Francis Scott Key
Something for the weekend. The Star-Spangled Banner. Two centuries ago America was going through rough times. Engaged in a War with Great Britain, Washington DC had been burned on August 24, symbolic of a war that seemed to be turning against the United States. With the fall of Napoleon in April of 1814, the British were now free to punish the upstart Yankees who had dared challenge Great Britain. Now the British were preparing to seize the port of Baltimore with a force of 5,000 troops and 19 warships.
British plans began to go awry from the outset. At the battle of North Point on September 12, 3200 Maryland militia gave a good account of themselves against 4,000 British regulars inflicting 350 casualties for slightly fewer American casulaties, and retreated in good order to the fortified line around Baltimore. Among the British killed was the commander Major General Robert Ross, a peninsular veteran of Wellington’s army, shot down by American riflemen.
On September 13, the British, now commanded by Colonel Arthur Brooke, approached Baltimore. Estimating that the Baltimore defenses were held by 22,000 militia and 100 cannon, Brooke was unable to launch an attack unless the British fleet could enter Baltimore Harbor to beat down the American defenses by naval bombardment. Continue reading
Francis Scott Key set his poem The Defense of Fort McHenry, which became The Star Spangled Banner, to the tune of the English song To Anacreon In Heaven. This was not the first of his poems he had done this to. The first was his composition When the Warrior Returns which he wrote in 1805 in honor of heroes of the First Barbary Pirates war. Here is the text of the poem: Continue reading
Forty-seven years after he penned the Star-Spangled Banner, and eighteen years after his death, a grandson of Francis Scott Key, Francis Key Howard, found himself a prisoner in Fort McHenry. The editor of the Baltimore Exchange, and a Confederate sympathizer, Howard was imprisoned for his vigorous editorial protesting the suspension by the Lincoln administration of the writ of habeas corpus and the arrest of the mayor and city council of Baltimore by the Lincoln administration. Howard would be held for fourteen months in various Union prisons until his release.
On September 14, 1861 he looked out from his prison cell in Fort McHenry at the flag waving in the breeze. He later wrote down his reflections at that moment: Continue reading
Francis Scott Key set The Star-Spangled Banner to the tune of the song To Anacreon in Heaven. Anacreon was a Greek lyric poet of the Sixth Century BC, famous particularly for his drinking songs. The Anacreontic Society was a club of amateur gentlemen musicians in Eighteenth Century London. Ralph Tomlinson, the club president, penned the words of what was initially known as The Anacreontic Song. The tune was composed by another member of the club John Stafford Smith in the 1760s. The song was published in 1778.
The song became popular in America with new lyrics, Adams and Liberty, written by Robert Treat Paine, Jr. in 1798.
Here is the text of the orignial song: Continue reading
Edwin M. Stanton could be a pill. Irritable, sarcastic and often completely unreasonable, no doubt many of the Union Generals who had to deal with him often thought that they were dealing with a very mad man. Mad in an emotional sense Stanton often was, anger often seeming to be the prime emotion he displayed throughout his career, at least after the death of his beloved first wife in 1844 which had a souring impact on his disposition. However, he was also a very able man, and that compensated for his complete lack of tact in dealing with virtually everyone he came into contact with. Prior to becoming Secretary of War he had been one of the ablest attorneys in the country. Doubtless his most famous, or rather infamous case, was in the defense of future Union general Daniel Sickles.
Sickles in 1859 was a Democrat Congressman from New York, already notorious for having been censured for bringing a prostitute into the New York General Assembly chamber. Leaving his pregnant wife at home, on a trip to England he had introduced the same prostitute, Fanny White, to Queen Victoria under an alias, the surname of which was that of a political opponent in New York. Sickles obviously viewed his vow of marital fidelity with complete contempt. However he did not view the vow of fidelity given to him by his wife Teresa in the same light. When he found out on February 26, 1859 that his long-suffering wife was carrying on an affair with the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Philip Barton Key II, the son of Francis Scott Key, the composer of the Star Spangled Banner, he murdered Key the next day in Lafayette Park across from the White House, shooting him through the heart. Sickles immediately surrendered to the Attorney General who lived just a few blocks away.
His trial was one of the most sensational in American history. Public opinion was almost totally on his side, painting Sickles as an outraged husband defending his wife Teresa from a villain who had seduced her. Sickles engaged a stellar defense team which included Stanton. The defense team had a problem. No matter what the public thought as to his motivation, Sickles was manifestly guilty. Stanton hit upon the idea of raising the novel defense of temporary insanity which had never before been successful in the United States. This was a true stroke of legal genius. It allowed the defense to put on endless lurid testimony as to the affair and, in effect, have the dead man tried rather than Sickles. In his closing argument Stanton portrayed the ever adulterous Sickles as a defender of marriage: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The Star Spangled Banner. Often assailed by critics as unsingable, too war-like and on other grounds, I love it and I am proud that it is our National Anthem. It is an interesting song for a national anthem in that the first stanza, the one we all attempt to sing, has an important question at the end of it: Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? That particular question has to be asked by each generation of Americans, ours no less than the generations who came before us.
Here is a superb video giving the historical back ground behind the writing of The Star Spangled Banner: