Friday, October 30, 2009
September 11 is an important date in our history. On September 11, a foreign enemy attacked America’s largest seaport. There was smoke and fire that obscured the horrible loss of life from the explosions.
But I’m not talking about September 11, 2001, I’m talking about September 11, 1814. British sea forces started bombarding Ft. McHenry at Baltimore, Maryland, America’s largest seaport at the time. It is called the War of 1812, and most Americans don’t realize how close we came to surrendering our tenuous independence that had been won only thirty years earlier.
Three weeks earlier, British General Robert Ross made a tactical error. Instead of attacking Baltimore immediately, he attacked Washington D.C. which had only 8,000 residents, half of whom were slaves. There was little resistance, and the British captured Washington easily. President James Madison had fled earlier in the day, but Dolly Madison had remained at the White House setting her huge table with forty places for what she hoped would be a victory banquet. She stayed until she saw the British soldiers approaching the White House. As she fled, she quickly took a painting of George Washington down from the wall, cutting it from its frame and an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.
The enemy soldiers entered the White House and found the table set for a banquet with food in the kitchen. General Ross and his officers sat down and enjoyed a sumptuous meal, courtesy of the First Lady. Then they set fire to the White House and other public buildings. Dolly Madison watched from a nearby hillside as our nation’s capital burned.
However, the very next day, an unusual weather phenomenon occurred. Although hurricanes seldom make landfall around Washington, a violent hurricane roared ashore and two hours of torrential rain and winds extinguished the fires, and the White House wasn’t completely destroyed. Tornadoes spawned by the hurricane killed more British soldiers than the battle of Washington itself!
The weather was so bad that General Ross decided to leave Washington rather than occupy it. As he was leaving he asked an American lady: "Great God, Madam! Is this the kind of storm to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?" The lady answered, "No, Sir, this is a special interposition of Almighty God to drive our enemies from our city."
Indeed, you won’t read this in the history books, but that storm probably turned the tide and made the difference between defeat and victory in the War of 1812. Had Washington burned to ground and the British troops not been decimated by the storm, we might be loyal subjects of Queen Elizabeth to this day! But God intervened.
Then General Ross moved what was left of his troops north toward Baltimore. On the fateful date of 9/11, (September 11, 1814) he launched the attack on the final American stronghold of Fort McHenry that guarded the Baltimore harbor. He sent orders for the ships in the harbor to start shelling the Fort. On the next day, September 12, General Ross was fatally wounded by an American teenage sniper as he led his troops. Ross was carried to a ship for medical attention and died there.
Meanwhile, a lawyer from Baltimore who was also a published hymn writer had rowed out under a flag of truce to one of the British ships to discuss a prisoner exchange with the British officers. He successfully negotiated the exchange, but because the bombardment of the Fort had commenced since he had boarded the ship, he wasn’t allowed to sail back toward Baltimore.
It was a fierce attack on Fort McHenry. The British Navy was the strongest in the world and had the most modern weapons of the time. They fired over 1500 shots at Fort McHenry including the new Congreve Rockets that left red trails of sparks as they streaked through the sky. ("the rockets’ red glare") The ship cannons shot bombs with delayed fuses that often exploded in the sky before they reached the target ("the bombs bursting in air").
The commander of Ft. McHenry was Major George Armisted. He realized the importance of this battle for the future of the young nation. So to inspire his troops, he had ordered a huge battle flag to fly over the fort. It was 40 feet long and 32 feet wide - with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes to represent the 15 young states. To give you a feel for the size of the flag, each red and white stripe was 2 feet wide.
The young lawyer and hymn writer was forced to watch the terrible bombardment from the British ship in the harbor. After sunset as night fell, he caught glimpses of the huge flag. Throughout the night it was often obscured by the smoke of the bombing. He watched the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air, and he wondered if there would even be a fort, or a flag, or a nation by the next morning. Because of the constant bombing, it was impossible to sleep, so early the next morning the young hymn writer, whose name was Francis Scott Key, rushed to the rail of the ship to see the damage.
The early eastern sun illuminated the fort and as the gentle breeze blew the smoke away, there was silence because the British had expended all their ammunition. Key saw an amazing sight. There, fluttering in the morning breeze, was the huge flag - tattered from shrapnel, but still proud. He was so moved that he wrote down a hymn on the back of a letter he had in his pocket. That hymn later became our national anthem.
Listen to his words again: "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. Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
That hymn was sung and played for years after the War of 1812, but it wasn’t until 1932 that it became our official national anthem. All of us who love America also love the flag and the national anthem, but notice that the first stanza ends with a question: DOES the star-spangled banner yet wave over our land? It does now, but for how much longer? The Bible says, "The wicked shall be turned into hell; and every nation that forgets God." (Psalm 9:17)
Francis Scott Key’s question is answered in the rest of his hymn. The biggest problem with our national anthem is that we stop singing with the first stanza and most people don’t even know there are four full stanzas. You should read all of them, but the last stanza is the best one. It doesn’t end with a question, it ends with a powerful declaration. And it is a declaration that America needs to wake up and rediscover. Let’s let it speak for itself: "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 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!"
Concerned Christians should face this powerful truth: As long as our motto is: IN GOD IS OUR TRUST, then we will remain a great nation. Ronald Reagan hit the nail on the head when he stated, "If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under."
Let's start singing the LAST stanza of our National Anthem!
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