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From Fighting to Singing, What a Wonderful World

America's got BIG cannons!
Have you ever sung a 186-year-old song? Sure you have. Oh, you don't believe me? Well, listen to this: the time was 1814, the place was the open seas of the Atlantic Ocean, and if you were American, you would be embroiled in a battle that was not even your own. England and France locked horns in a fight known as the War of 1812. This was a huge sea battle, complete with smoking cannons hanging out from the hulls of seemingly invincible ships. So, what did America have to do with England and France's battle to see who had the biggest muscles?

England decided to switch gears and "force" otherwise neutral parties to choose a side, theirs or France. To prevent supplies from reaching the French, Britain detained American Ships and imposed fees on its ships. America, the new kid on the block that she was, did not take kindly to being bullied by the British. America had seen that too many times and already knew the outcome. Consequently, a group in Congress later known as the War Hawks finally had their fill of the British trying to make examples of them, and so began America's fight.

Gen. Armisted lead battle of Ft. McHenry
In early September 1814 the British landed in the port of Baltimore, MD and marched all the way to Washington D.C. In Washington D.C. they overran the city and succeeded in burning down several government buildings. They even burned down President Madison's House! Due to this destruction Madison called upon the powers of Article I Section 8 of the US Constitution. This section gave the president the power for "calling for the militia to repel invasions". Many free white men of able body and mind were suddenly called upon to defend America once again from the likes of the Brits. From D.C. the British troops marched back to the port of Baltimore to return to their ships. Instead of firing up their oars and returning whence they came, they fired up their cannons and opened
The Harbor of Baltimore
fire on Fort McHenry, a part of the seaport built for protection from such attacks. On September 13th and 14th the British began a sea campaign to overtake the Harbor of Baltimore. U.S. General Armistead was currently the chief over this battle, and now was the time to make his mark in history. From the dry moat in front of Ft. McHenry (used for surprise attack, and a barrier to reaching the fort) to the underground bomb cellars, men armed to the teeth went to battle.

Grammy winner: Most patriotic song
The men of Fort McHenry defended this gateway to the seat of democracy that had already been toppled physically - Washington D.C. Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer, had been sent to negotiate with the British for some political prisoners they had taken. Yet his negotiation skills would not be for what he is most famous and remembered. He happened to be on a British vessel when the fighting broke out, and sat on board for the duration of the 25-hour battle. At the end of it, he saw that thirty-foot flag flying over the fort and penned the lyrics to a song that has surely floated over your tongue in the past. Who would have thought this little battle over a fort on some cold September morning, witnessed by a young but well-known lawyer sent for prisoner negotiations would produce a national anthem. Am I ringing any bells yet?

The Star Spangled Banner
The Star-Spangled Banner is the 186-year-old song that I was talking about before. "Oh say! Can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?" Now you can go back to the lyrics of this song and get a first hand account of the scene at Fort McHenry. "And the rocket's 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?"


Please email me at: kevin1@ustrek.org


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