Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy 4th of July 2012!

This is the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812.  The War went on for nearly 3 years and although both sides afflicted heavy damages and casualties it ended in a draw with no clear winner or loser.  One of the most tangible outcomes was the writing of Americas National Anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner". The lyrics come from "Defense of Fort McHenry", a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key.
Following the Burning of Washington and the Raid on Alexandria, Key and John Stuart Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden, flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the exchange of prisoners, one of whom was Dr. William Beanes, the elderly and popular town physician of Upper Marlboro and a friend of Key's who had been captured in his home. Beanes was accused of aiding the arrest of British soldiers. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner while the two officers discussed war plans. At first, Ross and Cochrane refused to release Beanes, but relented after Key and Skinner showed them letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment.
Because Key and Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise and later back on HMS Minden. After the bombardment, certain British gunboats attempted to slip past the fort and effect a landing in a cove to the west of it, but they were turned away by fire from nearby Fort Covington, the city's last line of defense.
Key was moved by the sight of the large American flag that had continued to wave after a night of bombardment of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 and he set his observations in a poem.  The poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club in London. "The Anacreontic Song" (or "To Anacreon In Heaven), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. Set to Key's poem and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner", it would soon become a well-known American patriotic song. With a range of one and a half octaves, it is known for being difficult to sing. Although the poem has four Stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" was recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889, and by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931 (46 Stat. 1508, codified at 36 U.S.C. - 31), which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.  Before 1931, other songs served as the hymns of American officialdom. "Hail Columbia" served this purpose at official functions for most of the 19th century. "My Country, Tis of Thee", whose melody is identical to "God Save the Queen", the British national anthem, also served as a de facto anthem before the adoption of "The Star-Spangled Banner". Following the War of 1812 and subsequent American wars, other songs would emerge to compete for popularity at public events, among them "The Star-Spangled Banner". Today the song is played at every government function, sporting event.  The anthems difficult lyrics have been famously delivered by Whitney Houston and infamously delivered by Roseanne Barr.

This photo gives you a sense of scale of the infamous Star Spangled Banner.

Here is the original sheet music of the final anthem.

Here is the flag after the restoration of 1998!

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