By Dr. Michael T. George, Contributor | NEWSL.ORG
It was no ordinary Saturday as the sun bowed its head to nightfall on this early September evening. The major looked outside his post and began to see warships coming up the body of water that surrounded the fortification just outside the city. His sixth sense immediately told him that they were about to come under siege.
By Tuesday morning his worst fears became reality as the shelling began from the vessels stationed on the river. It was an incessant and well directed bombardment. Immediately the orders were given to open up and return fire.
Sadly the shots all fell short.
The enemy’s war ships could fire their 200 pound shells from a distance of two miles. Unfortunately the defenders cannons, though very powerful, could only reach a mile and a half. The men felt helpless. A heavy rain began to fall. The enemy fired upon the American forces relentlessly without the remote possibility of receiving any retaliation.
The siege had begun.
For eight long hours they had endured this fighting when, at about 2 p.m., a scream pierced the overcast sky. A shell had detonated above the men. The explosion immediately killed Lt. Levi Claggett while another piece of the rocket’s casing two inches thick ripped diagonally through the body of Sergeant Clemm and embedded itself two feet into the ground. The brave soldier fell at the foot of young Isaac Monroe. A private grabbed his friend as he watched him give up the final breaths of life for the cause of freedom and independence.
Four other men were also wounded in the explosion. Men laying on the ground writhing in pain gasping for medical assistance. The enemy sensing the despair and confusion edged three of their bombing vessels closer in hopes to take control
The situation seemed most distressing. Yet the men did not shirk from the conflict. The words of Patrick Henry seemed to echo from beyond the grave to every man engaged in defense:
“The battle sir is not to the strong alone, it is to the vigilant, it is to the active, it is to the brave;”
When the major saw the ships come within range he gave the command to his men, “Open Fire.” The orders where joyously welcomed with waiting arms by the entire garrison. Cannons ignited with the sound of American defense. Shot after shot exploded into and around the British warships and within 30 minutes the enemy was forced to withdraw back out of reach. Cheers went up as the men knew they had won a brief victory, but the battle was certainly not over.
Unhappy with the brief defeat, the enemy began to throw rockets incessantly throughout the evening and into the night. Thunder claps fill the sky as streaks of lightening shot across the darkness.
At about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, under the cloak of darkness the haughty foe detached 1,250 men in smaller vessels hoping to reach the shore. The major instructed his united group of Army, Navy and Citizen Soldiers to open up their battery of weaponry in defense of Baltimore. For more than two hours the sky was ablaze with cannons and rockets filling the air. The enemy would once again have to retreat.
The tide was now beginning to turn. The locals positioned just outside the city had repelled a massive group of intruding forces that were trying to overthrow the city from the north by land. The enemy had not been prepared for this congregation of citizens willing to lay down their lives for one another in defense of their homeland.
Back at the fortification, the ships continued to shell these American band of brothers until 7 a.m.
More than 1,500 rockets and cannons had been fired but they had not accomplished their goal.
The city had not fallen and the enemy now decided to retreat.
At 9 a.m. as the rain and fog began to cease, the major gave the orders to fire a single cannon, as the small storm flag was lowered and a very large garrison flag, with 15 huge stars and 15 beautiful stripes, was raised above the rampart for all the world to see.
In the distance on a small vessel out on the river a young man saw the flag. Filled with emotion he wrote these words…
On the shore dimly seen thro’ the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As if fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream;
‘Tis the star-spangled banner; O, long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
The words of the young lawyer reminded the nation of the truth that Freedom has a cost. Everyday somewhere in America people honor the memory of not only these men who died, but for all who have given their lives in defense of the homeland. People stand, remove their hats and sing the poem of Francis Scott Key…
O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
We all know the name of Francis Scott Key, for he saw the flag and wrote the words of our National Anthem, but so few know the names of the men who died giving their life so the United States could remain a free and independent nation.