Beyond that, the consequences for the U.S. were potentially very severe. In the aftermath of Washington’s capture, the country was facing its gravest crisis since independence. If Baltimore, then the nation’s third largest city, fell, the fear was that Philadelphia and New York would not be far behind. Instead, British attacks were turned back simultaneously at Baltimore and in upstate New York. These American victories turned the tide at peace negotiations underway in Ghent, and allowed the U.S. to emerge from the war with unquestioned sovereignty in North America and a sense of union that hadn’t existed before.
Is the Star Spangled Banner on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the bombardment?
Very likely, it is not. The garrison flag, measuring 30 feet high and 42 feet long, was too big to fly in that kind of weather-- the weight of such a large, sopping-wet wool flag could have snapped the flagpole. It’s much more likely the fort’s smaller storm flag would have been flying. That flag, which incidentally was made by Mary Pickersgill, the same seamstress who made the larger banner, has long since disappeared.
To my mind, that doesn’t make the Star Spangled Banner any less of an icon than it is. There’s no doubt the banner was raised again after the bombardment, and Key would have seen it.
Why did Key’s song strike such an immediate chord around the country?
There was no photography then, obviously, but Key’s song, which was soon printed in newspapers around the country, nonetheless painted an indelible picture for a nation at a time Americans were quite shaken. The image of the flag flying over Fort McHenry is similar to that of the Marines raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima, or the flags displayed by firefighters at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon after 9/11. Key’s song gave the flag a new meaning to Americans.
If you have other questions you’d like to ask Vogel, post them in the comments section. He will be interacting with readers in the comments section Monday and Tuesday.
- ‘Through the Perilous Fight’: An excerpt from the book on a pivotal time in the War of 1812
- ‘Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation’ by Steve Vogel