Just 18 years after President George Washington wrote his “Farewell Address,” the United States found itself at war once again. In September 1814, a British fleet under Sir Alexander Cochrane began bombarding Fort McHenry, outside Baltimore, Md.
The fleet would later sail up the Potomac River, attack the new capital at Washington, D.C., and even burn the White House, before the U.S. ultimately triumphed.
Francis Scott Key, a lawyer, had approached the British attackers of Fort McHenry to seek the release of a friend they had imprisoned. Instead of winning his friend’s freedom, Key found himself imprisoned overnight, with a front-row seat for the nocturnal bombardment.
As the sun rose on Sept. 14, 1814, Key was amazed to see the American flag still flying over the battered fort. He wrote The Star-Spangled Banner to describe what he saw. More than 100 years later, in 1931, Key’s poem became our National Anthem. A lot of folks still have trouble singing it — or remembering the words to it.
— Chip Wood