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On September 13, 1814, the young American lawyer Francis Scott Key was inspired by the successful American defense of Fort McHenry, Maryland, during the War of 1812. The poem he wrote about the battle, “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” was put to music and eventually became the national anthem of the United States, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
 
Key witnessed the battle while he was briefly detained on British gunboats in Baltimore Harbor, where Fort McHenry is located. Key was negotiating for the release of some American prisoners, and the British temporarily held him after he overheard their plans to attack Baltimore. 
 
From the British ships, Key saw the fort’s 5x8 meter (17x25 foot) “storm flag” hit with British rocket fire. Key didn’t know the outcome of the battle until the following morning, when the fort unfurled its massive 9x13 meter (30x42 foot) banner.
 
Set to an already popular tune, “Defense of Fort M’Henry” became one of the most popular patriotic songs of the 19th century. It was officially declared the national anthem in 1931.
anthem
Noun

song of strong belief in faith or patriotism.

banner
Noun

flag.

battle
Noun

violent encounter during a conflict.

briefly
Adverb

for a short time.

commanding officer
Noun

authority (officer) in charge of a military unit.

defense
Noun

protection or resistance to attack.

detain
Verb

to confine or delay.

eventually
Adverb

at some point in the future.

fort
Noun

military outpost, area, or set of buildings.

gunboat
Noun

small, armed warship.

Noun

part of a body of water deep enough for ships to dock.

inspire
Verb

to influence to act.

Noun

body of land surrounded by water.

lawyer
Noun

person who studies the law, represents clients, and gives legal advice.

massive
Adjective

very large or heavy.

negotiate
Verb

to discuss with others of different viewpoints in order to reach an agreement, contract, or treaty.

outcome
Noun

result.

patriotic
Adjective

supporting and celebrating a nation and its people.

poem
Noun

written or spoken composition notable for its beauty or rhythm.

spangle
Verb

to glitter or sparkle.

temporarily
Adverb

for a short or limited time.

troop
Noun

a soldier.

unfurl
Verb

to uncurl or straighten out.

War of 1812
Noun

(1812-1815) conflict between the United States and the British Empire.

witness
Verb

to see and be aware of by personal, first-hand knowledge.

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