by NW Spotlight
Today is the 238th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776 – “which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. Instead they formed a new nation—the United States of America.”
200th anniversary of our national anthem lyrics
2014 is also the 200th anniversary of the lyrics of our national anthem. In September 1814 Francis Scott Key, a well-known lawyer and Maryland native, was negotiating the release of a prominent physician who had been captured by the British during the War of 1812. During the negotiations, Key was held on a small ship behind the British fleet – prior to a planned British attack on Baltimore – which began with the bombardment of Ft. McHenry.
Key wrote a poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” when he saw the American flag was still flying over Ft. McHenry after 25 hours of unsuccessful British naval bombardment – which meant that the fort had not surrendered. The British had captured and burned parts of nearby Washington D.C. several weeks earlier, but because Ft. McHenry held, the American defense of Baltimore held and the British were stopped.
“Defence of Fort McHenry” was set to music and renamed “The Star Spangled Banner” in early November 1814, which went on to become our national anthem in 1931.
The U.S. commander at Fort McHenry reported 1,500 to 1,800 shells were fired by the British during the bombardment, and 4 Americans were killed and 24 were wounded.
The defenders of Ft. McHenry became instant heroes, and the National Park Service notes the “‘Old Defenders’ proudly marched in anniversary parades for the rest of their lives. September 12 is still ‘Defenders’ Day,’ a public holiday in [Baltimore].”
The successful defense of Baltimore and the simultaneous American naval victory at Lake Champlain in the north erased the shame of the burning of Washington and helped restart stalled peace negotiations. On December 24, 1814, American and British representatives signed the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812.
The National Park Service further notes “Gen. Andrew Jackson had not heard about the treaty when he defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815. This splendid victory convinced most Americans that the United States had won the war. This new country had defeated the greatest military power in the world, even though it only had a tiny, badly equipped army and navy and some poorly trained volunteers.”
Footnote: The commander of Ft. McHenry was George Armistead. His nephew, Lewis “Lo” Armistead, was a Confederate General in the Civil War who died after Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863). He was shot three times while leading his brigade from the front towards the center of the Union line. Lewis Armistead was buried next to his uncle at the Old Saint Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.