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A Banner Bicentennial

The War of 1812 has an identity problem. Sandwiched between two big conflicts (the Revolutionary and the Civil) and lacking an easily defined cause, it tends to settle in the far reaches of history’s attic. But the war’s 200th anniversary calls for a dusting off and even a little celebration. The conflict did, after all, give Americans a national anthem, birthed right in this city’s harbor.

During the pivotal Battle of Baltimore, the British Navy (with vessels like
Terror, Volcano and Devastation) launched nearly 2,000 cannonballs at Fort McHenry. From a British ship in the harbor, a detained American lawyer named Francis Scott Key watched the explosive scene. After 25 hours of bombardment, silence fell. Through the smoke and rain, Key saw an enormous American flag waving above the fort, and moved by the sight, he jotted down verses that later became The Star-Spangled Banner. For a poorly remembered piece of history, that’s quite an illustrious legacy.