Burning of Washington

Burning of Washington

Infobox Military Conflict

caption="The Taking of the City of Washington in America" 1814 engraving
conflict=Burning of Washington
partof=the War of 1812
date=August 24, 1814
place=Washington, D.C.
result=British razing of Washington, D.C.
combatant1=flagicon|UK United Kingdomflagicon|UK British North America/ Canada
commander1=flagicon|UK Robert Ross
flagicon|UK George Cockburn
strength1=4,250 [ [http://www.mywarof1812.com/battles/140825.htm Battles for the year 1812 ] ]
casualties1=1 KIA
Several Killed from Weather [ [http://www.roanoke.com/weather/wb/79760 Did tornado wreak havoc on War of 1812? - Roanoke.com ] ]

The Burning of Washington took place in 1814, during the Anglo-American War of 1812. British forces occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to many public buildings. The facilities of the U.S. government, including the White House, were largely destroyed, though strict discipline and the British commander's orders to burn only public buildings are credited with preserving most residences. Legend says the attack was in retaliation for the American looting of York, Upper Canada (now Toronto, Ontario) after the Battle of York in 1813, and the burning down of the Parliament Buildings of Upper Canada. However the British commanders said the goal was to attack Washington instead of Baltimore "on account of the greater political effect likely to result," and did not mention York. [Roger Morriss, "Cockburn and the British Navy in Transition: Admiral Sir George Cockburn, 1772-1853" (University of Exeter Press, 1997), P. 104. ]

The White House was burned. Only the exterior walls remained, and they had to be torn down and mostly reconstructed due to weakening from the fire and subsequent exposure to the elements, except for portions of the south wall. A legend emerged that during the rebuilding of the structure white paint was applied to mask the burn damage it had suffered, giving the building its namesake hue. This is unfounded as the building had been painted white since its construction in 1798. Of the many spoils taken from the White House when it was ransacked by British troops, only two have been recovered — a painting of George Washington, rescued by then-first lady Dolley Madison, and a jewelry box returned to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 by an old man who said his grandfather had taken it from Washington. An urban legend in Montreal states that the original doors to the White House are located in the Blackwatch Building on Bleury Street.Fact|date=April 2008 Some Canadian shipwreck treasure hunters have claimed that some of the spoils from Washington were lost when a convoy of British ships led by HMS "Fantôme" sank en route to Halifax off Prospect during a storm on the night of November 24 1814. However "Fantome" did not take part in the Washington raid and most historians feel the convoy was only carrying goods and customs revenue from British-occupied Castine, Maine. [Young, G.F.W "HMS "Fantome" and the British Raid on Washington August 1814" "Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society Journal" Vol. 10, pp. 132-145.]


On August 24, 1814, the advance guard of British troops made a march to Capitol Hill; they were too few in number to occupy the city, so General Robert Ross intended to eliminate as much of it as possible. He sent a party under a flag of truce to agree to terms, but they were attacked by partisans from a house at the corner of Maryland Avenue, Constitution Avenue, and Second Street NE. This was to be the only resistance the soldiers met. The house was burned, and the Union Flag was raised above Washington.

The buildings housing the Senate and House of Representatives — construction on the trademark central rotunda of the Capitol had not yet begun — were set ablaze not long after. The interiors of both buildings, including the Library of Congress, were destroyed, although the thick walls and a torrential rainfall preserved their exteriors. (Thomas Jefferson later sold his library to the government to restock the Library of Congress.) The next day Admiral Cockburn entered the building of the D.C newspaper, "National Intelligencer", intending to burn it down; however, a group of neighborhood women persuaded him not to because they were afraid the fire would spread to their neighboring houses. Cockburn wanted to destroy the newspaper because they had written so many negative items about him, branding him as "The Ruffian." Instead he ordered his troops to tear the building down brick by brick making sure that they destroyed all the "C" type so that no more pieces mentioning his name could be printed.

The troops then turned north down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House. First Lady Dolley Madison remained there after many of the government officials — and her own bodyguard — had already fled, gathering valuables, documents and other items of importance, notably the Lansdowne Portrait, a full-length painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. She was finally persuaded to leave moments before British soldiers entered the building. Once inside, the soldiers found the dining hall set for a dinner for 40 people. After eating all the food, they took souvenirs (e.g., one of the president's hats) and then set the building on fire.

Fuel was added to the fires that night to ensure they would continue burning into the next day; the flames were reportedly visible as far away as Baltimore and the Patuxent River.

The British also burned the United States Treasury building and other public buildings. The historic Washington Navy Yard, founded by Thomas Jefferson and the first federal installation in the United States, was burned by the Americans to prevent capture of stores and ammunition, as well as the 44-gun frigate "Columbia" which was then being built. The United States Patent Office building was saved by the efforts of William Thornton—architect of the Capitol and then superintendent of patents—who convinced the British of the importance of its preservation. Also spared were the Marine Barracks, which some attribute as a gesture of respect for their conduct at Bladensburg. [ cite web
last = Powers
first = Rod
authorlink = http://usmilitary.about.com/mbiopage.htm
title = Marine Corps Legends
work = about.com
publisher = about.com
url = http://usmilitary.about.com/od/marines/a/legends_2.htm
format = article
accessdate = 2008 April 5

Less than a day after the attack began, a hurricane which included a tornado passed through, damaging the invaders and putting out the fires. [ [http://www.emmitsburg.net/archive_list/articles/history/rev_war/1814.htm Several soildiers were killed from the storm. The Short History of Defense of Maryland During the War of 1812 ] ] This forced the British troops to return to their ships, many of which were badly damaged by the storm, and so the actual occupation of Washington lasted about 26 hours. President Madison and the rest of the government quickly returned to the city.


The thick sandstone walls of the White House survived, although scarred with smoke and scorch marks. Reconstruction of the Capitol did not begin until 1815, and it was completed in 1864.

Of Britain's four objectives in its multiple invasion of the United States—Lake Champlain, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.—this was the only successful attack. The British had successfully diverted the attention of Washington away from the war and prevented further American incursions into Canada, and had landed a humiliating blow to the Americans. The attack was not as demoralizing as Cockburn intended, for it caused outrage among many previously neutral Americans, and diverted forces the British needed in Canada. [ see Joseph A. Whitehorne, "The Battle for Baltimore: 1814" (1997), p. 50]


* White House Historical Association: [http://www.whitehousehistory.org/08/subs/08_b04.html The Burning of Washington]
* Martin, John. " [http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9809/pitch.html The British Are Coming: Historian Anthony Pitch Describes Washington Ablaze] ," "LC Information Bulletin", September 1998

Further reading

* Pack, A. James."The Man Who Burned The White House", Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987. ISBN 0-87021-420-9
* Pitch, Anthony S."The Burning of Washington", Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000. ISBN 1-55750-425-3
* Phelan, Mary Kay"The Burning of Washington: August 1814", Ty Crowell Co, 1975. ISBN 0-690-00486-9
* Latimer, Jon "1812: War with America", Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-674-02584-9
* Whitehorne, Joseph A. "The Battle for Baltimore: 1814" (1997)

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Washington, D.C. — This article is about the place. For the novel, see Washington, D.C. (novel). Washington, D.C.   Federal district   …   Wikipedia

  • Washington Navy Yard — This article is about the naval yard in Washington, D.C.. For the neighborhood in Washington, D.C., see Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.. Washington Navy Yard U.S. National Register of Historic Places …   Wikipedia

  • Washington Gladden — (February 11, 1836 July 2, 1918) was a leading American Congregational church pastor and early leader of the Social Gospel movement. He was a leading member of the Progressive Movement, serving for two years as a member of the Columbus and… …   Wikipedia

  • Burning Witch — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Burning Witch Información personal Origen Seattle, Washington …   Wikipedia Español

  • Washington Senators (NFL) — Washington Senators, also referred to as the Pros or Washington Pros, was a professional football club from Washington, D.C.. The team played in the American Professional Football League (now the National Football League) during the 1921 season.… …   Wikipedia

  • Burning Witch — Infobox Musical artist Name = Burning Witch Img capt = Img size = Background = group or band Alias = Origin = Seattle, Washington, United States Genre = Doom metal Years active = 1995 1998 Label = Southern Lord Records Hydra Head Records Slap a… …   Wikipedia

  • Burning Airlines — Infobox musical artist Name = Burning Airlines Img capt = Img size = 200 Background = group or band Origin = Washington, D.C., United States Genre = Post hardcore Post punk Alternative rock Years active = 1997–2002 Label = DeSoto Records… …   Wikipedia

  • Washington — /wosh ing teuhn, waw shing /, n. 1. Booker T(aliaferro) /book euhr tol euh veuhr/, 1856 1915, U.S. reformer, educator, author, and lecturer. 2. George, 1732 99, U.S. general and political leader: 1st president of the U.S. 1789 97. 3. Martha… …   Universalium

  • Washington, George — born Feb. 22, 1732, Westmoreland county, Va. died Dec. 14, 1799, Mount Vernon, Va., U.S. American Revolutionary commander in chief (1775–83) and first president of the U.S. (1789–97). Born into a wealthy family, he was educated privately. In 1752 …   Universalium

  • Washington, North Carolina — Infobox Settlement official name = Washington, North Carolina settlement type = City nickname = motto = imagesize = image caption = image |pushpin pushpin label position =left pushpin map caption =Location within the state of North Carolina… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.