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The Star-Spangled Banner

Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2012, at 11:05 AM

The story of how our National Anthem came to be is often told at events and churches around patriotic holidays and rightly so. The poem penned by Francis Scott Key, "Defense of Fort McHenry," from which the National Anthem is derived is quite eloquent and stirring. When placed within the melody of the 18th century English drinking song "The Anacreontic Song," better known as "To Anacreon in Heaven," it becomes absolutely goose bump inspiring.

The telling of the story over the last several years has become enhanced. The tale now told is more dramatic, exhilarating, heartwarming, and patriotic. The elements of danger are vastly greater, the villainy of the British more ghastly, the odds more insurmountable, the results more gut-wrenching and pride filling.

As heard on the radio station out of Marble Hill, from pulpits, and speeches, Fort McHenry in Baltimore was in poor condition. Some of the women and children of the area had gone to the fort to seek safety. Francis Scott Key, onboard a British ship, was securing the release of prisoners from the British. After successfully negotiating a release for prisoners he was informed that they would be held on board until after the bombardment of Fort McHenry. Key then looked and saw hundreds of ships on the horizon and was told by a British admiral that it was the entire British war fleet. They were all to participate in the bombardment. Key then proclaimed that the fort was predominately not a military fort and that women and children were there seeking shelter. The admiral told Key that all they had to do was lower the flag over the fort to avoid the attack.

After twenty-five hours of bombardment Key saw that the flag was still flying. The flag pole was at an odd angle, but the flag was still flying. Having gone ashore, Key hurried to the fort. There he saw the bodies of dead patriots surrounding the flag pole and holding it up. No number of dead is given, but these bodies were holding up a ninety foot flagpole with a 40 foot by 32 foot flag at the top. The number of dead had to be enormous.

The story reveals many more fascinating details and makes for an absolutely wonderful crescendo to any patriotic holiday. This incredibly spectacular moment in American history could only be more resounding if it were . . . well, true. The smallest of efforts by anyone would reveal that the bulk of this story is pure fiction.

Francis Scott Key was on a British ship to secure the release of prisoners, Fort McHenry was bombarded, and the flag of the United States was still flying when morning came. In the light of the facts, the rest of the story fizzles out.

Beginning with the fort itself, it was very much a military fort with over 1,000 infantry troops assigned to it. Expecting the fort to be attacked, George Armistead, the fort commander, had ordered and completed defensive improvements. In 1812 the British Navy consisted of over 600 ships with more under construction. The highest number reported to be at Fort McHenry was nineteen, this was just over three percent of the fleet. As for the scores of American patriots whose bodies were holding the flag pole, well the actual number of casualties was four dead, twenty-four wounded.

Truth, apparently, is sacrificial when an agenda is pursued and its relevance is a variable when a supposed greater good is being sought. Undoubtedly, this corrupted history was written and has been retold to create a respect and reverence for the men and women who nurtured this nation in its infancy. The knowledge of moments of self-sacrificial glory enhance our fundamental instincts to protect and defend. It also instills pride to the depths of our souls and to the marrow of our bones.

Respect and reverence. At what cost? Truth! By perpetuating this mythology we decay the benchmark of truth and denigrate it's accuracy and relevance.

Pride and glory. At what cost? There were over 1500 rounds of rockets and cannonballs fired at a fort less than two acres in size and yet there were only four deaths. Who deserves the glory for that? We should seriously consider the value of robbing the Almighty of His glory by creating a mythology that gives the praise and glory to man.

Corruption never fails to diminish truth.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Hey Mike, check my latest statement on my earlier blog entry on Repealing the 17th Amendment. I think you'll like it!

-- Posted by swift on Mon, Oct 1, 2012, at 3:49 PM

This is the first time I have heard it explained this way. Way back when ... when I was in elementary school and learning about our country, the story just told about the battle all night long and at dawn the next morning, Francis Scott Key saw the flag still flying - so he wrote the words to our National Anthem. Interesting.

-- Posted by redgrandma60 on Tue, Oct 2, 2012, at 9:15 PM

Welcome aboard Mike, looking forward to more interesting items. History should be truthfully remembered, our country has enough half truths floating around, what is true, false or just fairy tales.

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Wed, Oct 10, 2012, at 6:03 AM

Good job, Mike. There's always room for truth!

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Oct 10, 2012, at 8:14 AM

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Facts, Myths, and American History
Mike Shirrell
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I have been happily married to Amy for twelve years and am the proud father of Elizabeth and Noah. I majored in history and minored in political science at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, KS, home of the 2011 NCAA Division II Football National Champion Pittsburg State Gorillas. I was privileged to be selected to teach at Pittsburg State while in graduate school and completed my Master of Arts in History in 2010 with Graduate Deans Academic Honors.
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