The National Anthem
After the British captured and burned Washington DC, they returned to their ships anchored near Benedict. They passed through the town of Upper Marlboro where a few stragglers and one deserter began plundering nearby farms. Dr. William Beanes and other American civilians seized six or seven of the stragglers and confined them to a local jail. When one escaped and informed his superiors of the arrest, a contingent of British marines returned to Upper Marlboro and arrested Beanes and the others, and held them in exchange for the release of the British prisoners. The Americans were subsequently released except Beanes, who was considered the i nstigator of the incident. In violation of the existing rules of war, he was placed in confinement aboard HMS Tonnant.
U.S. Attorney Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner, the U.S. Agent for Exchange of Prisoners, were urged to seek the release of Dr. Beanes, and boarded the HMS Tonnant under a flag of truce. They showed the British officials letters from wounded British soldiers who were left behind after the Battle of Bladensburg, giving testimony to the kindness and treatment given them by U.S. hands. This so moved British General Ross, who had ordered the arrest of Beanes, that he suggested to Cochrane that Beanes be released after the planned attack on Baltimore.
Beanes, Key, and Skinner had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry from onboard the truce vessel. Key was inspired by the scene of the battle that he composed a song that eventually became the National Anthem. Key chose the tune, "To Anacreon in Heaven" by John Stafford Smith, because it was a popular American and British melody and he had previously adapted it to other lyrics.
Key, Beanes, and Stuart were released as the British retreated, and that night Key worked on his song. Handbills were quickly printed and copies distributed to every man who was at Fort McHenry during the bombardment. Key's words were first printed on September 20, 1814, in the Baltimore Patriot and Advertiser under the title "Defence of Fort M'Henry." By the end of the year, Key's words were printed across the country as a reminder of the American victory. In 1931, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation that made "The Star-Spangled Banner" the official National Anthem.
Americans took tremendous pride in their victory over the British at the Battle for Baltimore. Key's "The Star-Spangled Banner" was set to music and rapidly circulated. The flag and the song - which would later become the National Anthem - came to symbolize the nation. They have retained their iconic status through the ongoing evolution of the country and remain important national symbols in the United States and the rest of the world. It was as a result of the Chesapeake Campaign that, for the first time, many Americans began to think about what it meant to be an American. After the Battle for Baltimore, Americans had a moment to take stock and recognize that this significant victory and the survival of the Republic were worth celebrating.
Content Courtesy of the National Park Service.