Welcome to Baltimore - Birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner

The poster: largely navy blue serif text on a beige background, centered and justified, embellished by 2 decorative stars, laid out and reading thus:

        The Official Slogan of Baltimore City Adopted January 12, 2015

		[A large image of the flag, unfurled in the breeze.]

		Major George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry, wanted a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.

        IN SEPTEMBER 1814, THIS 30 BY 42 FOOT BATTLE FLAG, specially made by Mary Pickersgill, flew over Fort
McHenry, which defended the entrance to Baltimore's harbor, anticipating a British invasion. Beginning on the morning
of September 13, British ships attacked the fort, expecting to capture Baltimore. On the morning of September 14,
after a 25-hour bombardment with over 1500 shells and rockets, the British failed to break through and withdrew.
The American defenders again raised the great battle flag 'o'er the ramparts,' in triumph, to show that Baltimoreans
still held the Fort and their city. That morning, the sight of the banner inspired Francis Scott Key, who watched the
battle detained by the British on a ship in Baltimore harbor, to write the song that became our national anthem, and
made Baltimore the Star-Spangled Banner City.

		[Large image of Fort McHenry in Baltimore today, with Star Spangled Banner unfurled over historical cannons.]

		[Small white text in a blue bar at the bottom of the poster:]
		For further information and www.ournationalanthem.com and www.friendsoffortmchenry.org ISBN 978-1-935311-15-9
        Copyright 2012 Baltimore City Historical Society, Friends of Ft. McHenry, Supported by Baltimore National Heritage Area

Schools, teachers, and PTA, you can recieve a print-quality electronic file at no cost by emailing a request to jack@uptownpress.com

The War of 1812, sometimes called America's "Second War of Independence," lasted from 1812 to 1814. Baltimore was the site of one of its most significant and dramatic engagements. The British attack on Baltimore came in the late summer of 1814, after a succession of land and sea battles that extended across Eastern Canada, the Great Lakes, the Eastern United States, the Chesapeake Bay, and out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The new nation under attack in the War of 1812 made its stand in Baltimore. The people of Maryland came together in the city's defense, beating back the British fleet at Fort McHenry. After the battle, Francis Scott Key who had observed the battle wrote the verses that would become our national anthem. It was the victory won by Baltimore's people that inspired and preserved the words in memory, gave their flag its identity as the Star-Spangled Banner, and made Baltimore the birthplace and home of our national anthem.

For Americans, one of the most humiliating episodes of the War occurred in August, 1814, when British troops routed American militiamen at the Battle of Bladensburg, then occupied Washington and set fire to a variety of public buildings, forcing President Madison and his government to flee the capital.

Baltimore was the next British objective. The city was the home port to more privateers than any other American city. Its ships had captured or sunk more than 500 British vessels; the British referred to it as a "nest of pirates." Baltimore's defenders were commanded by Major General Samuel Smith, who was also a U.S. Senator. During the months before the British invasion, Smith oversaw the reconstruction of the outworn artillery batteries at Fort McHenry, which guarded the entrance to the town's harbor. He mobilized hundreds of civilians, both black and white, to dig trenches and gun emplacements on Hampstead Hill in today's Patterson Park to defend the city. He also mobilized more than fifteen thousand militiamen, sailors, and armed civilians to occupy the fortifications, which would protect Baltimore against a British land invasion from the East.

On September 12, 1814 more than 4000 British troops landed at North Point, about 15 miles east of Baltimore and began to march toward the city. Their advance was slowed by a brigade of Baltimore militiamen, sent to delay the British on their march. The Baltimoreans inflicted significant casualties on the invading troops and killed the British commanding general, Robert Ross.

Early the next morning, September 13, the British fleet began its bombardment of Fort McHenry, which continued for more than 25 hours. A Maryland attorney, Francis Scott Key, observed the shelling of the Fort from a small boat tethered to a British warship, where he was detained while negotiating the release of an American physician who had been taken prisoner by the British. In the meantime, the British troops advancing on Baltimore from North Point confronted the 15,000 Americans in their fortifications on Hampstead Hill and came to a halt. Had Fort McHenry fallen, British ships would have been able to enter the harbor, and their guns might have supported the attack at Hampstead Hill. Without supporting fire from their navy, and greatly outnumbered, the British troops turned around and marched back to their ships.

At first light on the morning of September 14, as the bombardment subsided, Key saw the 30 by 42 foot, 15 star banner waving triumphantly over the Fort, and he knew that his countrymen had held their ground. The sight inspired him to write new verses to be set to a popular tune of the time, and The Star Spangled Banner was born!

Key's song was published within days, and weeks later was being sung up and down the coast, in celebration and relief, as the anthem of Baltimore's great victory. It was thereafter a popular patriotic song, and in 1931 Congress declared it our National Anthem. The flag that inspired Key to write it is now displayed at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Its story is well told there and in the Visitors' Center at Baltimore's Fort McHenry.

Less widely known is the story of the Star Spangled Banner's designation as the country's national anthem 117 years after Francis Scott Key wrote its words. The song enjoyed a special status after it was written and on until it became the official anthem. After the turn of twentieth century, it became increasingly customary for Americans to stand when the song was played. And it became a standard melody in the repertoires of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps bands. A Navy regulation instructed its servicemen to salute the flag during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. In 1903 the Army's general staff considered making the song the national anthem, but decided that only Congress had the authority to do so.

The campaign to convince Congress that the Star-Spangled Banner should be the national anthem gained momentum during the centennial celebration of the War of 1812. It became the theme-song during Baltimore's centennial celebration of its victory over the British. A year before the United States entered World War I, President Wilson issued an executive order designating the Star-Spangled Banner as the national anthem, but only within the armed forces.

Congressman Linthicum of Maryland pursued the cause of the Star-Spangled Banner. The effort succeeded with a massive petition drive overseen by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In 1930, Congressman Linthicum once again introduced his Star-Spangled Banner bill, which was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. The Committee Chair called a meeting where the U.S. Navy Band presented their rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, after which a contingent from the VFW hauled in crates of petitions containing the names of five million citizens who endorsed the song's elevation to anthem status. Linthicum's bill won the unanimous support of the Committee and was passed by the House without a dissenting vote. Delays in the Senate postponed its passage until 1931, when President Hoover signed it.

In 2015 the City Council of Baltimore voted to make "Birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner" Baltimore's official slogan. Baltimore has used a variety of catchphrases – Charm City, the Monumental City, and others, but none has the historic authenticity, resonance or the reach of our City's role as the birthplace of the National Anthem. Its words ring out across the country and around the world.

The Anthem and flag have recently provided a backdrop for political controversy with some kneeling during the Anthem as a form of political protest for equality of treatment. Critics have charged that this dishonors the Anthem; but in fact, some protests honor the spirit of the Anthem. Like the Declaration of Independence, itself a political protest, the Anthem and flag are expressions of our values, achievements, hopes and aspirations, but not an embrace of all things as they are or were. The United States was not the "Land of the Free" for all Americans when Francis Scott Key wrote those words in 1814, which nonetheless represented cherished ideals. Citizens who marched for civil and women's rights did so with the flag. We need to maintain those ideals and the symbolism of the flag as it represents those ideals, but we always need to call attention to any distance between current conditions and those ideals. We want to continue to perfect our imperfect Union. Reminding us of our democratic ideals and the men and women who gave their lives for them, the Anthem and the flag that it salutes serve as unifying symbols for all Baltimoreans, Marylanders and Americans

The picture of the Star-Spangled Banner on this website is designed to serve as a poster to tell the story of the National Anthem simply and graphically. We hope that this poster will be permanently displayed in schools, public buildings, and elsewhere. Prints of this copyright protected poster can be ordered by emailing a request to jack@uptownpress.com. If you are interested in multiple copies you may order them from Uptown Press at the prices listed below. All profits are dedicated to the Baltimore City Historical Society, the Friends of Fort McHenry, and the Baltimore National Heritage Area.

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