the stage before a show performance at the Holiday Street Theater, calling it the Star Spangled Banner. A month later, a music store had it published using the same name.
It would grow in popularity, especially with the military, and spread widely across the country as it grew. It would not become the national anthem, however, until 1931 when President Hoover had Congress pass a bill naming it as such.

As a postscript to this posting, I will add the entire lyric to the song for those of you who might not be familiar with all four verses!

“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks!” - Warren Buffet
Fair Winds,              
Old Salt
As promised, the words to Key’s poem:

The Defence of M’Henry [sic]
(The Star Spangled Banner)
tune: To Anacreon in Heaven
by: Francis Scott Key, September 14, 1814

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the Rocket’ red glare, the Bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night, that our Flag was still there.
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shire dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected new shines in the stream,
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, shall leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d home, and the war’s desolation,
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land,
Praise the Power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our Trust;”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
O’er the land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

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