As we enter 2014, let us remember that this year marks yet another Bicentennial -- that being "The Star-Spangled
Banner," our national anthem, which was written during the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore by Francis Scott Key during
the last year of the War of 1812.
British troops had attacked Washington, D.C.,
setting fire to many important government buildings, including the White House and the U.S. Capital in late August 1814 and
marched toward Baltimore, the third largest city in the U.S. and the center for shipping and boat building. If the British
took Baltimore, they could destroy American ships and without ships, the U.S. would have little hope of winning the war.
The British raided American farms and houses and broke into the home of Dr. William Beanes
looking for food and drink and valuables. Beane and his friends were able to round up the thieves and place them under arrest.
One soldier escaped and reached British General Robert Ross and told him what had happened. Ross sent the troops to arrest
Dr. Beanes, who was then jailed in Ross's warship the Tonnant.
was an American, his captors thought he was British, charged him with treason and threatened to hang him. Francis Scott Key,
a well-respected lawyer, heard about his friend's capture and got permission from President Madison to negotiate with the
British on Beane's behalf. Key arranged to have an American agent for prisoner exchange accompany him. They found and boarded
Key and Skinner pleaded their case to General Ross showing him
letters from British soldiers who had been wounded and Dr. Beanes had treated the men with kindness. After conferring with
the British, they relented but would not release the doctor or Key immediately because they had seen and heard too much of
the preparations for the attack on Baltimore. They were placed under guard and were forced to wait out the battle behind the
On Sept. 13, 1814, the British attacked Baltimore's Fort McHenry.
British warships continuously bombarded the fort for 25 hours. 1,500 shells were used. They ceased fire due to a lack of ammunition.
Prior to this, Maj. George Armistead, Commander of Fort McHenry, asked seamstress Mary
Pickersgill to create a flag to fly over Fort McHenry prior to the battle. This flag was to be so large that the British troops
would easily identify Armistead's position from afar. Pickersgill spent six weeks making the 30- foot by 42-foot flag.
Key watched the bombs bursting in air as the British attacked the fort throughout the night.
Unknown to Key, the battle was actually going badly for the British. They had underestimated the American forces. American
officers had sunk more than 20 ships in Baltimore Harbor before the battle which created an underwater wall that kept the
British ships too far away to seriously damage the fort.
The next morning
by the dawn's early light Key saw the broad stripes and bright stars of the U.S. flag still waving in the distance over Fort
McHenry, sending a big message: the United States had not surrendered. Key wrote a patriotic poem called "The Defense of Fort
True to their word, the British freed Key, Skinner and Beanes
after the battle. Copies of Key's poem were given to soldiers and in November it was set to music by publisher Thomas Carr.
The United States has used it as the national song since the 1880s. It was made the official national anthem by Congress in
1931 under President Herbert Hoover, replacing Hail Columbia.
The flag remained
in the possession of Major Armistead for some time. Pieces of it were given to the fort's soldiers or their wives. It is now
8 feet shorter than it was originally. It has been permanently housed at the Smithsonian since 1912 and has undergone multiple
The flag had 15 stripes, not 13. The stars are 2 feet by 2 feet
tip to tip. The flag will not unfurl in winds less than 5 mph. At least 3 to 5 people are required to raise and lower the
flag as it weighs 45 pounds.
The Bicentennial of the War of 1812 has brought
much enthusiasm and interest in this forgotten war and many researchers have delved deeper to discover answers to some of
the controversies that have lived on through the past 200 years. One of these controversies that occurred right here in Summit
County has been solved! I am speaking of the controversy of the three gunboats that were built here on the Cuyahoga River.
We have discovered that they were, indeed, built here and ordered by the Army and not the Navy. They were used in the Battle
of the Thames which was just a few weeks after the Battle of Lake Erie. They were indeed gunboats and not Schenectady boats
as some have speculated. There is evidence that the Schenectady boats (flat boats similar to barges) were built in Cleveland
and not Summit County. And yes, the Cuyahoga River was a navigable river and deemed so by the Federal Government during the
Contact Sharon Myers, President, William Wetmore Chapter Daughters
of 1812 330-794-5099.