So misunderstood is the historical context of the War of 1812 that Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture has become something of a standard at American concerts of patriotic music.
Actually, it was written by the Russian composer in honor of his people having turned back Napoleon's army in the winter of 1812, which is why a few hurried bars of the French anthem, "La Marseillaise," can be heard in the lead-up to the part that was written for accompaniment by cannon, but goes so well with fireworks.
It's a war marked largely by U.S. military defeats, like the sacking of Havre de Grace and the burning of Washington, D.C.
It is also the war that inspired the writing of the national anthem, though the battle that prompted Francis Scott Key to pen the "Star Spangled Banner" was more of a stalwart defense that resulted in Baltimore being saved by the skin of its teeth than it was a grand victory.
Moreover, the greatest American victory of the war, the Battle of New Orleans, took place after a peace treaty between the U.S. and the British Crown had been negotiated and signed.
It was an odd war, so it is fittingly odd that Harford County would begin flying flags to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 starting in February of 2013. Sure, there are good reasons to wait. Though declared in 1812 by the U.S., its primary engagements came in the subsequent years, and the "Star Spangled Banner" wasn't written until after the 1814 engagement at Baltimore.
Then again, the Revolution wasn't won in 1776, rather in 1782; bicentennial celebrations for that war, however, were long over by the time 1982 rolled around.
Curiously, the War of 1812 isn't necessarily a historical footnote. Coming as it did a scant 30 years after the end of the Revolution, it was a war that would test the mettle of a young nation against an imperial power that had lost other colonies to rebellion only to reconquer them. There is reason to conclude that the ability of the U.S. to strike a formidable defensive posture against Great Britain gave the former colony true status as a nation. There are even those who argue that the Battle of New Orleans (which inspired Johnny Horton's anthem of the same name) was such a decisive defeat that it would give the U.K. reason to pause should it try to reclaim the United States later in the 1800s.
It's a fascinating era in U.S. history, and an era in which Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay figured prominently. Artifacts of the period abound in these parts, be they Fort McHenry and the other bulwarks that protected the port of Baltimore, the Concord Point Lighthouse, scene of an unsuccessful skirmish to protect Havre de Grace from an English landing force or the tales of Dolly Madison saving White House finery.
It's worth remembering that the Fort McHenry Tunnel, the Baltimore Beltway and Havre de Grace were scenes of battles that have helped ensure the nation's security for ensuing generations.
It's something to think about when noticing that a flag flying over a county building appears to have too many stripes (15) and too few stars (15).Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun