U.S. History in Two Minutes (video)

National Anthem and Rocketry


From M. Gruntman, Blazing the Trail, AIAA, 2004,

Chapter 5, Rockets Come to America, pp.51-53 (includes the original of the first stanza of Francis Scott Key's "Star-Spangled Banner").

... Baltimore was the next point of the British combined land and sea assault. On the land, the rocketeers under Lieutenant John Lawrence accompanied the troops of General Ross and were praised for “rendered essential service.” On 13 and 14 September 1814, five British bomb vessels and the Erebus poured a heavy fire on Fort McHenry guarding access to Baltimore. Lieutenant Beauchant's detachment on the Erebus fired Congreves from the extreme range of two miles, which could be done only with the smallest, 8-lb (3.6-kg) warheads. The British warships were out of range of the Fort's guns. A large American flag, 42´30 ft (12.3´9 m), was proudly flown over the Fort.

One bombshell damaged a 24-pounder gun in the southwest bastion, killing an officer and wounding four men. British Vice Admiral Cochrane ordered several of his bombarding ships to come a half a mile nearer Fort McHenry. The delighted Fort Commander Major George Armistead opened fire on the British with all guns. Several British ships were hit, and in half an hour they withdrew to their old anchorage. The rocket ship Erebus was injured by the American fire and had to be towed by small boats to safety. The bombardment continued.
With permission of President Madison, a young lawyer, Francis Scott Key, and John S. Skinner, an agent for the exchange of prisoners, went to negotiate with the British the release of a friend of Key's. The American party was detained by the British lest they could disclose the intended attack on Baltimore.

Key and Skinner observed the bombshell and rocket bombardment of Fort McHenry from a cartel-ship Minden, under guard of the British marines. The Royal Navy artillery and rockets bombarded the Fort through the entire day of the 13th of September and the early hours of the 14th.

As dawn broke out, anxious Key saw the American flag, tattered but intact, still there flying over the rampart. It was these Congreve rockets that inspired Francis Scott Key's famous lines:

... And the rockets' red glare,
the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night
that our flag was still there ...

Key's lyrics set to the air of a popular drinking song “To Anacreon in Heaven” later became the de facto National Anthem. The Congress officially recognized the Star Spangled Banner in 1931, immortalizing the Congreve rockets in the National Anthem.)

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