Friday, July 1, 2011

The Star Spangled Banner

I LOVE our national anthem. I can't sing it - I cry through the whole thing. I have an article I'd like to share - it's long, so since no one blogs on Saturday and Sunday, maybe I'll break it up and post portions all three days so by the 4th of July, you'll have it all. It was written by Isaac Asimov, the noted author.

"In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain, primarily over freedom of the seas. We were in the right. For two years, we held off the British, even though we were still a rather weak country.
Great Britain was in a life-and-death struggle with Napoleon. In fact, just as the United States declared war, Napoleon marched off to invade Russia. If he won, as everyone expected, he would control Europe, and Great Britain would be isolated. It was no time for her to be involved in an American war.
At first, our seamen proved better than the British. After we won a battle on Lake Erie in 1813, the American commander Oliver Hazard Perry sent the message "We have met the enemy and they are ours."
However, the weight of the British navy beat down our ships eventually. New England, hard-hit by a tightening blockade, threatened secession.
Meanwhile, Napoleon was beaten in Russia and in 1814 was forced to abdicate. Great Britain now turned its attention to the Unites States, launching a three-pronged attack. The northern prong was to come down Lake Champlain toward New York and seize parts of New England. The southern prong was to go up the Mississippi, take New Orleans and paralyze the west. The central prong was to head for the mid-Atlantic states and then attack Baltimore, the greatest port south of New York.
If Baltimore was taken, the nation, which still hugged the Atlantic coast, could be split in two. The fate of the United States, then, rested to a large extent on the success or failure of the central prong.
The British reached the American coast and, on August 14, 1814, took Washington, D.C. Then they moved up the Chesapeake Bay toward Baltimore. On September 12, they arrived and found 1000 men in Fort McHenry, whose guns controlled the harbor. If the British wished to take Baltimore, they would have to take the fort.
On one of the British ships was an aged physician, William Beanes, who had been arrested in Maryland and brought along as a prisoner. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and friend of the physician, had come to the ship to negotiate his release. The British captain was willing, but the two Americans would have to wait. It was now the night of September 13, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about to start.
As twilight deepened, Key and Beanes saw the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. Through the night, they heard bombs bursting and saw the red glare of rockets. They knew the fort was resisting and the American flag was still flying. But toward morning, the bombardment ceased, and a dread silence fell. Either Fort McHenry had surrendered and the British flag flew above it, or the bombardment had failed and the American flag still flew.
(I have to interrupt Isacc Asimov's narration at this point to add an incredible historical note: The flag above Ft. McHenry was the symbol of American freedom and determination to retain that freedom, and everyone knew it. The British targeted the flag over and over and tried to destroy this rallying emblem so important to its defenders. As the flag would be hit and fall, another man would race forward in the line of fire to restore it to its position of prominence. No soldier had to be told. They just did it because they knew of its vital significance. During the night the bodies piled up at the foot of the flag. The bombardment was so intense, they could not be removed. But that didn't deter those intrepid volunteers, those amazing heroes, from racing to replace their fallen comrades and keep the flag flying over Ft. MeHenry.)
As dawn began to brighten the eastern sky, Key and Beanes stared out at the fort, trying to see which flag flew over it. He and the physician must have asked each other over and over, "Can you see the flag?"

To be continued tomorrow, July 2

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