The United States surprised powers in Europe by declaring war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. The British had not taken the United States very seriously despite its recent achievement of independence. This contempt resulted in British harrasment of American ships and the impressment of U.S. sailors into service on British ships. The Americans not only wanted to be respected on the seas but also wanted to gain control of the still British-occupied parts of the North American continent. Although a peace treaty was signed in December 1814, hostilities didn’t cease until the end of the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.
Francis Scott Key was a lawyer and amateur poet who, during the War of 1812, was asked to assist in obtaining the release of his close friend Dr. William Beanes, who had been taken prisoner by the British. Key and Colonel John Skinner took a small boat to meet the Royal Navy. Once on board, they secured Beanes’s release, but since the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about to begin they were not allowed to immediately return to Baltimore. Instead, they had to sit through the British attack. Key noticed that the American flag was still flying after the twenty-five hour assault, which inspired him to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which in 1931 was adopted as the United States’ national anthem.
The Battle of Fort McHenry played a critical role in the larger British assault on Baltimore. On September 13, 1814, nineteen British ships opened fire on the fort. The British ships were positioned just out of range of the American guns, so an estimated 1,500 to 1,800 British cannonballs failed to cause any significant damage. Under Major George Armistead, the Americans opened fire on a British landing attempt. The British withdrew on the morning of September 14, 1814, turning the tide of the war.
The stamp at far right features Key's portrait, the old Key home, the flag of 1814, the American flag in use when the stamp was released in 1948 and a view of Fort McHenry.
The stamp of the Star-Spangled Bannger shows the flag in use during the War of 1812.