BALTIMORE - At dawn's early light, exactly at 9:00 a.m., Soldiers
from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Regiment “Old Guard” raised a
replica of the American flag to commemorate the fateful moment the
Star-Spangled Banner was raised, inspiring District of Columbia
Militiaman 1st Lt. Francis Scott Key to write the immortal words 200
years ago that would become the national anthem of the United
The "Dawn's Early Light Flag Raising Ceremony,"
hosted by the National Park Service was part of a series of events
to commemorate the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812 and
the birth of the national anthem.
Sept. 14, 2014 - Soldiers from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Regiment "Old Guard"
unfurl and raise a hand stitched, replica of the 15-star, 15-stripe
flag to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the defense of Fort
McHenry, Sept. 14, 1814. The ascent of the stars and stripes would
inspire 1st Lt. Francis Scott Key of the District of Columbia
Militia to pen the immortal words that would become the national
anthem. The flag was raised at exactly the same day and time as it
was 200 years ago during the War of 1812. (National Guard Bureau photo by Capt. Kyle Key)
“This is an incredible story of American resolve, and of
the role played by Citizen Soldiers,” said Army Lt. Col.
Jeffrey C. Larrabee, National Guard Historian. “Many people
have heard the story about Key, the young lawyer who
witnessed the bombardment of Ft. McHenry during the War of
1812 and penned the national anthem. But few people know
that he was also a member of the District of Columbia
militia, or that Maryland militia contributed significantly
to McHenry's defense.”
On Sept. 14, 1814 at 7:30
a.m., a British fleet of 19 warships ceased fire after a
25-hour barrage of more than 1,500 Congreve rockets and
exploding shells on Fort McHenry in order to lay siege to
the city of Baltimore.
Expecting the American forces to be decimated and the fort
reduced to rubble, Key was astonished to see that not only
was the flag defiantly still there, but his fellow
countrymen had held the fort and would thwart the attack on
The Maryland militia, predecessor of the
Maryland National Guard, manned more than half the guns of
Fort McHenry and of the supporting batteries. Had the
British succeeded, Baltimore and perhaps Philadelphia and
New York would meet the same fiery fate as Washington just
three weeks before.
During the battle, Key was
detained by British marines on an American ship the
“President,” anchored eight miles from Fort McHenry at the
mouth of the Patapsco River. A storm raged through the night
and rocked the vessel to and fro. He and Col. John Skinner,
an American prisoner exchange agent, had just negotiated the
release of Dr. William Beans, a prominent Maryland
physician. Beans was arrested for jailing British Soldiers
who ransacked his farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
After receiving instructions from Gen. George Mason, the
Commissary General of Prisoners, Key and Skinner departed
the District of Columbia on Sept. 3 and sailed for three
days looking for the flagship of the British fleet.
Under a flag of truce, they were given permission to board
the British man-o-war class warship, the H.M.S. Tonnant
where Beans was being held. After showing the fleet
commander letters from British Soldiers praising Dr. Beans
for his medical care at the Battle of Bladensburg, Key
secured his release.
As a friend of Dr. Beans, Key
asked President Madison to sanction his effort to assist
Skinner in obtaining Beans' release by the British. Madison
readily approved Key's mission.
During the War of
1812, 1st Lt. Francis Scott Key served with the District of
Columbia Militia in the Corps of Georgetown Field
Like many National Guard members, Key
served in a part time capacity and served his community and
nation when called upon. Although not initially in favor of
the war, Key felt compelled to serve his country and help
his neighbors. He enlisted as a gunners mate in the summer
of 1813 and earned a commission nine months later as a
While with the Georgetown
Artillery, Key was mustered into federal service twice in
response to British raids in Maryland. In 1813, he performed
garrison duty at Fort Washington, and in June, 1814, he
served with his company near Benedict, Maryland, along the
Key had also been at Bladensburg
three weeks earlier. Although he was not mustered in at the
time, he served as the volunteer aide de camp to the
commander of the District of Columbia's militia contingent
during the battle. Key therefore experienced the defeat of
the American Army at Bladensburg on a very personal level,
and witnessed the aftermath of the burning of the capitol by
British that followed.
“The certainty of British arms
must have weighed heavily on Key's mind during the
bombardment of Ft. McHenry,“ said Larrabee. “While the
defeat at Bladensburg and the burning of Washington was a
national disgrace, they did not significantly impact
American military or economic capacity. But if Baltimore,
the trading center of the country, fell to the British, the
United States may well have had to sue for peace. At
McHenry, the life of the young American republic hung in the
Key's poem "In Defence of Ft. M'Henry"
solidified an intangible connection Americans have with the
American flag, defining what it means to be American and
making it a banner symbolic of freedom throughout the world.
“Every time we stand at attention for the Star Spangled
Banner, our national anthem, you cannot help but feel a
great sense of pride in being an American. It evokes a
spirit of service and sacrifice that can overcome adversity,
even at the darkest moments of our history,” said Larrabee.
“Our enemy today is much different but our resolve is the
same today. As Key wrote two hundred years ago, ‘conquer we
must, when our cause it is just.'”
Editor's Note: The story's author, Capt. Kyle
Key, is an 8th generation descendant of the Francis Scott Key family
and a military officer like his ancestor. Capt. Key currently serves
in the Army National Guard.
By Capt. Kyle Key
National Guard Bureau
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