When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
In August 1814, the United States army was defeated just outside Washington, D.C., by the world's greatest military power. President James Madison and his wife had just enough time to flee the White House before the British invaders entered. British troops stopped to feast on the meal still sitting on the Madisons' dining-room table before setting the White House on fire. The extent of the destruction was massive; finished in wood rather than marble, everything inside the mansion was combustible. Only the outer stone walls would withstand the fire.
The tide of the War of 1812 would quickly turn, however. Less than a month later, American troops would stand victorious at the Battle of Fort McHenry. Poet Francis Scott Key, struck by the sight of the American flag waving over Fort McHenry, jotted down the beginnings of a poem that would be set to music and become the U.S. national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner."
In his compelling narrative style, Peter Snow recounts the fast-changing fortunes of that summer's extraordinary confrontations. Drawing from a wealth of material, including eyewitness accounts, Snow describes the colorful personalities on both sides of those spectacular events: including the beleaguered President James Madison and First Lady Dolley, American heroes such as Joshua Barney and Sam Smith, and flawed military leaders like Army Chief William Winder and War Secretary John Armstrong. On the British side, Snow re-creates the fiery Admiral George Cockburn, the cautious but immensely popular Major General Robert Ross, and sharp-eyed diarists James Scott and George Gleig.
When Britain Burned the White House highlights this unparalleled moment in British and American history, the courageous, successful defense of Fort McHenry and the American triumph that would follow, and America's and Britain's decision to never again fight each other.
letters and orders to various officers and persons’. Finally at dawn on Monday 22 August the American commander, who cannot have had much sleep, ordered off the first substantial detachment of around a thousand troops to confront the British at Nottingham. It was the first serious attempt to oppose them three full days after they had landed. That same morning in the upper reaches of the Patuxent a small detachment of Joshua Barney’s flotillamen under Lieutenant Solomon Frazier meticulously laid
Navy Secretary William Jones. They reached a farm near Long Old Fields, where the main US force would spend that Monday night. Winder and his troops arrived the same evening and settled down near by. They took up position only seven miles short of Washington. The pressure was mounting on America’s beleaguered commander to make a stand. He was told that President Madison had arrived and that his party had been joined by the War Secretary John Armstrong. They would all meet with the President at
British had left noted that Pringle carried out his task ‘faithfully and successfully’. There were even accounts of British soldiers, who were caught looting, being lashed or shot.* One Washington resident, William Gardner, leant out of his window as the British were passing and addressed Cockburn. ‘I hope, Sir, that individuals and private property will be respected.’ ‘Yes, Sir,’ replied Cockburn, ‘we pledge our sacred honour that the citizens and private property shall be respected. Be under
attack. The fleet could sail up Chesapeake Bay and join the army at Baltimore. The navy would bombard from the east, the army would attack from the west. ‘Before the retreat was decided upon,’ wrote Evans in his official memorandum, ‘the propriety of a movement on Baltimore was agitated … the army was provided with an abundance of guides capable of affording the most ample information, a thousand horses could have been supplied in two days and the brilliant result of the late enterprise, the
burning. The wooden corridor and the lavish interiors were devastated. One outraged British Member of Parliament said British troops had done what the Goths refused to do at Rome. Save that painting! The portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1797 which Dolley Madison insisted on rescuing. She delayed her flight from the White House to supervise its removal on a horse-drawn wagon. The painting is now back in the White House. Margaret Bayard Smith, whose letters describe her