By the Rocket’s Red Glare

“Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?”

We Americans recognize those as the first lines of our National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but to the author of those words, Francis Scott Key, the question was real.

During the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812, the British bombarded Fort McHenry for 25 hours straight. When it was over, Key wondered if the flag, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, still flew over the fort.

The adventure for Key began on August 24, 1814, when the British took prisoner Dr. William Beanes. Key, being a well-known lawyer whose genealogy included an uncle with a law firm, was recruited to assist in the effort to have Beanes released...