The Star-Spangled Banner
By Eva March Tappan
In 1814, while the War of 1812 was still going
on, the people of Maryland were in great trouble,
for a British fleet began to attack Baltimore. The
enemy bombarded the forts, including Fort McHenry.
For twenty-four hours the terrific bombardment went on.
"If Fort McHenry only stands,
the city is safe,"
said Francis Scott Key to a friend, and they gazed
anxiously through the smoke to see if the flag was
These two men were in the strangest place that
could be imagined. They were in a little American
vessel fast moored to the side of the British
admiral's flagship. A Maryland doctor had been
seized as a prisoner by the British, and the
President had given permission for them to go out under
a flag of truce, to ask for his release. The British
commander finally decided that the prisoner might
be set free - but he had no idea of allowing the two
men to go back to the city and carry any
information. "Until the attack on Baltimore is ended,
you and your boat must remain here," he said.
The firing went on. As long as daylight
lasted they could catch glimpses of the Stars and Stripes
whenever the wind swayed the clouds of smoke.
When night came they could still see the banner
now and then by the blaze of the cannon. A little
after midnight the firing stopped. The two men
paced up and down the deck, straining their eyes
to see if the flag was still flying. "Can the fort
have surrendered?" they questioned. "Oh, if
morning would only come!"
At last the faint gray of dawn appeared. They
could see that some flag was flying, but it was too
dark to tell which. More and more eagerly they
gazed. It grew lighter, a sudden breath of wind
caught the flag, and it floated out on the breeze.
It was no English flag, it was their own Stars and
Stripes. The fort had stood, the city was safe.
Then it was that Key took from his pocket an old
letter and on the back of it he wrote the poem,
"The Star-Spangled Banner."
The British departed, and the little American
boat went back to the city. Mr. Key gave a copy
of the poem to his uncle, who had been helping to
defend the fort. The uncle sent it to the printer,
and had it struck off on some handbills. Before
the ink was dry the printer caught up one and
hurried away to a restaurant, where many patriots
were assembled. Waving the paper, he
cried, "Listen to this!" and he read:
"O say, can you see,
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
O'er the ramparts we watch'd
were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare,
the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night
that our flag was still there.
O say, does the star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
"Sing it! sing it!" cried
the whole company.
Charles Durang mounted a chair and then for the
first time "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung.
The tune was "To Anacreon in Heaven," an air
which had long been a favorite. Halls, theaters,
and private houses rang with its strains.
The fleet was out of sight even before
the poem was printed. In the middle of the night the admiral
had sent to the British soldiers this message,
"I can do nothing more," and they hurried on
board the vessels. It was not long before they left
Chesapeake Bay altogether - perhaps with the
new song ringing in their ears as they went.
Star Spangled Banner - 15 Star Flag Coloring Page