“Grove provides a page-turning narrative that enhances the familiar aspects of this story and fills in those little-known areas… Generous archival illustrations and the rich and varied backmatter make this a boon for fledgling historians. A well-researched and spirited slice of history.” Kirkus starred review
My new book, Star-Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem, is now available at booksellers everywhere. The US national anthem is rare among national anthems of the world in that it is about a historic event rather than the virtues of a country’s people or a prayer for a country’s sovereign. It focuses on Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. A fierce, two-pronged British attack in 1814 during the War of 1812 could have ended in disaster for the Americans. The fragile nation, up against the mightiest navy in the world, could have lost its independence in its first war as a new nation. The British army had burned Washington, the new capital city, just weeks earlier with little resistance. Baltimore leaders took a vote and decided to fight rather than surrender. They didn’t know if the British would burn their city or destroy it. Baltimore needed to stand firm.
Most American associate a Georgetown lawyer named Francis Scott Key with the story. He wrote the lyrics to a song that many years later became the USA’s official national anthem. But, if you think you know the story, I bet you don’t. There is so much more to the story than Frank Key. Mary Pickersgill, a flagmaker, sewed the giant flag that flew over the fort. She finished it in a brewery because her house wasn’t large enough. No one has heard of General Samuel Smith, the hero of the day and leading defender of Baltimore. Then there is Thomas Kemp, who built government sanctioned pirate ships. The British called Baltimore a nest of pirates.
Two British leaders play a big part in my story as well, Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane and Rear Admiral George Cockburn. They disliked Americans intensely. But they are an important part of the story.
And the story of the Colonial Marines, a British force of formerly enslaved men, is truly inspiring.
For my research, I’ve visited quite a few history sites associated with this story and fortunately, most of them are preserved and open to the public. Here are some of the blog posts I’ve written about my travels.
Gloucester Cathedral and the US national anthem
Their final resting places
Stories of a national anthem
Mary, not Betsy
A historic inn on the Eastern Shore
Last battle against Britain
British invasion at North Point
I invite you to explore this story with me and to visit the sites where history was made. At some point I’ll be making presentations about the book. Let me know if you’d like to invite me to speak about it, using the contact page at timgrove.net