Did the Star-Spangled Banner Have An Extra Verse Added During the Civil War?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the music urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: During the Civil War, the Star-Spangled Banner had an extra verse written by Oliver Wendell Holmes!

When the Civil War began, one of the (very low on the list of priorities, but still there) issues was coming up with anthems for the North and the South.

The main national song at the time was (as it is today) Francis Scott Key’s “The Star Spangled-Banner,” but that song was found to be very much of its time – the War of 1812, and people found it a bit wanting as a national anthem during the Civil War.

In stepped Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, noted physician, poet and essayist, who came up with an additional verse to the song!!

When our land is illumined with liberty’s smile,
If a foe from within strikes a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that tries to defile
The flag of the stars, and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained,
Who their birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

This verse was used in Northern songbooks almost up to the beginning of the 20th Century!

Holmes, of course, is MOST well known for his name, which was given to his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who became a Supreme Court Justice and is one of the most famous jurists in United States history.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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