Welcome to Baltimore - Birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner

The poster: largely navy blue serif text on a beige background, centered and justified, embellished by 4 decorative stars near the corners, laid out and reading thus:



		Major George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry, wanted a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.

		[A large image of the old, tattered flag.]
        The 1814 Ft. McHenry Flag Exhibited in the Smithsonian.

		IN SEPTEMBER 1814, THIS 30 BY 42 FOOT BATTLE FLAG, specially made by Mary Pickersgill, flew over Fort
McHenry, which defended the entrance to Baltimore's harbor, anticipating a British invasion. Beginning on the morning
of September 13, British ships attacked the fort, expecting to capture Baltimore. On the morning of September 14,
after a 25-hour bombardment with over 1500 shells and rockets, the British failed to break through and withdrew.
The American defenders again raised the great battle flag 'o'er the ramparts,' in triumph, to show that Baltimoreans
still held the Fort and their city. That morning, the sight of the banner inspired Francis Scott Key, who watched the
battle detained by the British on a ship in Baltimore harbor, to write the song that became our national anthem, and
made Baltimore the Star-Spangled Banner City.


		[Small text]
		Copyright 2012 Baltimore City Historical Society, Friends of Ft. McHenry, Supported by Baltimore National Heritage Area
        For further information www.friendsoffortmchenry.org and www.ournationalanthem.com ISBN 978-1-935311-15-9

Schools, teachers, and PTA, you can recieve a print-quality electronic file at no cost by emailing a request to jack@uptownpress.com

A new nation under attack in the War of 1812 made its stand in Baltimore. The people of Maryland came together in the city's defense, and as the battle subsided, one of them wrote the words that would become our national anthem. But it was the victory won by Baltimore's people that preserved the words in memory, gave their flag its identity as the Star-Spangled Banner, and made Baltimore the home of our national anthem.

The War of 1812, sometimes called America's "Second War of Independence," lasted from 1812 to 1814. Baltimore was the site of one of its most significant and dramatic engagements. The British attack on Baltimore came in the late summer of 1814, after a succession of land and sea battles that extended across Canada, the Great Lakes, the Eastern United States, and out into the Atlantic Ocean.

For Americans, one of the most humiliating episodes of the War occurred in August, 1814, when British troops routed American militiamen at the Battle of Bladensburg, then occupied Washington and set fire to a variety of public buildings, forcing President Madison and his government to flee the capital.

Baltimore was the next British objective. The city was the home port to more privateers than any other American city. Its ships had captured or sunk more than 500 British vessels; the British referred to it as a "nest of pirates." Baltimore's defenders were commanded by Major General Samuel Smith, who was also a U.S. Senator. During the months before the British invasion, Smith oversaw the reconstruction of the outworn and ruined artillery batteries at Fort McHenry, which guarded the entrance to the town's harbor. He mobilized hundreds of civilians, both black and white, to dig trenches and gun emplacements on Hampstead Hill in today's Patterson Park to defend the city. He also mobilized more than fifteen thousand militiamen, sailors, and armed civilians would occupy the fortifications, which would protect Baltimore against a British land invasion from the East.

On September 12, more than 4000 British troops landed at North Point, about 15 miles east of Baltimore and began to march toward the city. Their advance was slowed by a brigade of Baltimore militiamen, sent to delay the British on their march. The Baltimoreans inflicted significant casualties on the invading troops and killed the British commanding general, Robert Ross.

Early the next morning, September 13, the British fleet began its bombardment of Fort McHenry, which continued for more than 25 hours. A Maryland attorney, Francis Scott Key, observed the shelling of the Fort from a small boat tethered to a British warship, where he was detained while negotiating the release of an American physician who had been taken prisoner by the British. In the meantime, the British troops advancing on Baltimore from North Point confronted the 15,000 Americans in their fortifications on Hampstead Hill and came to a halt. Had Fort McHenry fallen, British ships would have been able to enter the harbor, and their guns might have supported the attack at Hampstead Hill. Without supporting fire from their navy and greatly outnumbered, the British troops turned around and marched back to their ships.

At first light on the morning of September 14, as the bombardment subsided, Key saw the 30 by 42 foot, 15 star banner waving triumphantly over the Fort, and he knew that his countrymen had held their ground. The sight inspired him to write a new song set to a popular tune of the time, and The Star Spangled Banner was born!

Key's song was published within days, and weeks later was being sung up and down the coast, in celebration and relief, as the anthem of Baltimore's great victory. It was thereafter a popular patriotic song, and in 1931 Congress declared it the National Anthem. The flag that inspired Key to write it is now displayed at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Its story is well told in the Visitors' Center at Baltimore's Fort McHenry.

Less widely known is the story of the Star Spangled Banner's designation as the country's national anthem 117 years after Francis Scott Key wrote its words. The song seems to have enjoyed a special status even before it became the official anthem. After the turn of twentieth century, for example, it became increasingly customary for Americans to stand when the song was played. And it became a standard melody in the repertoires of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps bands. A Navy regulation instructed its servicemen to salute the flag during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. In 1903 the Army's general staff considered making the song the national anthem, but decided that only Congress had the authority to do so.

The campaign to convince Congress that the Star-Spangled Banner should be the national anthem gained momentum during the centennial celebration of the War of 1812. Baltimore Congressman Charles Linthicum spoke up on behalf of Key's song, but the original resolution to make it the national anthem was introduced in 1912 by a congressman from Illinois – the first of 35 such proposals. The Star-Spangled Banner became the theme-song during Baltimore's centennial celebration of its defense against British attack. Mayor James Preston organized the Star-Spangled Banner Association of the United States, and traveled to 21 cities in the South and Midwest between 1914 and 1919 to promote Key's creation as the national anthem. A year before the United States entered World War I, President Wilson issued an executive order designating the Star-Spangled Banner as the national anthem, but only within the armed forces.

Congressman Linthicum, assisted by Ella Holloway, a Baltimore activist in patriotic organizations, labored on in the cause of the Star-Spangled Banner, but had to overcome a variety of criticisms – that the song was too warlike, or implicitly anti-British, or the prohibitionist complaint that its tune had been borrowed from a drinking song. Their effort succeeded only when it converged with a massive petition drive overseen by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In 1930, Congressman Linthicum once again introduced his Star-Spangled Banner bill, which was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. As soon as the Committee Chair called the meeting to order the U.S. Navy Band filed into the chamber to accompany two sopranos in their rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. After the applause faded, a contingent from the VFW hauled in crates full of petitions containing the names of five million citizens who endorsed the song's elevation to anthem status. Linthicum's bill won the unanimous support of the Committee and was passed by the House without a dissenting vote. Delays in the Senate postponed its passage until 1931, when President Hoover signed it.

Not all citizens appreciate the history of the National Anthem. The picture of the Star-Spangled Banner on this website is designed to serve as a poster to tell the story of the National Anthem simply and graphically. We hope that this poster will be permanently displayed in every school. Prints of this copyright protected poster can be ordered by emailing a request to jack@uptownpress.com. If you are interested in multiple copies you may order them from Uptown Press at the prices listed below. All profits are dedicated to the Friends of Fort McHenry, the Baltimore City Historical Society, and the Baltimore National Heritage Area.

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