Ken Beaton: Happy birthday ‘Old Glory’

Ken Beaton

Ken Beaton

Have you personally viewed the 30-foot by 42-foot 1814 U.S. flag with 15 stripes and 15 stars that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore’s harbor?
The flag was handsewn by Baltimore residents Mary Pickersgill, her daughter, Caroline, her nieces Eliza and Margaret Young and an indentured Afro-American servant, Grace Wisher. FYI, Isaac Singer didn’t receive the pattern for his sewing machine until Aug. 12, 1851 in Boston.
After bombarding Fort McHenry for 27 continuous hours, the British fleet sailed on a high tide to New Orleans. Common knowledge, Gen. Jackson was a slave owner. But in New Orleans he recruited a cross section of men: local militia, pirates with several skin shades, U.S. troops, French Creoles, Blacks, Germans, Irishmen, Spaniards and others. This force became a cohesive unit to soundly defeat the hated British on Jan. 8, 1815, “Battle of New Orleans.” The pirates supplied and maned most of the well-placed cannons which slaughtered the “Run from the battle, Red Coats.”
The telegraph wasn’t invented until 1838. The British and the American representatives had signed the Treaty of Ghent (Belgium) on Dec. 24, 1814, the news took at least two months, to cross the Atlantic.
In 1912 the Fort McHenry flag was donated to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. It had been damaged during the bombardment of Fort McHenry. Currently, the flag is in a climate- and light-controlled exhibit which was created to preserve the flag for future generations.
If you were wearing a blue uniform in 1861 and seconds before going into battle your company commander ordered you to carry a piece of cloth with seven red stripes, six white stripes with 34 white stars on a blue background, what would be your chances of surviving in battle against the Confederate States of America’s troops? Zero to none since 15 or more flag carriers from both sides would be either killed in action or be seriously wounded during the battle.
As soon as a flag carrier was fatally shot, the closest soldier picked up and carried the flag. To carry “Old Glory” or the “Stars and Bars” meant one or more rifles would have a bead on you. You were dead or mortally wounded within seconds.
Both sides used a 58-caliber musket ball with the sole purpose to shatter any bone it came in contact. The medical doctors on both sides were referred to as “Saw Bones,” because outside their operating tents was a huge pile of amputated arms and legs after a day’s battle. Those limbs were buried similar to a body after that day’s last operation by the lowest ranking soldier or a soldier being punished.
During the War between the States, a wounded kid on the operating table was held down by at least two strong men. The young soldier learned all about the phrase, “Bite the bullet.” Ether would not be used to “knockout” the injured person for a few more years. The choice was to drink enough whisky and pass out or “bite the bullet.”
The Union flag received the name, “Old Glory,” from Capt. William Driver from Salem, Massachusetts, in 1831. As the flag opened to the sea breeze for the first time, he exclaimed "Old Glory!" When he retired to Nashville in 1837, he took his treasured flag from his days at sea.
Surprisingly, it took 108 years before the first official adoption of the “Stars and Stripes” birthday celebration. Bernard J. Cigrand, a Wisconsin elementary teacher, celebrated the adoption of the Stars and Stripes’ first birthday in 1885. He gave 2,188 speeches on patriotism and the flag. The Chicago Tribune printed that Cigrand “Almost singlehandedly established Flag Day.”
June 14, 1916 was proclaimed Flag Day by President Woodrow Wilson. Finally, on Aug. 3, 1949, Congress proclaimed June 14 as National Flag Day, a proud day for then-President Truman!
People and communities enjoy bragging. 1910 was first Flag Day parade in Fairfield, Washington. Fairfield claims to have “the longest running parade of its kind in the U.S.” Troy, N.Y. claims to have the largest Flag Day parade. Three Oaks, Michigan claims to have the largest and oldest Flag Day parade. Three Oaks has a three-day event to celebrate our flag.
In Wards Seven and Eight of Washington, D.C., Clyde Thompson is the “Godfather of Flag Day.” The citizens of Wards Seven and Eight enjoy traditionally slow-smoked meats and vegetables with family secret, finger-licking good barbecue sauce.
Since 1907 the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, BPOE, has required every member’s allegiance to our flag. If this sounds like an organization for you, Carson City’s Elks Lodge 2177 is at the corner of North Nevada and West Robinson Streets, 515 N. Nevada St. The phone number is 775-882-2177.
Sunday begins National Flag Day Week, June 13-19. President Biden will issue a traditional proclamation, “Urging the people to observe the day as the anniversary of the adoption on June 14, 1777, by the Continental Congress of the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States of America.”
In 1969 I visited Washington and toured the Smithsonian. I felt insufficient as I stood before the huge battle-scarred flag that flew above Fort McHenry. For 244 years men and women have made the supreme sacrifice so we can enjoy our freedom while proudly displaying “Old Glory.”

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