During the night of September 13, 1814, the
British fleet bombarded Fort McHenry in the harbor at Baltimore,
Maryland. Francis Scott Key, a 34-year old lawyer-poet, watched the
attack from the deck of a British prisoner-exchange ship. He had gone to
seek the release of a friend but they were refused permission to go
ashore until after the attack had been made. As the battle ceased on the
following morning, Key turned his telescope to the fort and saw that the
American flag was still waving. The sight so inspired him that he pulled
a letter from his pocket and began to write the poem which eventually
was adopted as the national anthem of the United States--"The Star
Spangled Banner." Key was returned to Baltimore and later that day
took a room at a Baltimore tavern where he completed the poem. Years
later, Key told a hometown audience in Frederick, Maryland:
"I saw the flag of my country waving
over a city-the strength and pride of my native State-a city devoted to
plunder and desolation by its assailants. I witnessed the preparation
for its assaults. I saw the array of its enemies as they advanced to the
attack. I heard the sound of battle; the noise of the conflict fell upon
my listening ear, and told me that 'the brave and the free' had met the
The joint Committee on Printing is pleased to
present the latest edition of Our Flag. This Congressional publication
briefly describes the history of the flag, and sets forth the practices
and observances appropriate to its display. The Committee hopes that
this document will be both useful and informative to its audience.
|"Let the praise, then,
if any be due, be given, not to me, who only did what I could not help
doing, not to the writer, but to the inspirers of the song!"
-Francis Scott Key
South Carolinians defending Fort
Moultrie in Charleston Harbor in 1776 raised one of the earliest flags of
American liberty. The silver crescent appeared as a badge worn on their
caps. The cause for which they fought-liberty-was emblazoned on the
GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS
General John Stark of New Hampshire
commanded a militia brigade known as the "Green Mountain Boys.'
Tradition relates that its green flag was flown at the Battle of
Bennington on August 16, 1777. As in many American flags, the stars here
were arranged in an arbitrary fashion. Nevertheless they signified the
unity of the Thirteen Colonies in their struggle for independence.
RHODE ISLAND REGIMENT
The State flags of America found their
earliest forms during the Revolutionary War. The starry canton in the flag
of the Rhode Island Regiment symbolized national unity, but the white
field corresponded to the uniform of the State troops. The anchor symbol
and motto which completed the design had been used for more than a
century. The original flag may be found in the State House in Providence.
COMMODORE PERRY'S FLAG
During the War of 1812 Captain James
Lawrence of the Chesapeake encouraged his men, as he lay dying by
exhorting "Don't Give Up the Ship." Three months later at the
Battle of Lake Erie, Commodore Perry emblazoned these words on a flag
which carried him to victory. Similar flags and mottoes have inspired
Americans throughout our two centuries of existence.
Originally believed to have been
carried during the Revolution, this flag is now seen as having probably
been made for the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in
1826. Its design is typical of the exuberant artistic expressions found in
flags of the 19th century.
During the Civil War a special version
of the United States flag-with swallowtail and stars of gold instead of
white-was carried by the cavalry. General Custer and others used the flag
in succeeding decades in the West.
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