JF Ptak Science Books Post 2624
I was working my way through a stack of volumes of William Cobbett's Political Register containing reporting for the war years for the War of 1812--this magazine/newspaper was a weekly journal of news and interpretation by an American-sympathizing radical journalist reformer Brit. Looking for one event in particular, I came across it in an official report of September 19, 1814, dated from Washington City, in the November 14, 1814 issue of the Register, Nestled in the "official reports" section is this summation of the action of September 13, 1814, in the city of Baltimore, which was under siege by a large British fleet, which was "successfully resisted by the steady and well-directed fire of the fort and batteries opposed to it".
Here's the snippet:
- Source: William Cobbett, Cobbett's Political Register, London, printed for the author and sold by Richard Bagshaw in Covent Garden, volume 26, November 5, 1814.
Much of the critical bombardment of the fort occurred at night, and for one observer--an official U.S. representative then being held in custody by the British on board a ship in the harbor--the outcome of the battle would not be known until the first light of day. What he saw that morning by dawn's early light was what he had seen in the evening, hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,--a U.S. flag (a "star-spangled banner") flown above the fort, meaning that the fort had survived, the defense maintained, with a victory in hand.
The fort was Fort McHenry, and the U.S. representative here of course was Francis Scott Key, who turned his experience into a national witnessing, presenting it in a poem later to to music that would become the national anthem.
There was no mistaking the victory described here at Baltimore (and also the mention of the major victory at Plattsburg), though there was not much flavor to the reporting. But here it is, a great national moment, appearing as a single sentence with four commas. Given the scanty capabilities of overseas reporting perhaps these were the scant public facts that were presented to the British people buying Cobbett's two-penny weekly (much scorned by the wealthy/well-do-do and much read by the actual working class), so the emotive significance of the event was lost to detail and translation. The impact of the victory was certainly felt very quickly in the U.S.
This is one reason why it is so interesting to read the original reports and publications of historical social and scientific events.