Not content with burning Washington, the British next attacked Baltimore, where they shelled Fort McHenry for more than twenty–four hours. When their ships first drew near the fort, some Americans came on board with a flag of truce, to arrange for an exchange of prisoners. But fearing that these men would betray their plans, the British held them, and it was from the enemy’s vessels that they saw the whole battle.
One of these Americans, the poet and patriot Francis S. Key, stood there, anxiously watching his country’s flag, to see whether the fort would surrender. But although hidden by smoke from time to time, the flag waved proudly on all day, and when the sun rose on the morrow it still greeted his delighted eyes. This sight filled Key’s heart with such joy and pride that he then and there wrote the words of one of our most famous national songs, “The Star–Spangled Banner.”
The British, seeing their cannon had had no effect upon Fort McHenry, finally sailed away, allowing the Americans to go back to land. The song which Key had composed was printed without delay, and before long it was sung everywhere. Now it is familiar to every citizen of the United States, and is sung on every national festival.