(This is kind of a rerun, but I like this story.)
September 14th is an important American anniversary.
On the morning of September 3, 1814, a young lawyer from Georgetown, PA and his friend, Colonel Skinner found themselves sailing seaward towards an enemy ship which held Prisoners of War. In the lawyer’s briefcase were a number of letters he hoped to use to retain the release of one of those prisoners, Dr. William Beanes, who had been arrested and taken captive in the previous weeks. The British army intended to try and hang the doctor for treason. The trial and execution would have to wait, however, until after they had successfully invaded Baltimore by land and Ft. McHenry by sea. The letters the lawyer was bearing were from enemy Prisoners of War who had been injured in the fighting and subsequently treated by Upper Marlboro’s beloved physician. Their letters testified to the humane treatment they had received at his hands and expressed their hopes that he would be released. It took the two men until September 10th to locate the ship on which Dr. Beanes was being held and the rest of the day to negotiate his release with the British officers. It was near sunset by the time the British agreed to let Dr. Beanes go. The three men were not allowed to leave, however, because it was feared they had seen and heard too much regarding the impending attacks on Baltimore and Ft. McHenry. They were placed on the sailboat, under guard and forced to wait out the attack and watch the battle that would surely spell doom not only for Baltimore and Ft. McHenry, but endangered the new United States as well.
The bombardment began on the morning of September 13 and would continue for 25 hours. Approximately 1500 bombshells weighing 220 pounds each were lit and launched toward the city. However, some of the fuses were too short and the shells would explode in mid air long before they reached the target. In addition to the bombshells, the British fired their newest weapons; Congreve rockets, which traced arcs of red flame across the sky. The attack was halted at sunset, but began again around 1 AM on September 14.
The three friends waited anxiously, watching the flames and the explosions. A few hours later, the ships in the sea around them fell silent. Our lawyer, Colonel Skinner and Dr. Beanes waited anxiously for the sun to rise so they could determine why the firing had stopped. From their vantage point they would have a clear view of Ft. McHenry and would be able to see whose flag was flying over it.
When the sun finally broke the horizon, the three rejoiced to see that the Stars and Stripes still flew. Having lost 22 vessels, the British were retreating. It was then that our lawyer, Francis Scott Key, took up his pen and wrote:
“Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
I believe it still does. Do you?
Additional info: The flag which flew over Ft. McHenry was commissioned by its commander, Major George Armistead in 1813. He wanted a flag “so big the British would have no trouble seeing it from a distance.” A local flagmaker, Mary Young Pickersgill and her 13 year old daughter Caroline made the flag using 400 yards of fabric. The finished banner measured 30 by 42 feet. Each of the 15 stars measured two feet from point to point. It cost $405.90.