News / USA

US Marks 'Forgotten War' Bicentennial

To kick off the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, ships from around the world sailed past Fort McHenry and exchanged cannon fire with re-enactors on land, but it was all for show. (S. Logue/VOA)
To kick off the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, ships from around the world sailed past Fort McHenry and exchanged cannon fire with re-enactors on land, but it was all for show. (S. Logue/VOA)
Susan Logue
The cannons firing today at Fort McHenry in the U.S. state of Maryland, are for the benefit of tourists. But that wasn’t the case nearly 200 years ago, when more than a dozen British ships bombarded the fort at the entrance to Baltimore harbor.

"It was pouring down rain.  It was windy,” says Vincent Vaise, head historian for the fort. “Rockets [were] streaking over the fort, bombs exploding. You could hear the reverberations, the concussions around the fort.”

America's most famous struggle against the British occurred decades earlier during the War of Independence. Every Fourth of July Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence, issued on July 4, 1776, which marked the beginning of the seven-year war.

The United States also waged another war against Britain during the War of 1812. Yet many Americans are unfamiliar with that conflict and its famous Battle of Baltimore. Now, as the United States marks the war's bicentennial, some historians, especially in Maryland, are eager to change that. 

The Battle of Baltimore took place in 1814. The bombardment lasted 25 hours and was a turning point in the war that started two years earlier along the border with Canada.

“We thought they would love to be a part of the United States and throw off the yolk of English tyranny,” says Burt Kummerow, president of the Maryland Historical Society.  “But when [the Americans] actually attacked the British armies up there, they found out very quickly the Canadians weren’t so interested in being grabbed.”

There were other reasons the U.S. declared war on Britain. The British Navy was intercepting American vessels and seizing crew members to man its warships.

Baltimore, in particular, was a target,  “because Baltimore had a big reputation for being a real thorn in the side of the British merchant fleet," Kummerow says. "They were sending out privateers, because this was a great shipbuilding area. They were attacking the British.”

On September 13, 1814, British ships attacked Fort McHenry in a bid to take the city.

That battle is remembered largely thanks to Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer,  who was down river observing the action through a spy glass, as the sun began to rise.
It’s all about the flag at Fort McHenry in Maryland, where every day visitors unfold a large “star-spangled banner” as they listen to the story behind the US national anthem. (S. Logue/VOA)It’s all about the flag at Fort McHenry in Maryland, where every day visitors unfold a large “star-spangled banner” as they listen to the story behind the US national anthem. (S. Logue/VOA)
x
It’s all about the flag at Fort McHenry in Maryland, where every day visitors unfold a large “star-spangled banner” as they listen to the story behind the US national anthem. (S. Logue/VOA)
It’s all about the flag at Fort McHenry in Maryland, where every day visitors unfold a large “star-spangled banner” as they listen to the story behind the US national anthem. (S. Logue/VOA)

“He wasn’t sure who won the fight, and then he sees the huge flag waving over the fort, it was like, ‘Yes!’" Vaise says. "And he realizes that a powerful morale victory had been won, and he will write the words that became ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”

Key’s handwritten homage to the national flag is on display at the Maryland Historical Society.  “He wrote lyrics to a song.  It wasn’t a poem; it was a song,” Kummerow says.

The tune had been around for 40 years, and was popular.  When paired with Key’s lyrics, Kummerow says, “It went viral.”

In 1931, when Congress decided the United States should have a national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” was chosen.

Tourists come to Fort McHenry to hear the story behind the national anthem, but Vaise hopes they leave understanding another legacy of the war.

“We were no longer that former colony," he says. "We were this young and up-and-coming nation that was on the rise."
 
And the Star-Spangled Banner, both the flag and the anthem, became powerful, lasting symbols of that optimism.

You May Like

US, Brazil's Climate-Change Plan: More Renewables, Less Deforestation

Officials say joint initiative on climate change will allow Brazil, United States to strengthen and accelerate cooperation on issues ranging from land use to clean energy More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

After Nearly a Century, Voodoo Opera Rises Again

Opera centers on character named Lolo, a Louisiana plantation worker and Voodoo priestess More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishui
X
Abdulaziz Billow
June 30, 2015 2:16 PM
Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs