Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 10:00 AM

Dr. Ralph Eshelman

Testimony of Dr. Ralph Eshelman

on

S. 958 The Star-Spangled National Historic Trail Designation

before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks

of the Committee of Energy and Natural Resources

July 28, 2005

 

 

First I would like to thank the Chair and the members of this Subcommittee on National Parks to allow me to testify in support of an amendment to the National Trail System Act to add a new historic trail, the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. I have been involved in cultural resource preservation and management for over thirty-five years and served as the historian for the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail Study. I can think of no existing or potential historic trail in the United States that is more deserving of this national distinction then the trail we are now considering.

The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail Study was approved by the Secretary of Interior after exhaustive research and review by numerous scholars and several public presentations. The proposed Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail meets all the criteria for designation as required by the National Trail System Act. Below is a brief summary of the significance of the War of 1812, how the Star-Spangled Banner came about as a result of this war, criteria upon which the proposed trail was determined eligible for National designation, and a personal perspective on the potential significance of inclusion of this proposed trail into the National Trail System.

What was the War of 1812? Because it took place only 29 years after the United States secured its freedom from England, the War of 1812 is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the "Second War for Independence." However, the British were not fighting to regain their former American
colonies. Rather, they sought to protect their remaining North American interest, Canada. The Revolutionary War (Loyalists versus Revolutionists) and American Civil War (Yankees versus Rebels) were in many instances a war of brother against brother. The War of 1812 was an
international conflict (Great Britain versus the United States), even though Americans were divided over it (Federalists Doves versus Democrat-Republican Hawks). New Englanders were especially against the war, while the South and West largely favored it.

What caused the War of 1812? It is estimated that by 1807 over 1,000 Maryland sailors alone had been illegally and unwillingly pressed into service on British warships, mostly to help England fight Napoleon. On June 21, 1807, the US frigate Chesapeake left the Washington Navy Yard and sailed down the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay into the Atlantic. It was soon hailed by the larger British warship HMS Leopard, which demanded that the frigate muster its crew so a search could be conducted for British "deserters." The Chesapeake refused, whereupon the British opened fire, killing three American sailors, then boarded and took four men, two of whom were black and two of whom were nephews of George Washington. President Thomas Jefferson, trying to avoid war, retaliated by placing an embargo on all English goods. However, this curtailed commerce, which especially upset New Englanders, since they controlled most American shipping, and thus their fortunes were most threatened. As a result, there was talk of secession.

While the new administration under President James Madison emphasized the maritime issues with England, the war was largely a result of the desire for national expansion. The southern and western slaveholding states, led by War Hawks such as John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay, wanted
war with Britain in order to push the annexation of Canada, expand the western and southern frontiers, remove the threat of alliance between Britain and the Indians of the Great Lakes region, and help prevent slaves from escaping beyond American borders. While valid maritime issues did exist, they were less the cause of the war than a pretext for public outcry, as expressed by the slogan that it was necessary to protect "free trade and sailors rights." After a war vote that barely passed in the Senate, President Madison signed the declaration of war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812. American opposition to the war was as widespread as that during the Vietnam War.

Early American forays into Canada for the most part resulted in routs, but Captain Oliver Perry's victory at Lake Erie eased the threat of British attack from the west. Still, the victory of the USS
Constitution ("Old Ironsides") over the HMS Guerriere, and American privateers who successfully took the war to the shores of England, were isolated successes among an otherwise dismal affair for America due to the small size of the U.S. regular army and navy, over reliance on volunteer militia as well as ineptitude, lack of leadership, stupidity and woeful lack of preparedness for a major conflict. By 1814 the British Navy had blockaded nearly the entire east coast reducing foreign trade to six percent of its 1807 peak. With the defeat of Napoleon England concentrated its efforts on America. The War of 1812 was the first and only time a foreign military force invaded the United States. Our young Nation’s capitol was burnt in 1814 in retaliation for America’s burning of York (now Toronto), then the capitol of Upper Canada, in April of the previous year. Had not Baltimore and Lake Champlain been successfully defended, the British probably would have crushed the United States. New England Federalists convened in Connecticut to denounce the war and weaken federal authority. Southerners called the act treason. The last major battle of the War of 1812 fought before the signing of the Peace Treaty of Ghent was the Battle for Baltimore fought on September 24-25, 1814. The American victory at the Battle of New Orleans was fought on January 8, 1815, 15 days after the Treaty. While the war was over, the annexation of Canada was blocked, but the nation could now look inward and westward. Citizens for the first time had confidence in the nation and could now truly refer to themselves as Americans.

How did the Star-Spangled Banner become a national icon? The United States had done nothing to defend its capital, Washington. Only a relatively small detachment at Fort Warburton (later called Fort Washington) on the Potomac River protected the city. Although it was estimated that 15,000 militiamen could be depended upon to defend Washington, in reality the government could muster only 1,000 regular troops and about 4,000 militiamen, and of the latter only a few hundred were actually available and ready.

Although some government leaders believed that Washington was not a likely enemy target, British forces embarked upon a plan to capture the capital in 1814. The main body of the British fleet entered the Patuxent River in Maryland and landed forces at Benedict to march overland to Washington. A smaller fleet entered the Potomac, in part as a feint to make the Americans think that was the direction of the invasion, but also to take Fort Warburton and provide a water route for land forces retreating from Washington, if necessary.

With most of the regular U.S. Army on the Canadian border, the defense of the nation's capital fell largely to poorly led, poorly trained, inexperienced militia. How much could be expected of them in the face of battle-hardened British soldiers, many just arriving after defeating Napoleon in Europe?

When the British returned through Upper Marlboro after successfully capturing Washington some British deserters began plundering small nearby farms. Robert Bowie, a former governor of Maryland, enlisted Dr. William Beanes, his cousin, among others, who seized six or seven of the deserters and confined them to a jail at nearby Queen Anne Town. One of the prisoners escaped and informed his commander of the incident. A contingent of British marines was sent to arrest Bowie, Beanes, and at least one other man. The Americans were held in exchange for the British prisoners. In addition the British threatened to burn the town to the ground if the British prisoners were not released by noon the next day. When the British prisoners were released all the Americans were likewise released except Beanes who was considered the instigator of the incident and was taken and placed in confinement aboard the British flag-ship HMS Tonnant some thirty-five miles away at Benedict. Beanes’s friend, Richard W. West, hurried to Georgetown to urge his brother-in-law, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Francis Scott Key, to arrange a mission to seek Beanes release. President James Madison authorized Key to meet with General John Mason of the U.S. Commissary for Prisoners. Mason approved the mission and gave Key a letter addressed to General Robert Ross in command of the British land forces setting forth the government’s case for Beanes’s release as a civilian noncombatant. Key was instructed to go to Baltimore and contact Colonel John Stuart Skinner, U.S. Agent for Exchange of Prisoners, to handle the negotiations. Ironically, it was Skinner who did a Revere-like ride to warn the capitol of the British approach in August 1814. Skinner and Key, set sail down the Bay from Baltimore (September 5, 1814) to near the mouth of the Potomac River on a cartel or truce ship, where they met the British fleet and boarded the HMS Tonnant under a flag of truce when Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane invited them to dinner (evening, September 7, 1814). Skinner had also obtained letters from wounded British soldiers left behind after the Battle of Bladensburg giving testimony to the kindness and treatment given them by U.S. hands. This so moved General Ross, who had ordered the arrest of Beanes, that he suggested to Cochrane to release him, but only after their planned attack on Baltimore - they did not want the American forces to learn of their next objective. Beanes, Key and Skinner, due to crowded conditions on HMS Tonnant, were ordered onboard the HMS Surprize which took the cartel in tow (September 8, 1814). During the Battle for Baltimore the three Americans at Skinner’s request were placed onboard the cartel under guard. Key was so moved by the scene of the battle that he partially composed a poem which eventually became our National Anthem. After the battle the three American’s were released on the cartel boat which sailed to Baltimore (late September 16, 1814). That night in the Indian Queen Hotel Key worked on his poem from which he produced the draft that probably is the one now on exhibit at the Maryland Historical Society. Handbills of the poem were printed the day after (September 17, 1814) Key arrived in Baltimore. Copies of the poem were distributed to every man who was at Fort McHenry during the bombardment. It was Skinner who took Key’s poem to the Baltimore Patriot which published it under the title "The Defense of Baltimore (evening 20 September 1814).

During the American Civil War federal troops often sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." In 1895 Army Regulations ordered that the song be played during the lowering of the American flag during evening retreat. The Secretary of Navy ordered it played during both morning and evening colors. By 1916 "The Star-Spangled Banner" was regarded as the official National Anthem. Yet it wasn’t until March 3, 1931, when President Herbert Hover signed the bill passed by Congress that "The Star-Spangled Banner," born in the Battle for Baltimore, officially became National Anthem of the United States.

Study Team Methodology - The Study Team researched all the resources related to the story behind the Star-Spangled Banner. The team visited those resources and linking trail to ascertain the feasibility, public access and integrity of these resources. In addition the team held a Scholar’s Roundtable of international experts on April 7, 2001. Present were: Dr. Dwight Pitcaithley, Chief Historian, National Park Service; Donald Graves, historian and scholar from Canada; Dr. Andrew Lambert, Kings College, London; Marilyn Zoidis, curator of the Star-Spangled Banner Project, Smithsonian Institution; Dr. Donald Hickey, professor at Wayne State College and specialist in the War of 1812; and Dr. Joseph Whitehorne, former staff historian for the U.S. Army. This was followed by a local historian’s workshop on April 12, 2001. Present were: Dr. William Dudley, director of the Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.; Christopher George, editor of the Journal of the War of 1812 and author of Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay; Dr. Fred Hopkins, Jr., expert on privateering and author; Sally Johnston, director of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and Museum; Dr. Stanley Quick, historian; Robert Reyes, president of the Friends of the North Point Battlefield, Inc; Scott Sheads, author and historian, Ft. McHenry; Donald Shomette, historian and author; and Lonn Taylor, historian and author of the Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem.

Based on this study, the team determined that six of the eight identified trail segments retain integrity sufficient to result in a recommendation for their designation as a national historic trail: Criterion One. All recommended trail segments were found to be nationally significant: Criteria Two. The proposed trail segments have significant potential for public recreational use and historical interpretation as well as aesthetic appeal and patriotic appreciation: Criteria Three.

Personal Perspective - It is sad, but most of the children here in the United States if asked who made the Star-Spangled Banner and during which war was it created would answer Betsy Ross and The American Revolutionary War. Inclusion of the Star-Spangled Banner Trail within our National Trail System will help American’s and visitors alike understand and better appreciate the history behind America’s greatest icon - The Star-Spangled Banner and the poem evoked from that flag which eventually became our National Anthem. Having served for many years on the team which studied the potential for this trail, I have become keenly aware of the significance and meaning behind the Star-Spangled Banner. Every time I see the flag, whether at a baseball game, Boy Scout camp, or flying over our Capitol or over Fort McHenry, it gives me pause. Often times a chill will descend down my spine. Designation of this proposed national trail will enable our citizens to better understand and appreciate the symbolism behind this flag. Many more will get goose bumps when they see our flag and hear our National Anthem. Our patriotism will increase; our pride will fill; and our spirits will soar. I ask you, what trail now existing in the United States is more appropriate for national designation then this proposed Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail?