Remembering the War of 1812, 200 Years Later


Re-enactors at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, earlier this month

Did you know that several 13-year-olds helped create the flag that inspired the United States’ national anthem?

That’s just one of the things kids are learning this month, as the nation marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

About 200 years ago, on June 18th, 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain – less than 30 years after the end of the Revolutionary War.

The reason?

According to historians, the British were forcibly trying to keep the United States from trading with France, which was Britain’s archrival at the time.

In addition, U.S. officials suspected that Britain was helping the Native Americans in their efforts to stop U.S. settlers from moving further west.

The United States felt compelled to show Britain it could no longer control its former colonies.

And according to many historians, the Americans even hoped to drive the British out of Canada, which was still under British control in 1812.

In the end, after a couple of years and many battles, the Canadians managed to protect themselves from being overrun by the Americans.

And the Americans managed to maintain their independence from the British – although the British did succeed in burning down the White House.

One of the most memorable battles of the war happened at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland.

On September 13th and 14th, the British Navy attacked the fort from its ships on Chesapeake Bay.

Among the Americans who witnessed the battle was a man named Francis Scott Key.

On the 14th, in the “dawn’s early light,” he noticed that the American flag was still flying over the fort.

“And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” he wrote, “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”

Those words became part of the Star-Spangled Banner – the song that became our national anthem.

The flag that inspired the anthem was a huge flag created by a woman named Mary Pickersgill – so big, apparently, that she couldn’t stitch it together all by herself.

So according to historians, she got some help from several kids – her 13-year-old daughter, Caroline Young, her nieces, 13-year-old Eliza and 15-year-old Margaret Young, and a 13-year-old African American servant named Grace Wisher.

Today, you can see their work for yourself, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

That’s where the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the battle — Star-Spangled Banner itself — is now on permanent display.

The War of 1812 has become overshadowed by the wars our nation fought before and after it.

But as President Obama noted earlier this month, “The War of 1812 helped define our young nation.”

Today, the United States, the United Kingdom (which includes Britain) and Canada are all close allies.

On June 18th of this year, they all signed a “declaration of peace” at a bicentennial ceremony at Fort McHenry.

“Much … has changed in 200 years,” U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said, according to the Baltimore Sun newspaper.  “Today, we stand together as inseparable friends.”

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