On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key pens a titled “The Defence of Fort M’Henry,” after he witnessed the fort being bombarded by the British during the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the sight of a lone U.S. flag still flying over Fort McHenry at daybreak, as reflected in the now-famous words of the “Star-Spangled Banner”: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
On June 18, 1812, America declared war on Great Britain after a series of trade disagreements. In August 1814, British troops invaded Washington, D.C., and burned the White House, Capitol Building and Library of Congress, then turned their attention toward Baltimore.
After Dr. William Beanes, was taken prisoner by the British, Francis Scott Key went to Baltimore, located the ship where his friend Beanes was being held and negotiated his release. During the negotiations, the Royal Navy began their bombardment and although not technically prisoners, Key and Beanes weren’t allowed to leave until the battle concluded. Key watched the bombing campaign unfold from aboard a ship located about eight miles away. After a day, the British were unable to destroy the fort and gave up. Key was relieved to see the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry and quickly penned a few lines in tribute to what he had witnessed.
The poem was printed in newspapers and eventually set to the music of a popular English drinking tune called “To Anacreon in Heaven” by composer John Stafford Smith. Eventually people began referring to the poem/song as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson announced that it should be played at all official events. It was adopted as the national anthem by Congress on March 3, 1931.