The Forging of an Anthem

For the past two weeks we have had the privilege to witness the “best of the best” of sport competitors on the Olympic world stage.

Medals have been awarded, podiums taken, flags raised, and national anthems have been played from various countries.  As I have listened to the anthems of each country, I couldn’t help but wonder what story laid behind its tune.  Was it composed for melodic beauty?  Was it composed to express the hardiness of its people, it’s lineage or majesty of its landscape.  As I pondered these thoughts, I dwelt upon my country’s national anthem and how the making of it came to be.  Perhaps that is why when I hear it I am emotionally moved.  

In taking this step back to reflect, I felt compelled to reacquaint myself with the event that brought about my nations anthem and I thought that I would write, hopefully in a refreshing way, what I discovered. May you enjoy The Forging of an Anthem.

quill-penIn the year of our Lord 1814 I dare describe the excitement in which I hold this quill.  To realize that the outcome of the past 25 hours have yielded such glorious results has caused my hand to shake and my heart to fill with elation.

I fear if I do not purpose to capture the sight that welcomed the light of day, then the world may forever lose a sliver of glory that graced the morning sky.  For glory it truly was.

So I fight the sleep that my body desperately yearns for and I take to ink and quill in hope to scrawl a tribute to the triumph and valor of this day. With this goal set before me, I must begin at the onset of this most trying and challenging of journeys.

Upon enlistment by the good people in the township of Upper Marlboro, I along with Col. Skinner, a prisoner exchange agent, set foot to lend aid in the release of the prominent citizen Dr. Beanes.  He had been arrested upon false charges and was being held captive on a British ship anchored in the harbor off the banks of Baltimore.   It had been arranged that we were to be received by his captors and plead our case for the good doctor’s release.  If we were to fail, the outcome for Dr. Beanes was execution, making our mission of utmost importance.

Our arrival was met as expected and we were invited to dine aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant.   The proper proprieties were observed throughout the course of dinner but upon its conclusion Col. Skinner and I began to plead our case in the vindication of Dr. Beanes. After several hours of candid and firm discourse our British host finally relented, granted our request, and the orders to release prisoner Beanes was made.

As we waited for the doctor to be brought up deck, Col. Skinner and I could not help but overhear the plans that the British were preparing.  War was in the air, and to our dismay it appeared that it was to commence within a few short hours.  The colonel and I exchanged glances and I instantly read in his eyes that it was prudent for our departure to commence as quickly as possible.

As the cabin door opened, two guards escorted Dr. Beanes into the room.  Pleasantries were exchanged and the good doctor look well considering his ordeal.  Col. Skinner began the standard cordialities that one makes in parting company but he was interrupted by Vice Admiral Cochrane who very politely expressed his apologies by stating that due to extenuating circumstances he had no choice but to detain us for a little while longer.  We were then escorted to our vessel, placed under guard, and were soon found to be in tow behind the British fleet.

I can not describe the depth of despair that flooded my soul at that moment.  There we sat rendered helpless as we were being led to witness a massive attack on the city of Baltimore. Sixteen British warships silently creeping their way towards the harbor, its city, and the fort bound to protect it.  And there was nothing we could do to intercede or send warning.

Now I am a praying man and I declare to you that I prayed most earnestly throughout the dark hours of night.  Sleep was not a commodity for each lapping wave signaled that doom was ever approaching.  I must confess it was a most trying of time.

Just as dawn began to break I could see military genius unfold as the British warships completed a semicircle formation around the fort.  I could hear the letting down of anchors, the bustling of sailors taking to their stations, and the clanging of iron and metal as canons were positioned and armed to be fired.  Then there was silence and all that could be heard was the creaking of wood as the ship rocked upon the water.  My spirit sank for the reality was heart wrenching.  The HMS Tonnant alone bore 80 guns and she shared the waters with fifteen sisters by her side.

The odds were dismal.  The fort was out gunned and I sank to despair with the thoughts of defeat and the many lives that would be lost on this day.  As my hopes fell so my eyes followed until something off in the distance caught my attention. I lifted my eyes and fixed my gaze upon it and there stationed high above the fort flashed the colors of my country’s flag.  Colors forged by blood and sacrifice.  I couldn’t help but focus on the red stripe as it waved in the breeze.  Red…and on this day it would symbolically deepen for once again American blood would spill in the attempt to give the flag continued life.

I was startled from my thoughts as a booming sound split the air signaling that the first volley of bombardment had commenced. Bombs exploding in painful thunder rumbled across the sky.  The fort answered with a counterattack and so began an exchanged of bursting bombs and glaring rockets that lasted for 25 staggering hours.

The pounding seemed endless and my ears rang and ached from the concussions.  The water churned and was most unsteady causing our vessel to pitch at a constant rate.  The sounds of war filled my ears as I could hear the cries of the wounded rise from the ships nearby and I wondered how much more were the cries from my countrymen.

Night came but no relief accompanied it.  Round after round continued its pounding.  Rockets launched from the decks of the surrounding ships caused an eerie red glow to illuminated the night’s sky.  And the smell of the choking smoke heavily permeated the air.

In the early hours of the day, when the moon still shines and darkness continues to fill the sky, the sound of war began to dwindle and finally ceased.  Silence filled the air and all that was left was the ringing in my ears.  The attack was over, now the hard hours of waiting had begun.

In that darkness I had but one thought, “Does the flag of freedom still stand or did she fall under the constant bombardment of attack? Did the heartbeat, the American resolve, continued to supply her life or was it drained and relinquished?  These were the pressing questions that plagued my mind.  The sun could not rise early enough and I fought the cursing of it.

Long hours passed and finally the light of day began to reach across the water.  I cried out to Dr. Beanes and Col. Skinner as I bounded towards the ships railing.  They soon joined me and together we strained our eyes towards the jut of land that the fort inhabited.   It was difficult to see, for the light had not yet reached the land.

As we silently scoured for the object of hope, I became aware of how unsettling stillness can be.

“I see the walls of the fort,” whispered the good doctor.  “But I can not see her flag.  Perhaps we hope in vain.”

“Perhaps so,” answered Col. Skinner reluctantly.  “It was a long and heavy attack.  So out numbered, so out gunned.”

But as the two spoke a heavy breeze began to stir over the water and I was not as compelled to relinquish my hope.  I knew the heart of this great nation and of the men that forged it.  We are a brave stock and the free man’s spirit is not easily broken.

The breeze had now reached the shore and the leaves on the trees responded.  Then I spotted movement.  I blinked and my heart leaped with great joy and overwhelming pride.  “There gentlemen is your reply.  The colors fly!  Though tattered she has prevailed!  She waves us home.. and proclaims that freedom reigns!”

Now, as I sit by candled light, quill in hand.  I conclude this account with one last attempt to record the glory of the day.   The glory that I pray will forever be of great valued in the heart of all of my countrymen now and forevermore.  That the colors in our flag will be remembered to be more then dyes of red, white and blue.  But of bravery, sacrifice, and freedom.   It is a precious flag, bought and secured with blood.  Protect her well.  ~ Your servant,  Francis Scott Key

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 thru 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?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

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4 thoughts on “The Forging of an Anthem

  1. Quick facts about Francis Scott Key
    1. He was a respected and successful attorney.
    2. He was a father of eleven and husband to one.
    3. He was an excellent horseman and a man of prominence.
    4. He was a composer, a singer and poet.
    5. He was deeply religious and an active member in his church.
    6. He was a patriot, a soldier, a negotiator, and a General’s aide.
    7. He was loyal, honest and brave.
    8. He had a great sense of humor.
    9. He was a standing member of the American Bible Society.
    10. His original title to the Star Spangled Banner was, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”
    11. He served as U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C. from 1833-1841, practiced law in the federal courts, and argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
    12. Key died at the age of 66 on January 11,1843 from pleurisy at the home of his daughter, which is now the Mount Vernon Methodist Church in Baltimore MD. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, Maryland.

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