|The song we know and love as our national anthem took shape in the midst of the War of 1812, Great Britain’s determined effort to retake the American colonies and never be humiliated again. As many know, the British very nearly succeeded. After the war had raged on for two years, they invaded the new capital, Washington, D.C., and sent President Madison and the first lady fleeing for their lives. They burned down both the White House and the US Capitol Building, the symbolic center of the new nation.
Within a week, the British were now advancing on the city of Baltimore, the third largest population center of our new nation, guarded only by Fort McHenry in the Baltimore Harbor.
The goal was to destroy the fort and establish a strong beachhead from which to retake the country. The commander of the fort had commissioned two flags to be displayed, a large flag known as the garrison flag measuring 42 feet long by 30 feet wide and a storm flag for bad weather measuring 25’ by 17’. The commander wanted to proudly display the colors of the new country in the face of the long-anticipated attack.
The attack came in mid-September of 1814. Repeated land attacks were successfully repulsed by the American troops. The British regrouped and surrounded the fort with 16 British warships under the cover of inclement weather to begin a massive bombardment of Fort McHenry.
In the midst of all this, an errand of mercy was being undertaken by two men, lawyer Francis Scott Key and John C. Skinner. They visited the British fleet to negotiate the release of Dr. William Beanes, one of dozens of leading American citizens scooped up as hostages in the raid on Washington and the approach to Baltimore. The men were successful in their negotiations, but the British refused to release the three men, lest they warn the Americans of the Royal Navy’s attack.
The massive attack was launched. Thousands of cannonballs and hundreds of rockets rained down on the fort throughout the two-day bombardment. The attack was so overwhelming and the smoke and clouds so intense that only glimpses of the fort could be seen by the three men from deck of the British ship. After dark on the second day, the shelling stopped. Had the Americans withstood the attack or had the British stopped due to victory? Rising before dawn, the three Americans strained to see the fort. The evening before, in the fading twilight, they had seen the smaller storm flag. This morning what would they see—an American flag or the British flag? As they awaited the dawn, Key pulled an envelope out of his pocket and scribbled these well-known words: “Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's (last night’s) last gleaming?”
In the early dawn, Francis Scott Key held a telescope tight against his eye, looking for the flag. And there it was, not the small storm flag, not the British flag, but the large garrison flag waved proudly in the early morning sky on top of its 90-foot flagpole. The Americans took the worst that the British could dish out and had not been defeated!
The three men were released and Francis Scott Key finished his poem later that morning from the safety of his hotel room. Four verses were written, ending with this triumphant truth:
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us as a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”;
Let us stand this morning, understanding God’s deliverance from a more powerful foe and His continued protection of us as a nation. Let us join the Gospel Lovin’ Four and Colleen in singing our national anthem…