The Star-Spangled Banner

The Star-Spangled Banner
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"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States of America, with lyrics written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key. Key, a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, wrote them as a poem after seeing the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, by British ships in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812.


The poem, titled "Defence of Fort McHenry," was set to the tune of the popular British drinking song "The Anacreontic Song", more commonly known by its first line, "To Anacreon in Heaven," and became a well-known American patriotic song. With a range of one and a half octaves, it is known for being notoriously difficult to sing. It was recognized for official use by the United States Navy (1889) and the White House (1916), and was made the national anthem by a Congressional resolution on 3 March 1931 (46 Stat. 1508, codified at 36 USC 301). Although the song has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today


On September 3, 1814, Key and John S. Skinner, an American prisoner-exchange agent, set sail from Baltimore aboard the sloop HMS Minden flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by U.S. President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes, the elderly and popular town physician of Upper Marlboro, a friend of Key’s who had been captured in his home. He was being accused of aiding in the arrest of British soldiers. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship, HMS Tonnant, on 7 September and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner, while they discussed war plans. At first, Ross and Cochrane refused to release Beanes, but relented after Key and Skinner revealed to them letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment.

Because Key and Michle Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise, and later back on Minden, after which certain British gunboats attempted to slip past the fort and effect a landing in a cove to the west of it, but they were turned away by gunners at nearby Fort Covington, the city's last line of defense. During the rainy night, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort’s smaller "storm flag" continued to fly, but once the shelling had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn. By then, the storm flag had been lowered, and the larger flag had been raised.

Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort. This flag, with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, came to be known as the Star Spangled Banner Flag and is today on display in the National Museum of American History, a treasure of the Smithsonian Institution. It was restored in 1914 by Amelia Fowler, and again in 1998 as part of an ongoing conservation program.

Aboard the ship the next day, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had kept in his pocket. At twilight on 16 September, he and Skinner were released in Baltimore. He finished the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel, where he was staying, and he entitled it "Defense of Fort McHenry."

Key gave the poem to his brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H. Nicholson, who recognized that the words fit the tune of the popular melody "To Anacreon in Heaven," an old British drinking tune which dated from the mid-1760s, when it had been composed in London by John Stafford Smith. Nicholson took the poem to a printer in Baltimore, who anonymously printed broadside copies of it—the song’s first known printing—on 17 September; of these, two known copies survive.

On 20 September, both the Baltimore Patriot and The American printed the song, with the note "Tune: Anacraeon in Heaven", basing it off of a common song sung in pubs. The song quickly became popular, with seventeen newspapers from Georgia to New Hampshire printing it. Soon after, Thomas Carr of the Carr Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together under the title "The Star-Spangled Banner", although it was originally called "The Battle of Fort McHenry." The song’s popularity grew even larger, and its first public performance took place in October, when Baltimore actor Ferdinand Durang sang it at Captain McCauley’s tavern.

The song gained popularity throughout the nineteenth century and bands played it during public events, such as July 4 celebrations. On 27 July 1889, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy signed General Order #374, making "The Star-Spangled Banner" the official tune to be played at the raising of the flag.

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson ordered that "The Star-Spangled Banner" be played at military and other appropriate occasions. Although the playing of the song two years later during the seventh-inning stretch of the 1918 World Series is often noted as the first instance that the Anthem was played at a baseball game, evidence shows that the "Star-Spangled Banner" was performed as early as 1897 at Opening Day ceremonies in Philadelphia and then more regularly at the Polo Grounds in New York City beginning in 1898. Today, the anthem is performed before the first pitch at every game.

On 3 November 1929, Robert Ripley drew a panel in his syndicated cartoon, Believe it or Not!, saying, "Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem."[3] In 1931, John Philip Sousa published his opinion in favor, stating that "it is the spirit of the music that inspires" as much as it is Key’s "soul-stirring" words. By a law signed on 3 March 1931 by President Herbert Hoover, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was adopted as the national anthem of the United States.

                                    Modern history

The first modern non-traditional arrangement of the anthem heard by mainstream America was by Puerto Rican singer and guitarist Jose Feliciano. He stunned the crowd at Tiger Stadium in Detroit and the rest of America when he strummed a slow, bluesy rendition of the national anthem before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series between Detroit and St. Louis. This rendition started contemporary "Star-Spangled Banner" controversies. The response from many in Vietnam-era America was generally negative, given that 1968 was a tumultuous year for the United States. Despite the controversy, Feliciano's performance opened the door for the countless interpretations of the "Star-Spangled Banner" we hear today. [4]

Another famous instrumental interpretation is Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo at the first Woodstock Festival. Incorporating sonic effects to emphasize the "rockets' red glare" and "bombs bursting in air", it became a late-1960s emblem.

Whitney Houston’s rendition at Super Bowl XXV with the Florida Orchestra is often considered by some to be one of the best performances of the song. There were actually no live microphones; everyone was lip synching and finger synching. Houston's vocal and the orchestra track had been separately prerecorded. Mariah Carey's rendition at Super Bowl XXXVI is another outstanding prerecorded performance featuring one of the highest notes sung using the Whistle register.

When sung in public (before major sporting events, for example), verses after the first are almost always omitted, and few Americans know their words, or even that they exist. Isaac Asimov’s short story "No Refuge Could Save" made light of this: a foreign spy was identified when it was found he knew every stanza, the joke being that no "real" American would know the whole text.

It is also sometimes said humorously that the last two words of the national anthem are "PLAY BALL!" since that phrase is shouted by baseball umpires after the anthem is played before games. On his album "Wake Up America!", Abbie Hoffman and several musicians perform a raucous version of the song, with Hoffman shouting "Play ball!" at the song's conclusion. American motor racing events also play the song before the start of the race, leading to the other supposed last words of the anthem: "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

In 1990, Roseanne Barr sang an altered version of the song before a baseball game in San Diego, adding her own brand of baseball humor at the end of the rendition by grabbing/scratching her crotch and spitting. She was booed off the field at the song's conclusion.

In March 2005, the government-sponsored The National Anthem Project was launched after a Harris Interactive poll showed many adults knew neither the lyrics nor the history of the anthem. [1] While some view this project (sponsored by the military and various corporations) as a form of wartime propaganda, some music teachers say it will offer benefits for music education by bringing new attention to their efforts.





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?

On the shore, dimly seen thro’ the mist 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 it 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. Oh! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

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 footstep’s 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.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation,
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r 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.

              God save this country from the fifth columnist


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