Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Bicentennial

Tall ships are gathering in Baltimore to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. It is appropriate that ships should take part, for the war grew out of America's frustration with the restrictions placed and depredations practiced on its commerce by the British and French. It is also appropriate in that for a long time the US had no successes to point to but naval ones.

Baltimore saw action, but late in the war. Having successfully raided Washington, the British attacked Baltimore. Their soldiers encountered field fortifications that appeared uneconomical to storm; in any case they had lost their general in the confused skirmishing. The celebrated shelling of Fort McHenry, on the other hand, caused no deaths or injuries on either side. Still, it was showy enough to inspire Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner", a fine anthem that few can sing.

Yet in June of 1812 there was excitement in Baltimore. A city mob destroyed the plant of a Federalist paper that had dared criticize the declaration of was. The next week's edition of the paper was printed in Washington, but with the address of a house in Baltimore. The mob attacked this house, where the occupants were waiting, armed, and were fired on. The occupants were taken to jail, but the mob broke into the jail and beat them. One man, a veteran of the Revolution, died of his injuries. Henry (Light Horse Harry) Lee, sometime governor of Virginia and father of Robert E. Lee, survived, but never really recovered his health.

There were riots again in Baltimore at the beginning of the Civil War, when the locals exchanged fire with Massachusetts infantry marching from one rail station to another. Maryland was a slave state, much in sympathy with secession, and did not care to see Yankees marching through.

The Maryland state anthem, "Maryland, My Maryland" recalls this incident. Now and again somebody will notice that "the despot's heel is on thy shore" speaks poorly of Abraham Lincoln, and will raise a question in the legislature about changing the song, but nothing has been done yet.

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