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|The Star-Spangled Banner
the national anthem of the United States
The Star-Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, of Georgetown, Maryland, during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland, September 13-14, 1814 (during the War of 1812). When a friend, Dr. Beanes, a physician, was taken aboard Admiral Cockburn's British squadron for interfering with ground troops, Key and J.S. Skinner, carrying a note from President James Madison, went to the fleet under a flag of truce on a cartel ship to ask for Beanes's release. Cockburn consented, but as the fleet was about to sail up the Patapsco to bombard Fort McHenry, he detained them, first on HMS Surprise and then on a supply ship.
Key witnessed the bombardment from his own vessel. It began at 7 a.m., September 13, 1814, and lasted, with intermissions, for 25 hours. The British fired more than 1,500 shells, each weighing as much as 220 pounds. They were unable to approach closely, however, because the U.S. had sunk 22 vessels. Only 4 Americans were killed and 24 wounded. A British bomb-ship was disabled.
Inspired by the sight of the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry the next morning, Key wrote a verse on the back of an envelope. The next day, while staying at the Indian Queen Inn in Baltimore, he added three more verses and gave the poem to his brother-in-law, Judge J. H. Nicholson. Nicholson suggested setting the poem to the tune of a well-known drinking song, To Anacreon in Heaven, and had the poem printed on broadsides.
The first printed edition combining words and music was published by Thomas Carr, Baltimore, on September 20, 1814.
By the Civil War The Star-Spangled Banner had become one of the most popular patriotic songs of the United States, as well as the official song of the U.S. military, but it took a rather embarassing newspaper column to turn it into the national anthem. On November 3, 1929, Robert L. Ripley ran a panel in his syndicated cartoon stating that "Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem." Americans were shocked and wrote five million letters to Congress demanding Congress proclaim a national anthem. Congress listened, and The Star-Spangled Banner was designated the national anthem of the United States by Act of Congress on March 3, 1931.
[Key only made five copies of his poem, one of which is now owned by the Library of Congress. Only ten copies of the original printed sheet music are known to exist; fortunately the Library of Congress owns one of them.]
The Lyrics of The Star-Spangled Banner
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to the Civil War, 1775/1783-1861
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This page was last updated on June 18, 2017.