Every school kid learns the story of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” or should.
During the War of 1812, Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key, stood aboard a British ship in Baltimore Harbor to negotiate the release of his friend, Dr. William Beanes, who had been taken prisoner while the British stormed through Bladensburg, Maryland, after burning Washington, D.C. Key witnessed the British shelling of Fort McHenry, the guardian of Baltimore’s harbor. Inspired when he saw the U.S. flag still waving at dawn after a night of constant shelling, Key wrote a poem.
Key published the poem, suggested it might be put to the tune of “Anachreon in Heaven” (a tavern tune popular at the time) — and the popularity of the song grew until Congress designated it the national anthem in 1931. In telling the story of the latest restoration of that garrison flag now housed at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Smithsonian Magazine repeated the story in the July 2000 issue: “Our Flag Was Still There.”
It’s a wonderful history with lots of splendid, interesting details (Dolley Madison fleeing the Executive Mansion clutching the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, the guy who had introduced Dolley to James Madison and then snubbed them after they were married; the British troops eating the White House dinner the Madisons left in their haste; the gigantic, 42 by 30 foot flag sewn by Mary Pickersgill, a Baltimore widow trying to support her family; the rag-tag Baltimore militia stopping cold “Wellington’s Invicibles;” the British massing of 50 boats and gunships; and much more).
It’s a grand and glorious history that stirs the patriotic embers of the most cynical Americans.
And it’s all true.
So it doesn’t deserve the voodoo history version, the bogus history created by some person preaching in a church (I gather from the “amens”) that is making the rounds of the internet, stripped of attribution so we can hunt down the fool who is at fault.
We got this in an e-mail yesterday; patriots save us, there must be a hundred repetitions that turn up on Google, not one correcting this horrible distortion of American history.
Horrible distortion of American history
(The full version is a mind-numbing 11 minutes plus. Some people have put it on other sites. )
Why do I complain?
- It was the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War — there were 15 states, not 13 colonies.
- There was no ultimatum to to Baltimore, nor to the U.S., as this fellow describes it.
- Key negotiated for the release of one man, Dr. Beanes. There was no brig full of U.S. prisoners.
- It’s Fort McHenry, not “Henry.” The fort was named after James McHenry, a physician who was one of the foreign-born signers of the Constitution, who had assisted Generals Washington and Lafayette during the American Revolution, and who had served as Secretary of War to Presidents Washington and Adams.
- Fort McHenry was a military institution, a fort defending Baltimore Harbor. It was not a refuge for women and children.
- The nation would not have reverted to British rule had Fort McHenry fallen.
- There were 50 ships, not hundreds. Most of them were rafts with guns on them. Baltimore Harbor is an arm of Chesapeake Bay, more than 150 miles from the ocean; Fort McHenry is not on the ocean, but across the harbor from the Orioles’ Camden Yards ballpark.
- The battle started in daylight. Bombardment continued for 25 hours.
- Bogus quote: George Washington never said “What sets the American Christian apart from all other people in this world is he will die on his feet before he will live on his knees.” Tough words. Spanish Civil War. Not George Washington. I particularly hate it when people make up stuff to put in the mouths of great men. Washington left his diaries and considerably more — we don’t have to make up inspiring stuff, and when we do, we get it wrong.
- The battle was not over the flag; the British were trying to take Baltimore, one of America’s great ports. At this point, they rather needed to since the Baltimore militia had stunned and stopped the ground troops east of the city. There’s enough American bravery and pluck in this part of the story to merit no exaggerations.
- To the best of our knowledge, the British did not specifically target the flag.
- There were about 25 American casualties. Bodies of the dead were not used to hold up the flag pole — a 42 by 30 foot flag has to be on a well-anchored pole, not held up by a few dead bodies stacked around it.
You can probably find even more inaccuracies (please note them in comments if you do).
The entire enterprise is voodoo history. The name of Francis Scott Key is right; the flag is right; almost everything else is wrong.
Please help: Can you find who wrote this piece of crap? Can you learn who the narrator is, and where it was recorded?
I keep finding troubling notes with this on the internet: ‘My school kids are going to see this to get the real story.’ ‘Why are the libs suppressing the truth?’ ‘I didn’t know this true story before, and now I wonder why my teachers wouldn’t tell it.’
It’s voodoo history, folks. It’s a hoax. The real story is much better.
- Star-spangled Banner feature from the Museum of American History, Smithsonian — this is the real flag from Fort McHenry
- Star-spangled Banner, at American Treasures, Library of Congress
- Star-spangled Banner National Historic Trail, National Park Service
- Isaac Asimov could sing all four stanzas of the “Star-spangled Banner;” at least one verse is controversial this week
- John Fea at Patheos Evengalical tells the story of Pastor Dudley Rutherford, who told the false story above — but when offered corrections, pulled the error-filled version down, and told the real story; wouldn’t it be great if everyone suckered by the false history, repented and told the correct history?