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The Star-Spangled Banner was written in Baltimore by Francis Scott Key after witnessing the unforgettable Anglo-American War in 1812.
The Star-Spangled Banner is a poem written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key that is now the national anthem of the United States of America.
A 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Key wrote it after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, by British Royal Navy ships entering the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812.
The text pays tribute to the heroic resistance of those who defended the fort and were able to fly the American flag atop it despite the enemy’s relentless efforts to plant theirs there.
Performed to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven, an English folk song, this poem has become well known as an American patriotic song. It was recognized for official use by the U.S. Navy in 1889 and by the White House in 1916, and was adopted as the national anthem by a Congressional resolution dated March 3, 1931.
The song consists of four stanzas, but usually only the first stanza and the first chorus are sung today.
In 1969, at the Woodstock Festival, Jimi Hendrix played a historic version of The Star-Spangled Banner in solo, all in distortion, evoking bomb drops (we are in the middle of the Vietnam War, denounced by the “counter-culture” movement of which Woodstock was one of the highlights).
In 2006, in order to help Latin American immigrants in the United States, Wyclef Jean recorded Nuestro Himno, a version in Spanish, with many artists.
About the war – where The Star Spangled Banner was written
Beginning at 6:00 a.m. on September 13, 1814, British warships under the command of Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane bombarded Fort McHenry continuously for 25 hours. The American defenders had 18, 24 and 32 pound (8, 11 and 16 kg) guns.
The British guns had a range of 2 miles (3 km) and the British rockets had a range of 1.75 miles (2.8 km), but neither the guns nor the rockets were accurate.
The British ships were unable to get past Fort McHenry and into Baltimore Harbor because of its defenses, including a chain of 22 sunken ships and American guns.
The British ships were only able to fire their rockets and mortars at the fort at maximum weapons range. The poor accuracy on both sides caused very little damage on either side before the British, having exhausted their ammunition, ceased their attack on the morning of September 14.
Thus the naval part of the British invasion of Baltimore had been repulsed. Only one British warship, a bomber, received a direct hit from the fort’s return fire, which wounded one crew member.
The Americans, under the command of Major George Armistead , lost four people. – including a black soldier, Private William Williams , and a woman who was cut in half by a bomb while carrying supplies to the troops – and 24 wounded.
At one point during the bombardment, a bomb crashed through the fort’s powder magazine. However, it is said either the rain extinguished the fuse or the bomb was a failed flag.
Note that Fort McHenry was built on the site of the former Fort Whetstone, which had defended Baltimore from 1776 to 1797.
Fort Whetstone was located on the Whetstone Point Peninsula (present-day Locust Point residential and industrial area), which juts into the opening of Baltimore Harbor between the Basin (present-day Inner Harbor) and the Northwest Branch on the north side and the Middle and Ferry (now South) Branch of the Patapsco River on the south side.
The fort was designed by the Frenchman Jean Foncin in 1798, and was built between 1798 and 1800. The new fort was intended to improve the Port of Baltimore’s increasingly important defenses against future enemy attacks.
The new fort was a bastioned pentagon, surrounded by a dry ditch – a wide, deep trench. The ditch would serve as a shelter from which the infantry could defend the fort from a ground attack. In the event of such an attack on this first line of defense, each point, or bastion, could provide a crossfire of cannon and small arms.
Fort McHenry was named for America’s first statesman James McHenry (1753-1816), a Scots-Irish immigrant and soldier-surgeon.
He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from Maryland and a signer of the United States Constitution. He was later appointed U.S. Secretary of War (1796-1800), serving under Presidents George Washington and John Adams