American has participated in numerous wars since its beginning. Wars like the first one, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and the more recent Middle East Wars. But, there is one war that little is talked about. Yet, it may be one of the most important wars of this nation.
I’m talking about the War of 1812. So, why is it so important? Let’s do a little history. Just 30 years earlier, the colonies had won their independence from England. It was a great victory to freedom for the colonies. But, it certainly was a stinging blow for the British. Yet, they were preoccupied with their war against France and Napoleon. As a result, their best troops were in Europe. And not all the British troops in the Revolutionary War were from England. The British had hired mercenary soldiers, such as the Hessians, and those troops were fighting for pay, not for allegiance to any country. So, their will was not as great as, say, the Americans.
During these 30 years, England, still angry with this upstart American rabble, did not recognize them yet, and continued to harass American sailors at sea, and undercut American goods in foreign ports. So much so, that America declared war on the British in 1812.
However, by this time, the British had defeated Napoleon and France, and now, England could send her battle-tested, crack troops to America along with a mighty armada of war ships. Their plan was for the Navy to attack major American ports from the sea, while their army attacked over land. At first, it worked well. The British had victories in some of the northwestern forts, such as Detroit and Chicago. And then, a force of 5,000 of England’s best troops landed near the capitol of Washington, DC. Within 30 miles of the city, they routed an American army twice their size, then marched onto the Capitol. They proceeded to burn the Capitol, the president’s mansion, and other government buildings. President Monroe barely escaped being captured.
Then, they marched on Baltimore. Again, the attack was to be from the Navy against Ft. McHenry, and the troops would attack the city, itself.
About this time, a good doctor, William Beanes was taken prisoner, and transferred to some of the war ships off shore. Dr. Beanes had treated both, Americans and British wounded. Col. John Skinner, a government liaison person, sought to get the doctor exchanged for some British soldiers. He asked a lawyer friend, Francis Scott Key, to assist him. They rowed out to the flag ship of the British, to talk to the admiral, and seek Dr. Beanes’ release. After a few days of discussion, the admiral agreed; however, the battle was now about to begin, and he feared that these Americans might have overheard the British war plans. So, these Americans were placed on a smaller boat, but were to be retained until after the battle. Thus, they had a ring-side-seat to watch the bombardment.
Nineteen Man-O-Wars ships opened up with 10- and 18-inch mortars on Sept. 13, at 6:30 in the morning. There was a continuous rain of shells and explosion falling on the fort, all day long. At the same time, the British troops commenced their attack on the city. This time, however, the Americans were ready. Instead of lining up in ranks, the American troops had dug trenches. Wave-after-wave of British troops were stopped. A sharpshooter, also, killed the British General Rose. Finally, after several charges, the British withdrew, defeated.
At Fort McHenry, day turned to night, but the shelling by the British Navy continued. Francis Key, Col. Skinner, and Dr. Beanes were wondering - as dawn approached of the second day - if the fort still stood, or had they given up. At the first rays of dawn approached, a cheer went up from the three men, and from the soldiers protecting the city. The American flag was still flying. The victory was ours. The British withdrew. And, this inspiration of that great American flag, still flying, inspired American troops all over the country, and this became the turning point of the war. Americans had defeated the greatest nation on Earth at that time. And now, it could take its rightful place as a force to be reckoned with.
“Oh say! Can you see by the dawn’s early light?” The morning of the second day of shelling.
“What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming.” They hailed the flag at the end of the first day of shelling, as night fell.
What were they praising, and hoping for? “Whose broad stripes and bright stars.” That flag. That American flag that meant we were not defeated.
All through the night, the sky was lit up with the exploding bombs and shells and rockets. “Through the perilous night” “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” Their illumination let the observers know that the flag was still flying.
“Oh, say. Does that star-spangled banner yet wave.” Yes, it does. It led through the Civil War. It marched up San Juan Hill. It marched before the Doughboys in WWI. It flew in two separate theaters of war in WWII. And it has inspired men and women in every conflict since.
And, my heart swells at parades, and at ball games, and anywhere that anthem is played and that flag is flown. And I will not disgrace it for any cause. It represents a nation. My nation. The greatest nation on earth. And I will respect it.