Our Flag Was Still There: The Star Spangled Banner that Survived the British and 200 Years—And the Armistead Family Who Saved It (Hardcover)
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Our Flag Was Still There details the improbable two-hundred-year journey of the original Star-Spangled Banner—from Fort McHenry in 1814, when Francis Scott Key first saw it, to the Smithsonian in 2023—and the enduring family who defended, kept, hid, and ultimately donated the most famous flag in American history.
Francis Scott Key saw the original Star-Spangled Banner flying over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry on September 14, 1814, following a twenty-five-hour bombardment by the British Navy, inspiring him to write the words to our national anthem. Torn and tattered over the years, reduced in size to appease souvenir-hunters, stuffed away in a New York City vault for the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the flag’s mere existence after two hundred years is an improbable story of dedication, perseverance, patriotism, angst, inner-family squabbles, and, yes, more than a little luck.
For this unlikely feat, we have the Armistead family to thank—led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry, who took it home after the battle in clear defiance of U.S. Army regulations. It is only because of that quiet indiscretion that the flag survives to this day. Armistead’s descendants kept and protected their family heirloom for ninety years. The flag’s first photo was not taken until 1873, almost sixty years after Key saw it waving, and most Americans did not even know of its existence until Armistead’s grandson loaned it to the Smithsonian in 1907.
Tom McMillan tells a story as no one has before. Digging deep into the archives of Fort McHenry and the Smithsonian, accessing never-before-published letters and documents, and presenting rare photos from the private collections of Armistead descendants and other sources, McMillan follows the flag on an often-perilous journey through three centuries. Our Flag Was Still There provides new insight into an intriguing period of U.S. history, offering a “story behind the story” account of one of the country’s most treasured relics.
About the Author
A lifelong student of history, Tom McMillan has served on the board of trustees of Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center, the board of directors of the Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, and the marketing committee of the Gettysburg Foundation. He has written three previous books, including Flight 93: The Story, The Aftermath, and the Legacy of American Courage on 9/11. McMillan recently retired after a forty-three-year career in sports communications, which included twenty-five years as VP/Communications for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. He has a journalism degree from Point Park University and resides with his family in Pittsburgh.
Tom McMillan’s Our Flag Was Still There brilliantly fills a significant gap in our historical knowledge about an American icon like no other: the 15-star, 15-stripe flag that became known as The Star-Spangled Banner and the family that commissioned it, saved it, and presented it to the nation. This is a sprightly written, deeply researched, fascinating look at the “life” of the USA’s most recognized and historic symbol.
— Marc Leepson, journalist, historian and the author of Flag: An American Biography and What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life
That both the flag and the song known as The Star-Spangled Banner survived the test of time and controversy to gain the symbolic power they express today was no accident. Deeply researched and in engaging prose, Tom McMillan’s new book Our Flag Was Still There not only tells us how it happened, but explores the deeper meaning of their patriotic partnership.
— Mark Clague, author of O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of “The Star-Spangled Banner
A flag made of 15 stars and 15 stripes flew amidst the rocket’s red glare over Fort McHenry in 1814, becoming the inspiration for a new song – but story of America’s most famous flag had only just begun that night in Baltimore. In his new book, Our Flag Was Still There, Tom McMillan brings fresh insights into the symbolic journey of the original Star-Spangled Banner through two centuries of our nation’s history. Even today, it survives and inspires!
— Scott Sheads, ranger/historian at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (retired)
Tom McMillan’s Our Flag Was Still There is a masterful recounting of one of the most iconic events in American history. Based on extensive research, McMillan offers up an abundance of fascinating detail that will surprise even those who thought they knew all about the story, including me!
— Ronald D. Utt, author of Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron: The War of 1812 and the Forging of the American Navy
In great depth and detail, McMillan tells the story of the “Star-Spangled Banner" from its first stitches to the present time - a wonderful variety of angles emerge based on his careful reading of copious documents. A rich contribution to our understanding, both of the flag and the song.
— David Hildebrand, Ph.D, Director Emeritus, the Colonial Music Institute