Laura Secord

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Completely unknown to the public at large in the US, Laura Secord, ironically a daughter of a man who fought on the patriot side in the Revolution, is a national heroine in Canada. In 1813 during the War of 1812, American troops were quartered in Secord’s home.  Learning of a plan to attack the British installation at Beaver Dams, she walked from Queenstown twenty miles to warn the British.

Forewarned, the British with 400 Indians and 50 regulars surrounded the American force of some 600 regulars as it advanced on Beavers Dam on June 24, 1813.  After some fighting the British commander, Lieutenant James FitzGibbon,  convinced the American commander, Colonel Charles Boerstler, that he was vastly outnumbered and that unless he immediately surrendered, FitzGibbon would not be able to control the Indians.  The gullible Boerstler surrendered.

Secord’s role in all this remained virtually unknown until she sought a pension for her poverty stricken family after the War.  The Canadian public did not pay much attention until the visiting Prince of Wales in 1860 heard of her long ago heroics, and sent the 85 year old Secord one hundred pounds.

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Published in: on June 24, 2016 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Laura Secord  
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June 1, 1812: Madison Requests that Congress Declare War on Great Britain

 

The declaration of war by Congress in 1812 was the first time that Congress declared war.  It was not an auspicious start.  Although most Republicans were hot for war, the Federalists were not.  Every Federalist voted against the Declaration and a substantial number of Republicans also cast their votes against the Declaration.  In the House the vote was 79-49, 22 Republicans siding with the Federalists, and in the Senate 19-13, seven Republicans joining the 6 Federalist Senators.  The War was popular in the South and in the West, and highly unpopular in New England and parts of Virginia.  Here is the text of the Declaration of War that passed on June 17, 1812 and signed by Madison the next day: (more…)

Published in: on June 3, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 1, 1812: Madison Requests that Congress Declare War on Great Britain  
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The Battle of New Orleans-The Song

 

 

Something for the weekend.  On January 8, 2015 we reached the 200th anniversary of the battle of New Orleans, so Jimmie Driftwood’s Battle of New Orleans seems appropriate.  Driftwood, when he was a teacher, wrote the song in 1936 to help his students differentiate between the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War.  After Driftwood became a full time singer and composer, he often sang the song.  Johnny Horton made it a mega hit in 1959 with his rendition.

After it became a hit, the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, visited Newfoundland.  The song was banned for the term of her visit by the provincial government.  My sainted mother who loved the Queen, but also had to the full the Irish rebel spirit, used to regale me with tales of the lengths that Newfies went to make sure that the song was played continuously during the Queen’s visit as a result!

Newfies were hanging record players out of their windows, the volume cranked up full blast playing the song. Her comment on this fiasco is that if the idiots in government hadn’t attempted to ban it, no one would have been playing it. I think my attitude towards government began to be forged by this example of folly related to me at a very young age at my mother’s knee! (more…)

Published in: on January 10, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Battle of New Orleans-The Song  
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January 9, 1815: Report to Monroe

Battle of New Orleans 2

 

The day after the battle of New Orleans, Jackson wrote his report to James Monroe, Secretary of War.:

Sir: 9th Jan: 1815

During the days of the 6th. & 7th. the enemy had been actively employed in making preparations for an attack on my lines. With infinite labour they had succeeded on the night of the 7th in getting their boats across from the lake to the river, by widening & deepening the Canal on which they had effected their disembarkation. It had not been in my power to impede these operations by a general attack: Added to other reasons, the nature of the troops under my command, mostly militia, rendered it too hazardous to attempt extensive offensive movements in an open Country, against a numerous & well disciplined army.- Altho my forces, as to number, had been increased by the arrival of the Kentucky division – my strength had received very little addition; a small portion only of that detachment being provided with arms: Compelled thus to wait the attack of the enemy I took every measure to repell it when it would be made, & to defeat the object he had in view. Genl. Morgan with the Orleans Contingent the Louisiana Militia, & a strong detachment of the Kentucky troops occupy an entrenched Camp, on the opposite side of the river, protected by strong batteries on the bank erected & superintended by Commodore Patterson.

In my encampment every thing was ready for action, when early on the morning of the 8th the enemy, after throwing a heavy shower of bombs & congreve rockets, advanced their columns on my right & left, to storm my entrenchments. I cannot speak sufficiently in praise of the firmness & deliberation with which my whole line received their approach:-more could not have been expected from veterans, inured to war. For an hour the fire of the small arms was as incessant & severe as can be imagined. The artillery too, directed by officers who displayed equal skill & courage did great execution. Yet the columns of the enemy continued to advance with a firmness which reflects upon them the greatest credit. Twice the column which approached me on my left was repulsed by the troops of genl. Carrole – those of genl. Coffee, & a division of the Kentucky Militia, & twice they formed again & renewed the assault. (more…)

Published in: on January 9, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on January 9, 1815: Report to Monroe  
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January 8, 1815: Battle of New Orleans

 

The War of 1812 had been one with little glory for Americans.  The invasions of Canada all failed, often the officers in charge displaying shocking military incompetence.  Although the American Navy performed valiantly, the Royal Navy maintained control of the waves, and with the fall of Napoleon, veteran British troops from the Peninsular War were shipped across the Atlantic and inflicted such humiliations as the burning of Washington.  On January 8, 1815 Major General Andrew Jackson and his rude frontier army of regulars and militia, confronted a British regular force twice their size.  What followed was an amazing American victory.  One of the finest accounts of the battle was written by Theodore Roosevelt:

 

Battle of New Orleans

 

 

Packenham had under him nearly 10,000 fighting men; 1,500 of these, under Colonel Thornton were to cross the river and make the attack on the west bank. Packenham himself was to super intend the main assault, on the east bank, which was to be made by the British right under General Gibbs, while the left moved forward under General Keane, and General Lambert commanded the reserve. Jackson’s position was held by a total of 5,500 men. Having kept a constant watch on the British, Jackson had rightly concluded that they would make the main attack on the east bank, and had, accordingly, kept the bulk of his force on that side. His works consisted simply of a mud breastwork, with a ditch in front of it, which stretched in a straight line from the river on his right across the plain, and some distance into the morass that sheltered his left. There was a small, unfinished redoubt in front of the breastworks on the river bank. Thirteen pieces of artillery were mounted on the works. On the right was posted the Seventh regular infantry, 430 strong; then came 740 Louisiana militia (both French creoles and men of color, and comprising 30 New Orleans riflemen, who were Americans), and 240 regulars of the Forty-fourth regiment; while the rest of the line was formed by nearly 500 Kentuckians and over 1,600 Tennesseeans, under Carroll and Coffee, with 250 creole militia in the morass on the extreme left, to guard the head of a bayou. In the rear were 230 dragoons, chiefly from Mississippi, and some other troops in reserve; making in all 4,700 men on the east bank. The works on the west bank were farther down stream, and were very much weaker. . . .

All through the night of the 7th a strange, murmurous clangor arose from the British camp, and was borne on the moist air to the lines of their slumbering foes. The blows of pickax and spade as the ground was thrown up into batteries by gangs of workmen, the rumble of the artillery as it was placed in position, the measured tread of the battalions as they shifted their places or marched off under Thornton—all these and the thousand other sounds of warlike preparation were softened and blended by the distance into one continuous humming murmur, which struck on the ears of the American sentries with ominous foreboding for the morrow.

By midnight Jackson had risen and was getting everything in readiness to hurl back the blow that he rightly judged was soon to fall on his front. Before the dawn broke his soldiery was all on the alert. The bronzed and brawny seamen were grouped in clusters around the great guns. The creole soldiers came of a race whose habit it has ever been to take all phases of life joyously; but that morning their gayety was tempered by a dark undercurrent of fierce anxiety. They had more at stake than any other men on the field. They were fighting for their homes; they were fighting for their wives and their daughters. They well knew that the men they were to face were very brave in battle and very cruel in victory; they well knew the fell destruction and nameless woe that awaited their city should the English take it at the sword’s point. They feared not for themselves; but in the hearts of the bravest and most careless there lurked a dull terror of what that day might bring upon those they loved. The Tennesseeans were troubled by no such misgivings. In saturnine, confident silence they lolled behind their mud walls, or, leaning on their long rifles, peered out into the gray fog with savage, reckless eyes. So, hour after hour, the two armies stood facing each other in the darkness, waiting for the light of day.

At last the sun rose, and as its beams struggled through the morning mist they glinted on the sharp steel bayonets of the English, where their scarlet ranks were drawn up in battle array, but four hundred yards from the American breastworks. There stood the matchless infantry of the island king, in the pride of their strength and the splendor of their martial glory; and as the haze cleared away they moved forward, in stern silence, broken only by the angry, snarling notes of the brazen bugles.

At once the American artillery leaped into furious life; and, ready and quick, the more numerous cannon of the invaders responded from their hot, feverish lips. Unshaken amid the tumult of that iron storm the heavy red column moved steadily on toward the left of the American line, where the Tennesseeans were standing in motionless, grim expectancy. Three-fourths of the open space was crossed, and the eager soldiers broke into a run. Then a fire of hell smote the British column. From the breastwork in front of them the white smoke curled thick into the air, as rank after rank the wild marksmen of the backwoods rose and fired, aiming low and sure. As stubble is withered by flame, so withered the British column under that deadly fire; and, aghast at the slaughter, the reeling files staggered and gave back. Packenham, fit captain for his valorous host, rode to the front, and the troops, rallying round him, sprang forward with ringing cheers.

But once again the pealing rifle-blast beat in their faces; and the life of their dauntless leader went out before its scorching and fiery breath. With him fell the other general who was with the column, and all of the men who were leading it on; and, as a last resource, Keane brought up his stalwart Highlanders; but in vain the stubborn mountaineers rushed on, only to die as their comrades had died before them, with unconquerable courage, facing the foe, to the last. Keane himself was struck down; and the shattered wrecks of the British column, quailing before certain destruction, turned and sought refuge beyond reach of the leaden death that had overwhelmed their comrades.

Nor did it fare better with the weaker force that was to assail the right of the American line. This was led by the dashing Colonel Rennie, who, when the confusion caused by the main attach was at its height, rushed forward with impetuous bravery along the river bank. With such headlong fury did he make the assault, that the rush of his troops took the outlying redoubt, whose defenders, regulars and artillerymen, fought to the last with their bayonets and clubbed muskets, and were butchered to a man.

Without delay Rennie flung his men at the breastworks behind, and, gallantly leading them, sword in hand, he, and all around him, fell, riddled through and through by the balls of the riflemen. Brave tho they were, the British soldiers could not stand against the singing, leaden hail, for if they stood it was but to die. So in rout and wild dismay they fled back along the river bank, to the main army. For some time afterward the British artillery kept up its fire, but was gradually silenced; the repulse was entire and complete along the whole line; nor did the cheering news of success brought from the west bank give any hope to the British commanders, stunned by their crushing overthrow.

Meanwhile Colonel Thornton’s attack on the opposite side had been successful, but had been delayed beyond the originally intended hour. The sides of the canal by which the boats were to be brought through to the Mississippi caved in, and choked the passage, so that only enough got through to take over a half of Thornton’s force. With these, seven hundred in number, he crossed, but as he did not allow for the current, it carried him down about two miles below the proper landing-place. Meanwhile General Morgan, having under him eight hundred militia whom it was of the utmost importance to have kept together, promptly divided them and sent three hundred of the rawest and most poorly armed down to meet the enemy in the open. The inevitable result was their immediate rout and dispersion; about one hundred got back to Morgan’s lines. He then had six hundred men, all militia, to oppose to seven hundred regulars. So he stationed the four hundred best disciplined men to defend the two hundred yards of strong breastworks, mounting three guns, which covered his left; while the two hundred worst disciplined were placed to guard six hundred yards of open ground on his right, with their flank resting in air, and entirely unprotected. This truly phenomenal arrangement ensured beforehand the certain defeat of his troops, no matter how well they fought; but, as it turned out , they hardly fought at all. Thornton, pushing up the river, first attacked the breastwork in front, but was checked by a hot fire; deploying his men he then sent a strong force to march round and take Morgan on his exposed right flank. There, the already demoralized Kentucky militia, extended in thin order across an open space, outnumbered, and taken in flank by regular troops, were stampeded at once, and after firing a single volley they took to their heels. This exposed the flank of the better disciplined creoles, who were also put to flight; but they kept some order and were soon rallied. In bitter rage Patterson spiked the guns of his water-battery and marched off with his sailors, unmolested. The American loss had been slight, and that of their opponents not heavy, tho among their dangerously wounded was Colonel Thornton.

This success, tho a brilliant one, and a disgrace to the American arms, had no effect on the battle. Jackson at once sent over reenforcements under the famous French general, Humbert, and preparations were forthwith made to retake the lost position. But it was already abandoned, and the force that had captured it had been recalled by Lambert, when he found that the place could not be held without additional troops. The total British loss on both sides of the river amounted to over two thousand men, the vast majority of whom had fallen in the attack on the Tennesseeans, and most of the remainder in the attack made by Colonel Rennie. The Americans had lost but seventy men, of whom but thirteen fell in the main attack. On the east bank, neither the creole militia nor the Forty-fourth regiment had taken any part in the combat.

The English had thrown for high stakes and had lost everything, and they knew it. There was nothing to hope for left. Nearly a fourth of their fighting men had fallen; and among the officers the proportion was far larger. Of their four generals, Packenham was dead, Gibbs dying, Keane disabled, and only Lambert left. Their leader, the ablest officers, and all the flower of their bravest men were lying, stark and dead, on the bloody plain before them; and their bodies were doomed to crumble into moldering dust on the green fields where they had fought and had fallen. It was useless to make another trial.

The most brilliant American victory since Yorktown, the battle made Andrew Jackson a household word and launched him on his path to the White House.  The battle also may have given the British something to ponder when their interests clashed with American interests in the future.  All such disputes, in spite of usually a fair amount of hostility in both nations that could have resulted in war, were resolved diplomatically.  Neither country emerged from the War of 1812 with the assumption that any future war between them would be a cakewalk for either side.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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January 7, 1815: Old Hickory and Our Lady of Prompt Succor

When one thinks of Andrew Jackson, Our Lady of Prompt Succor and the Ursuline nuns do not spring to mind, but they should. (more…)

Published in: on January 7, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on January 7, 1815: Old Hickory and Our Lady of Prompt Succor  
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Jackson’s Motley Army

 

I guess there may have been a more heterogeneous force that fought a major battle in American history than the one that Andrew Jackson commanded on January 8, 1815, but it does not readily come to mind.  Here was the composition of his army:

1.  968 US Army regulars-Many of these men were from the 7th Infantry Regiment that had garrisoned New Orleans during 1814 and had a reputation for being slackly disciplined hell raisers.  The remainder were from the 44th Infantry Regiment recruited in Louisiana.

2.  58 Marines.

3.  106 Sailors of the US Naval Battalion.

4.  1060 Louisiana Militia, including 462 free blacks.  The free blacks responded to an appeal from Jackson that said they would be treated precisely the same as white volunteers and not subject to sarcasm and insult.  Jackson was as good as his word, but the State of Louisiana did not give them the promised 160 acre land grants that white volunteers received.  Many of the white Louisianans spoke only French, but the language barrier did not stop them and their black comrades from rendering good service in the battle.

5.  986 Kentucky Militia-The Kentuckians gave a poor account of themselves in the battle but it wasn’t their fault.  Most of them were unarmed, the Army sending them to New Orleans and shipping their rifles and ammo separately.  These items arrived four days after the battle.  A disgusted Jackson said they were the first Kentuckians he had ever seen who didn’t have a rifle, a deck of cards and a jug.

6.  150 Mississippi Militia.

7.  52 Choctaw Warriors-The Choctaws did good service as snipers and killed at least 50 British soldiers.

8.  1352 Tennessee militia and volunteers.  The mainstay of Jackson’s army, many of them had served under Jackson throughout the Creek War in 1813-1814.

9.  Baratarian Pirates-Jean Lafitte’s pirates.  Jackson had offered Lafitte a free pardon for every one of his men who fought.  The pirates formed three artillery companies and also fought with the militia.  Their exact numbers are unknown, but my best guess would be 400-600.  The pirates won accolades for their fighting prowess in the battle, with Jackson singling out for praise Jean and his brother Pierre.

 

(more…)

Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Jackson’s Motley Army  
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Prelude to the Battle of New Orleans

 

Upon the commencement of the War of 1812, Jackson immediately volunteered for active service.  Nothing happened.  Jackson assumed he was not called to duty due to his vigorous opposition to many of the policies of Thomas Jefferson, Madison’s predecessor.  ( It probably didn’t help Jackson that Aaron Burr,  former vice-president and deadly enemy of Jefferson, had stayed three days with Jackson during his  treasonous trip to the West in 1805, although there is no evidence of Jackson’s involvement in Burr’s plot.)

Jackson’s chance for military action came in 1813-1814 during the Creek War.  After a very tough campaign, Jackson decisively defeated the Red Stick Creeks at the battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814.  On the battlefield, Jackson found a two year old Creek boy with his dead mother.  Jackson adopted him as his son, named him Lyncoya, and brought him home with him to the Hermitage and raised him with his other adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr.  Jackson planned to have him educated at West Point, because he believed it to be the best school in the nation, but the boy died of tuberculosis in 1828.  Jackson, the great foe of the Indians, is the only American president to adopt an Indian child.  Jackson was nothing if not complicated.

The campaign against the Red Stick Creeks had made Jackson a national figure.  It also almost killed him.  Suffering from a chronic stomach disorder, Jackson could only get relief from the pain by bending a sapling and leaning over it with the sapling pressed against his stomach.  The campaign was arduous for his troops also, a mixture of militia and regulars.  On one occasion the militia decided they had had enough and began to march home.  Jackson used the regulars to stop them.  On another occasion the regulars decided they were through, and Jackson used the militia to force them to return to their duties.  When both militia and regulars decided to leave on yet another occasion, Jackson rode to the head of the troops, aimed a musket at them and made it quite clear that he would kill the next man to take a step.  The men looked at Jackson, Jackson gazed back at them, and they returned to camp.  Afterwards, Jackson ordered that the musket be repaired as it couldn’t have fired in any case.  Most of the men Jackson led were frontiersmen and had a great deal of experience in cutting down trees.  The toughest wood they knew of was Hickory, and Old Hickory, and doubtless some other unprintable ones that have not come down to us, is the nickname they gave their determined general.

While Jackson was crushing the Red Sticks, the War of 1812 was going badly for the country.  With the abdication of Napoleon, hordes of British veteran troops were sent across the Atlantic to teach the Yankees a lesson.  The burning of Washington in August 1814 was part of the lesson, and the American government had intelligence that a mighty British fleet and army were on their way to seize New Orleans.  In August 1814 a British fleet established a base, with the consent of the Spanish government, at Pensacola, Florida, and used it to supply Indians hostile to the US.  On November 7, 1814, Jackson seized Pensacola, chased the British troops out and destroyed the fortifications.  The British fleet sailed off and Jackson marched to New Orleans.

Jackson arrived at New Orleans with his rough frontier army of militia and regulars on December 2, 1814.   He had beaten the Brits to New Orleans but just barely.  The British fleet appeared in the Gulf of Mexico just off New Orleans on December 12.  The British force on board the fleet was commanded by Major General Thomas Pakenham, the Duke of Wellington’s brother-in-law.  Pakenham was a combat general and had received laurels for his courage and professionalism in many of the battles that Wellington fought in Spain.  Brushing aside a small American naval force that guarded access to the lakes that led to New Orleans, by December 23 an 1800 man vanguard of the British troops was ashore on the east bank of the Mississippi, nine miles south of New Orleans.  When Jackson learned of this, he did what he usually did when confronted with a sudden challenge:  he attacked.  Leading 2131 men in a short, sharp night attack, Jackson inflicted about 250 casualties in exchange for about the same losses on his part.  He then withdrew to the Rodriguez Canal four miles south of New Orleans and began to fortify it. (more…)

Published in: on January 5, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Prelude to the Battle of New Orleans  
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New Orleans Is Ready For Its Close Up Mr. DeMille

 

 

American history tends to be ignored by Hollywood and therefore it is unusual for a battle to receive treatment in a Hollywood feature film. It is doubly unusual for a battle to be treated in two Hollywood feature films, but that is the case for the battle of New Orleans, the two hundredth anniversary of which is coming up this week on January 8, 2015. The 1938 film The Buccaneer was directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille and had Frederic March, an actor largely forgotten today but a major star in his time, as Jean Lafitte. Two future stars have bit parts in the film: Anthony Quinn and Walter Brennan. Hugh Sothern who portrayed Andrew Jackson would also portray Jackson in 1939 in the film Old Hickory.

 

The 1958 remake was also to have been directed by Cecil B. DeMille, but he was seriously ill at that time, and relegated himself to the role of executive producer, turning the director’s chair over to Anthony Quinn, his then son-in-law, the one and only film that Quinn ever directed. DeMille was unhappy with the film and it received fairly negative reviews, although I think the battle sequences are superior to the first film. Yul Brynner plays Jean Lafitte and Charlton Heston is a commanding Andrew Jackson. Like Hugh Sothern, Heston would portray Jackson twice, the first time being in The President’s Lady (1953), the tale of the great love story of Rachel Jackson (Susan Hayward) and Andrew Jackson. Future stars in this version include Inger Stevens, Claire Bloom and Lorne Green. Adequate coverage of the battle is given in each film, although not much detail. The battle of course is merely an adjunct to the romantic tale of Jean Lafitte. Without the pirate turned patriot, I am certain the battle of New Orleans would have likely received the same indifference that Hollywood has shown for most of American history.

Published in: on January 4, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on New Orleans Is Ready For Its Close Up Mr. DeMille  
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The Star-Spangled Banner

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.

The key to Baltimore Harbor was Fort McHenry and the British fleet launched a fierce barrage of it beginning on September 13, continuing through the night of the 13-14.  Over 2000 shells were tossed against the Fort, a huge American flag flying above it, symbolizing the staunch resistance of its 1000 man garrison under Major George Armistead.

Francis Scott Key  achieved immortality by penning the Star Spangled Banner.    Key watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry on September 13-14, 1814 aboard the HMS Tonnant, held by the British after his successful mission to negotiate a prisoner release.  Key was moved by the successful defense of Fort McHenry and wrote a poem entitled The Defense of Fort McHenry which soon became immortal as the song The Star Spangled Banner.

With the successful resistance of Fort McHenry the battle of Baltimore came to an end, with the British re-embarking their troops and their fleet sailing off.  The Star-Spangled Banner flew over an American victory.

In regard to the Star Spangled Banner, it is 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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5bdonWlbL8 (more…)

Published in: on September 13, 2014 at 4:30 am  Comments Off on The Star-Spangled Banner  
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