Friday, July 02, 2010

History Geek Enraged

This post is a bit of a departure from my usual rants and reviews. See, in addition to being a gaming geek, I'm a bit of a history geek. That means I get a bit bent out of shape when I see people getting history wrong.

Tonight I was downright offended. Ever since moving back to Arkansas my wife and I have tried to attend at least a night or two of the Rodeo of the Ozarks. Traditionally held on the first four days of July, there's always been an air of patriotism surrounding the event, and so I was not surprised as the announcer began to go into the history of our national anthem while the singer prepared herself to deliver it. What did surprise me was what he then proceeded to say.

The story he spun was complete and utter bullshit. About the only things he got right were the name of the writer, and the name of the fort involved in the event that inspired the writing. Just about everything else was wrong. He even got the wrong war!

Here's the tale he told:

During the Revolutionary War, Francis Scott Key boarded a British prison ship anchored off the coast of the US that held countless US prisoners in an attempt to secure their release on humanitarian grounds. The British officer refused and gave his reason by pointing out the entire English fleet gathered to attack Fort McHenry. Key protested that McHenry wasn't a military installation and was full of civilians, but his protests were ignored and the fleet opened fire. The British became enraged by the failure of the flag to fall. The next day Key visited the fort and found that fathers and sons had been killed ensuring that the flag stayed aloft, countless bodies strewn below the flag.


What really happened is that during the War of 1812 (Key was three years old at the end of the Revolutionary War), Key boarded a British warship to secure the release of a Maryland doctor, and was successful, but wasn't allowed to leave the ship until after the attack on Fort McHenry.

Fort McHenry was very much a military installation with the purpose of defending Baltimore from seaborne attack. The assaulting fleet consisted of 19 British warships, not the entire British fleet. The British fleet at the time consisted of close to 1000 vessels, most of which were focused on the threat posed by Napoleon's France in Europe.

The attack lasted all day and all night, and Key had no way of knowing whether or not the British had won the battle until sunrise showed the American flag still flying above the fort.

Total dead in the fort amounted to four: three soldiers and a woman who died carrying supplies to the troops. No one died keeping the flag aloft as they were too busy manning the fort's guns, and the flag didn't need tending anyway. The flag itself was an impressive sight, being the largest battle flag in the US Army at the time.

I have to wonder where the bullshit story the announcer gave came from. I suppose he must have scraped it off his boot after work one night.

The original story is inspiring enough, it doesn't need the Hollywood treatment. I was very close to heckling the guy given that he was only about thirty feet away from where I was sitting, and if it hadn't been the lead in to the national anthem, I just might have done it.

Later, when the guy gave a rambling story vaguely associating the Butterfield Overland Stage with Wells Fargo and claiming that the Butterfield stage lasted until 1918 in the process, my outrage was already mostly used up. This time the reasons for the bullshit were at least more apparent as Wells Fargo was a special sponsor for the evening.

The fact that the Butterfield line lasted only three years prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and that the only connection with Wells Fargo is that Wells Fargo bought up Butterfield's remaining assets after it ceased operations seemed rather insignificant lapses compared to his earlier tall tales.

I live on a part of the old Butterfield route and the announcer isn't even from around here, so I'll let that one slide, but I'm pretty sure we're both Americans, so I won't forgive the mauling of the history of our national anthem.

No comments:

Post a Comment