By Katie Yenna
Did you know that only 29 years after we gained our independence from England, they decided to pick another fight with us? Beginning in 1812, we entered what some historians call our “Second War for Independence” with Great Britain. After it officially ended in 1815, it left us with a new feeling of national pride and freedom from England. It also began traditions, created legends and national symbols that are still recognized today. Keep reading to find out what they are!
Tennessee: The Volunteer State
Have you ever wondered how we got our nickname? Well, the answer lies with the War of 1812! When President James Madison declared war on Great Britain in 1812, the call for soldiers began around the country. In Tennessee, this call resulted in thousands of brave Tennesseans volunteering to fight for their country. As the war went on, Governor Willie Blount requested at least 3,500 men to volunteer for military service. The people of Tennessee quickly stepped up and met that number of volunteers. In fact, by the time the war was over, an estimated 28,000 men ended up serving. This overwhelming response to fight for our country earned our state the nickname the “Volunteer State.”
Fun Fact: Our troops were also led into battle by Andrew Jackson, the future 7th president of the United States. He later talked about how leading those men into battle, and his military service, was one of his proudest accomplishments.
Fraction of a flag flown at Andrew Jackson’s headquarters in New Orleans, 1814-1815. Tennessee State Museum Collection. 2005.112
The National Anthem: “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Have you ever thought about where the National Anthem came from, or when it was written? If you haven’t guessed by now, this song came from the War of 1812 and was written by a lawyer named Frances Scott Key. He actually wrote it as a poem, but in 1931, it was turned into the song that we all know today. So, why did this poem become loved by so many? Here’s the story. Key originally named it “The Defense of Fort M’Henry” after he witnessed the British navy attack Fort McHenry in 1814. After the British invaded and captured the city of Baltimore, Maryland, they turned toward this Fort to disable the American army at this very important shipping port. After hearing about a dear friend that had been taken captive by the enemy, Key went to Baltimore to negotiate his release. He was on board the British navy ship where his friend was being held when the battle began. The fighting went on all night and the American army never gave up the fort. He actually witnessed, up close, the details of the event as they unfolded throughout the night because he wasn’t allowed to leave the ship until the battle was over. In the morning, Key was relieved to see the American flag still flying inside the fort because it meant the American troops had not been defeated. What he witnessed that night became the inspiration for this poem and a testament to the bravery of our soldiers who wouldn’t give up the fort. Key eventually made it back to land safely and his poem was widely printed on newspapers and handbills in celebration of our victory.
Fun Fact: In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson declared it be played at all official events.
Star-Spangled Banner, by Francis Scott Key, Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.
The White House: Under Attack
As the British traveled from Canada, down the eastern part of the American coast, they made a stop in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. If they were able to capture the city, and the president, it could have a huge impact on ending the war. When the British entered the city in August of 1814, it was largely unguarded because it was believed by many that the capitol would never be attacked. As the British grew closer, there were several warnings sent to the Secretary of War, John Armstrong, but he refused to believe them. Even the mayor of Washington, D.C. begged him to take it seriously! The city was left largely defenseless and large numbers of American militiamen fled at the site of the British artillery, making it easy for them to claim victory. Once their troops made it to the White House, they were surprised to find dinner still on the table for the first family. President Madison had evacuated the city several days before the invasion, but his wife Dolley had stayed behind to collect important documents and a portrait of George Washington. Luckily, she managed to escape the house just hours before the army arrived. After eating the president’s food, the British army took what they wanted from the house and lit it on fire. Luckily, because of a rainstorm that night, only a small portion of the house was completely burned and could be rebuilt. The remaining portions of the house that simply had black smoke damage was painted over with white paint. Some theorize this was the reason it was officially named the “White House” later on.
Fun Fact: The White House wasn’t always named as such. In fact, it’s had many names over the years, including the “President’s Palace,” “Executive Mansion,” and simply the “President’s House.”
The “President’s House” after the fire, 1814, Curtesy of the Library of Congress.
War of 1812 - war fought between the British and the newly independent United States, 1812-1815.
Volunteer - freely offer to do something.
Anthem - an uplifting song identified with a group or cause.
Lawyer - someone who practices or studies law.
Negotiate - to deal or bargain with others.
Militiamen - a group of men, ordinary citizens, organized for military service in an emergency.
Artillery - large weapons used in land battles, such as cannons or rockets.
Evacuate - to remove from something.
Who wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner” and what was his job before we wrote it?
Which country did we fight against during the War of 1812?
Who was president when the British invaded Washington, D.C.?
What future president fought in the War of 1812?
Why do you think England and the United States would have gone to war again so soon after the Revolutionary War?
What do you love most about the United States? Write your own version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” that Key wrote during the war and put it in a song!
Tennessee is known as the “Volunteer State.” What are some ways you can volunteer in your community to help others? Or, can you volunteer to help your parents with chores around the house?
Dolley Madison was a quick thinker when she heard the British were on their way to the White House. Look around your room, what are the three most important things you would grab if you were Dolley and needed to leave quickly?
Katie Yenna is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum
Tennessee State Standards
4.17: Identify major causes, events, and key people of the War of 1812, including: · Trade restrictions · Impressment · Battle of New Orleans · Burning of Washington, D.C. · Francis Scott Key · Andrew Jackson
5.37: Describe Tennessee’s involvement in the War of 1812, including: Andrew Jackson, the Tennessee volunteers, and Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
TN.19: Describe Tennessee’s involvement in the War of 1812 (e.g., Tennessee volunteers, Felix Grundy, Andrew Jackson, etc.), and analyze the role of American Indians during the war.