O Say Can You See

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The lengthy title of John Bower’s famous print [below] depicting the 1814 British bombardment at Fort McHenry both describes the scene portrayed and provides a tidy summary of the sustained barrage:

“A view of the bombardment of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, by the British fleet, taken from the observatory under the command of Admirals Cochrane & Cockburn on the morning of the 13th of Sepr. 1814 which lasted 24 hours, & thrown from 1500 to 1800 shells in the night attempted to land by forcing a passage up the ferry branch but were repulsed with great loss.”

A view of the bombardment of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, by the British fleet, taken from the observatory under the command of Admirals Cochrane & Cockburn on the morning of the 13th of Sepr. 1814 which lasted 24 hours, & thrown from 1500 to 1800 shells in the night attempted to land by forcing a passage up the ferry branch but were repulsed with great loss / J. Bower, sc. Phila.

A View of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, by the British fleet . . . Print by John Bower, circa 1819. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.35544

Francis Scott Key standing on boat, with right arm stretched out toward the United States flag flying over Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland.

The Star Spangled Banner. Print by Percy Moran, copyright 1913. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g06200

Two hundred years ago, Francis Scott Key was  onboard a ship some distance removed from the prolonged British salvo. After sighting the American flag flying over the fort on the dawn of the 14th, he was inspired to pen his famous lines, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The pairing of Key’s poem’s first stanza with a melody borrowed from a popular (in an ironic twist) English tune has, over time, been adopted as the United States national anthem.

If you find yourself filled with patriotic fervor and moved to sing, please go ahead. Who knows, if you are in a public space, others nearby may join in.

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