Those of us in Ohio have always known that The Ohio State University Marching Band is the Best Damn Band In The Land.  Now, thanks to the Bus Riding Conservative and this video showing the band skimming across the waters of Lake Erie on their way to a celebration of the War of 1812 at Put-in-Bay, we know that TBDBITL is also TBDBOTW.

Old Ironsides Sets Sail

Tomorrow the USS Constitution — America’s oldest still-commissioned warship, and the world’s oldest commissioned ship that is still afloat — sets sail for only the second time in more than 130 years.

The Constitution will leave Boston Harbor tomorrow for a 10-minute deep water cruise under the power of the sails on its towering masts.  Its tour will commemorate the 200th anniversary of its famous battle against the British ship HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812.  In that battle, the Guerriere‘s cannonballs bounced harmlessly off the Constitution‘s sturdy oak hull, causing a sailor to exclaim that the ship’s sides were “made of iron” — and giving the Constitution her great nickname, Old Ironsides.  The Guerriere eventually surrendered to the American ship, shocking the British press and giving American morale a much-needed boost.

Old Ironsides was launched in 1797, sailed the high seas during the Napoleonic period, fought the Barbary pirates, and defeated all four British ships it encountered during the War of 1812.  The ship continued to sail under the American flag until 1855, when it was taken out of active duty, undefeated.  Since 1881, the USS Constitution has sailed the ocean seas under its own power only once — in 1997, on the 200th anniversary of its launching.  Tomorrow, Old Ironsides sails again.

Remembering A Forgotten War

On Independence Day, shouldn’t we also remember the conflict that some have called America’s second War of Independence?

What’s that, you say?  A second War of Independence?  I’m speaking, of course, of what Americans call the War of 1812 — when they talk about it at all, which isn’t often.  Most people heard about the war in American History class, thought it was boring and confusing, and promptly forgot about it.  That reaction isn’t surprising.  Who wants to think about a war where Washington, D.C. was embarrassingly captured and burned?

The War of 1812 grew out of America’s status as a pawn in the global chess game between Great Britain and Napoleonic France.  Both countries tried to restrict trade with the United States, a bit player in the Euro-centric world of the early 1800s, and the British routinely “impressed” — i.e., kidnapped — American sailors the Royal Navy encountered on the high seas.  A fed-up Congress declared war on Great Britain, land and sea battles were fought, the White House and the U.S. Capitol were burned by British troops, and the British bombardment of Baltimore led to the penning of The Star Spangled Banner.  The war ended with the Treaty of Ghent, in which the British agreed to leave the U.S. border with Canada unchanged and promised not to roil up Indian tribes in the American West, and America stopped insisting that the British end impressment.  America then achieved its only significant land battle victory in the Battle of New Orleans, which was fought after the treaty had been negotiated.

Although most Americans have forgotten the inconclusive conflict, many Ohioans — including the Bus-Riding Conservative — are buffs of the War of 1812.  That’s because one of America’s notable victories, in the Battle of Lake Erie, was fought just off Ohio’s northern shores.  An American gunboat squadron commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry defeated a British squadron, and Perry wrote the deathless line “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”  Today any reveler at Put-in-Bay — and there are likely to be a few — can hoist a cold adult beverage to Commodore Perry and salute the nearby Perry Monument that towers over the lake’s shores.

Old Hickory At Jackson Square

The French Quarter’s Jackson Square is named after Old Hickory — Major General (and later President) Andrew Jackson.  Jackson is forever linked to New Orleans because of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, where American forces defeated the British — even though the War of 1812 had officially ended with the signing of treaty weeks beforehand.

The square is a beautiful piece of ground, close to the Mississippi River and adjacent to St. Louis Cathedral.  It features a suitably heroic statue of Old Hickory on horseback.

The Star-Spangled Banner

The broad strokes of the story of the penning of the poem that became The Star-Spangled Banner are familiar to most Americans. We know that it happened during the War of 1812, and was motivated by British shelling of Fort McHenry in Baltimore’s harbor.

Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry

The poem’s author, Francis Scott Key, was a lawyer living in Washington D.C. When the British captured Washington, D.C., they took a local physician, Dr. William Beanes, as prisoner. Beanes was being held aboard a British ship outside Baltimore. Key, who served as district attorney for the District of Columbia, went to the British to try to secure Beanes’ release. He was successful in negotiating the release, but because the British were preparing to attack Baltimore they detained Key while the attack occurred. (Wars were certainly civilized in that era!)

Key therefore anxiously watched the attack on Fort McHenry from the deck of a ship, witnessed a bombardment that included hundreds of bombs, rockets, and shells that killed four of the Fort’s defenders, and then, at daybreak as a rainstorm ended, was relieved and proud to see the Fort’s flag still flying. He wrote some of his poem on the back of an envelope and then completed it at a local hotel.

Artists rendering of the shelling of Fort McHenry

The shelling of Fort McHenry

The flag that flew over Fort McHenry on that day has been preserved and is on display at the Smithsonian Institution. It is a 15-star, 15-stripe garrison flag that was made in 1813. Ohio, of course, is represented by one of the stars.

After Key’s poem was finished and published, it was set to the music of the The Anacreontic Song and quickly became popular. It was one of several popular American patriotic songs — America the Beautiful was another, as was Yankee Doodle — and apparently was claimed, and lustily sung, by soldiers on both sides during the Civil War. Interestingly, it did not officially become the National Anthem until 1931, through the enactment of legislation signed by President Hoover.

The Star-Spangled Banner has four verses, each of which mentions the “star-spangled banner” and ends with the deathless phrase , “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Of course, Americans are familiar with the first verse, which is the one sung before sporting events. The other verses are interesting, too. Who knew that the third verse referred to “pollution” and “the hireling and slave”? In fact, the third and fourth verses strike a distinctly martial, and religious, tone that has been echoed in many American political speeches since 1814:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave

Happy Independence Day to all! Those interested in reading more about Francis Scott Key and The Star-Spangled Banner can go here and here.