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The Burning of Washington was a
British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people, nationals or natives of the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies. ** Britishness, the British identity and common culture * British English, ...

British
invasion of Washington City (now
Washington, D.C. ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscaped ...
), the capital of the United States, during the Chesapeake Campaign of the
War of 1812 The War of 1812 (18 June 1812 – 17 February 1815) was a conflict fought by the and its against and its allies in , with limited participation by in . It began when the US declared war on 18 June 1812 and although peace terms were agreed i ...
. To this date, it remains the only time since the American Revolutionary War that a foreign power has captured and occupied the capital of the United States. Following the defeat of American forces at the
Battle of Bladensburg The Battle of Bladensburg was a battle of the Chesapeake campaign of the War of 1812 The War of 1812 (18 June 1812 – 17 February 1815) was a conflict fought by the and its against and its allies in , with limited participation by in ...
on August 24, 1814, a British force led by Major General
Robert RossRobert Ross may refer to: Academia * Robert Ross (entrepreneur) (1918–2011), founder of Ross University * Robert J. S. Ross (born 1943), American professor of sociology and activist * Robert S. Ross (born 1954), American professor of political sc ...
marched to Washington. That night, British forces set fire to multiple government and military buildings, including the
White House The White House is the official residence An official residence is the House, residence at which a nation's head of state, head of government, governor, Clergy, religious leader, leaders of international organizations, or other senio ...

White House
(then called the ''Presidential Mansion''), the
Capitol building
Capitol building
, as well as other facilities of the
U.S. government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or Ameri ...
. The attack was in part a retaliation for the recent American destruction of Port Dover in
Upper Canada The Province of Upper Canada (french: link=no, province du Haut-Canada) was a Province, part of The Canadas, British Canada established in 1791 by the Kingdom of Great Britain, to govern the central third of the lands in British North Americ ...
, as well as American forces
burning and looting the capital of Upper Canada
burning and looting the capital of Upper Canada
the previous year. Less than a day after the attack began, a heavy thunderstorm —possibly a
hurricane A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation Atmospheric circulation is the large-scale movement of Atmosphere of Earth, air and together with oc ...
— and a
tornado A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the Earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. It is often referred to as a twister, whirlwind or cyclone, althoug ...

tornado
extinguished the fires. The occupation of Washington lasted for roughly 26 hours, and what the British plans were beyond the damage are still a subject of debate. President
James Madison James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, diplomat, expansionist, philosopher, and Founding Father The following list of national founding figures is a record, by country, of people who were credited wi ...

James Madison
, military officials, and his government evacuated and were able to find refuge for the night in Brookeville, a small town in
Montgomery County, Maryland Montgomery County is the most populous county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers (publi ...
; President Madison spent the night in the house of Caleb Bentley, a Quaker who lived and worked in Brookeville. Bentley's house, known today as the Madison House, still exists. Following the storm, the British returned to their ships, many of which required repairs due to the storm.


Reasons

The British government, already at war with
Napoleonic France The First French Empire, officially the French Republic (until 1809) then the French Empire (; ), was the empire An empire is a sovereign state consisting of several territories and peoples subject to a single ruling authority, often an e ...
, adopted a defensive strategy against the United States when the Americans declared war in 1812. Reinforcements were held back from Canada and reliance was instead made on local
militias A militia () is generally an army An army (from Latin ''arma'' "arms, weapons" via Old French ''armée'', "armed" eminine, ground force or land force is a fighting force that fights primarily on land. In the broadest sense, it is the land-ba ...
and native allies to bolster the British Army in Canada. However, after the defeat and exile of
Napoleon Bonaparte Napoleon Bonaparte ; co, Napulione Buonaparte. (born Napoleone di Buonaparte; 15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) r ...

Napoleon Bonaparte
in April 1814, Britain was able to use its now available troops and ships to prosecute its war with the United States. The Earl of Bathurst,
Secretary of State for War and the Colonies The Secretary of State for War and the Colonies was a Cabinet of the United Kingdom, British cabinet-level position responsible for the army and the British colonies (other than India). The Department was created in 1801. In 1854 it was split into ...
, dispatched an army brigade and additional naval vessels to
Bermuda ) , anthem = "God Save the Queen" , song_type = Unofficial territorial song , song = "Hail to Bermuda" , image_map = , map_caption = , image_map2 = , mapsize2 = , map_caption2 = , subdivision_type = Sovereign state , subdivisio ...

Bermuda
, from where a blockade of the US coast and even the occupation of some coastal islands had been overseen throughout the war. It was decided to use these forces in raids along the Atlantic seaboard to draw American forces away from Canada. The commanders were under strict orders, however, not to carry out operations far inland, or to attempt to hold territory. Early in 1814, Vice Admiral Sir
Alexander Cochrane Sir Alexander Inglis Cochrane (born Alexander Forrester Cochrane; 23 April 1758 – 26 January 1832) was a senior Royal Navy The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by Kingdom of Engla ...

Alexander Cochrane
had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy's
North America and West Indies Station The North America and West Indies Station was a formation or command of the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and ...
, controlling naval forces based at the new Bermuda dockyard and the Halifax Naval Yard which were used to blockade US Atlantic ports throughout the war. He planned to carry the war into the United States by attacks in
Virginia Virginia (), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a in the and regions of the , between the and the . The geography and climate of the are shaped by the and the , which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capit ...

Virginia
and against
New Orleans New Orleans (,New Orleans
. Rear Admiral
George Cockburn Admiral of the Fleet An admiral of the fleet or fleet admiral (equivalent rank to admiral of the navy Admiral of the Navy was the highest possible rank in the United States Navy ), (unofficial)."''Non sibi sed patriae''" ( en, "Not fo ...

George Cockburn
had commanded the squadron in
Chesapeake Bay The Chesapeake Bay ( ) is the largest in the United States. The Bay is located in the and is primarily separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the (including the parts: the / and the state of ) with its mouth of the Bay at the south end located ...
since the previous year. On June 25, he wrote to Cochrane stressing that the defenses there were weak, and he felt that several major cities were vulnerable to attack. Cochrane suggested attacking Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia. Rear Admiral Cockburn accurately predicted that "within a short period of time, with enough force, we could easily have at our mercy the capital". He had recommended Washington as the target, because of the comparative ease of attacking the national capital and "the greater political effect likely to result". Major General Ross was less optimistic. He "never dreamt for one minute that an army of 3,500 men with 1,000 marines reinforcement, with no cavalry, hardly any artillery, could march 50 miles inland and capture an enemy capital", according to
CBC News CBC News is the division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the news gathering and production of news programs on the corporation's English-language operations, namely CBC Television, CBC Radio, CBC News Network, and CBC.ca. ...
. Ross also refused to accept Cockburn's recommendation to burn the entire city. He spared nearly all of the privately owned properties. Major General Ross commanded the 4,500-man army in Washington, composed of the 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot, 21st (Royal North British Fusilier) Regiment of Foot, 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot, and 85th Regiment of Foot. An added motive was retaliation for what Britain saw as the "wanton destruction of private property along the north shores of Lake Erie" by American forces under Col. John Campbell in May, the most notable being the
Raid on Port Dover The Raid on Port Dover was an episode during the War of 1812 The War of 1812 (18 June 1812 – 17 February 1815) was a conflict fought by the and its against and its allies in , with limited participation by in . It began when the US de ...
. On June 2, Sir George Prévost, Governor General of
British North America British North America comprised the British Empire The British Empire was composed of the dominions, Crown colony, colonies, protectorates, League of Nations mandate, mandates, and other Dependent territory, territories ruled or adminis ...
wrote to Cochrane at Admiralty House, in Bailey's Bay,
Bermuda ) , anthem = "God Save the Queen" , song_type = Unofficial territorial song , song = "Hail to Bermuda" , image_map = , map_caption = , image_map2 = , mapsize2 = , map_caption2 = , subdivision_type = Sovereign state , subdivisio ...

Bermuda
, calling for a retaliation against the American destruction of private property in violation of the
laws of war The law of war is the component of international law that regulates the conditions for initiating war (''jus ad bellum'') and the conduct of warring parties (''jus in bello''). Laws of war define sovereignty and nationhood, states and territor ...
. Prévost argued that,
... in consequence of the late disgraceful conduct of the American troops in the wanton destruction of private property on the north shores of Lake Erie, in order that if the war with the United States continues you may, should you judge it advisable, assist in inflicting that measure of retaliation which shall deter the enemy from a repetition of similar outrages.
Many sources also suggest that the attack on Washington was motivated by revenge for the looting of
York York is a cathedral city with Roman origins at the confluence of the rivers River Ouse, Yorkshire, Ouse and River Foss, Foss in North Yorkshire, England. It is the historic county town of Yorkshire. The city has long-standing buildings and str ...
in Upper Canada, the provincial capital, after the
Battle of York The Battle of York was a War of 1812 battle fought in York, Upper Canada (today's Toronto, Ontario, Canada) on April 27, 1813. An American force supported by a naval flotilla landed on the lakeshore to the west and advanced against the town, which ...

Battle of York
in April 1813. Research completed by ''
The Washington Post ''The Washington Post'' (also known as the ''Post'' and, informally, ''WaPo'') is an American published in It is the most-widely circulated newspaper within the , and has a large national audience. Daily editions are printed for D.C., , and ...

The Washington Post
'', however rebuts that claim. "The earlier arson of parliament buildings in York was not raised as a justification until months later, after the British faced criticism at home and abroad for burning buildings in Washington". Earlier, the British had filed complaints only about the "wanton destruction" along the Niagara region and Lake Erie. On July 18, Cochrane ordered Cockburn to "deter the enemy from a repetition of similar outrages  ... You are hereby required and directed to destroy and lay waste such towns and districts as you may find assailable". Cochrane instructed, "You will spare merely the lives of the unarmed inhabitants of the United States". Ross and Cockburn surveyed the torching of the President's Mansion, during which time a great storm arose unexpectedly out of the southeast. They were confronted a number of times while on horseback by older women from around Washington City and elderly clergymen ( Southern Presbyterian and
Southern Baptist The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a Christian denomination based in the United States. It is the world's largest Baptists, Baptist denomination, the Protestantism in the United States, largest Protestant and the Christianity in the Unit ...
), with women and children who had been hiding in homes and churches. They requested protection from abuse and robbery by enlisted personnel from the British Expeditionary Forces whom they accused of having tried to ransack private homes and other buildings. Major-General Ross had two British soldiers put in chains for violation of his general order. Throughout the events of that day, a severe storm blew into the city, worsening on the night of August 24, 1814.


Events

President
James Madison James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, diplomat, expansionist, philosopher, and Founding Father The following list of national founding figures is a record, by country, of people who were credited wi ...

James Madison
, members of his government, and the military fled the city in the wake of the British victory at the
Battle of Bladensburg The Battle of Bladensburg was a battle of the Chesapeake campaign of the War of 1812 The War of 1812 (18 June 1812 – 17 February 1815) was a conflict fought by the and its against and its allies in , with limited participation by in ...
. They eventually found refuge for the night in Brookeville, a small town in
Montgomery County, Maryland Montgomery County is the most populous county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers (publi ...
, which is known today as the "United States' Capital for a Day." President Madison spent the night in the house of Caleb Bentley, a
Quaker Quakers are people who belong to a historically Protestant Christian Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholi ...

Quaker
who lived and worked as a silversmith in Brookeville. Bentley's house, known today as the Madison House, still stands in Brookeville. The sappers and miners of the
Corps of Royal Engineers The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually just called the Royal Engineers (RE), and commonly known as the '' Sappers'', is a corps Corps (; plural ''corps'' ; from French language, French ''corps'', from the Latin ''corpus'' "body") is a term us ...
under Captain Blanshard were employed in burning the principal buildings. Blanshard reported that it seemed that the American President was so sure that the attacking force would be made prisoners that a handsome entertainment had been prepared. Blanshard and his sappers enjoyed the feast. On August 24, 1814, British troops led by Major General
Robert RossRobert Ross may refer to: Academia * Robert Ross (entrepreneur) (1918–2011), founder of Ross University * Robert J. S. Ross (born 1943), American professor of sociology and activist * Robert S. Ross (born 1954), American professor of political sc ...
, accompanied by Rear Admiral
George Cockburn Admiral of the Fleet An admiral of the fleet or fleet admiral (equivalent rank to admiral of the navy Admiral of the Navy was the highest possible rank in the United States Navy ), (unofficial)."''Non sibi sed patriae''" ( en, "Not fo ...

George Cockburn
, attacked the capital city with a force of 4,500 "battle hardened" men. The plan to attack Washington had been formulated by Rear Admiral Cockburn, who predicted that "within a short period of time, with enough force, we could easily have at our mercy the capital". Major General Ross commanded the troops, and was less optimistic. While Cockburn recommended burning the entire city, Ross planned to damage only public buildings.


U.S. Capitol

The Capitol was, according to some contemporary travelers, the only building in Washington "worthy to be noticed". Thus, it was a prime target for the British invaders, for both its aesthetic and its symbolic value. Upon arrival into the city via Maryland Avenue, the British targeted the Capitol (first the southern wing, containing the House of Representatives, then the northern wing, containing the Senate). Prior to setting it aflame, the British looted the building (which at that time housed Congress, the
Library of Congress The Library of Congress (LC) is the research library A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are easily accessible for use and not just for display purposes. It is responsible for housing updated information in order ...

Library of Congress
, and the
Supreme Court A supreme court is the highest court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Adjudication, adjudicate legal disputes between Party (law), parties and carry out the administration of just ...

Supreme Court
). Items looted by troops led by Rear-Admiral Cockburn included a ledger entitled "An account of the receipts and expenditures of the United States for the year 1810"; the admiral wrote on the inside leaf that it was "taken in President's room in the Capitol, at the destruction of that building by the British, on the capture of Washington, 24th August, 1814". He later gave it to his elder brother Sir James Cockburn, 9th Baronet, the
Governor of Bermuda The Governor of Bermuda (fully the ''Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Somers Isles (alias the Islands of Bermuda)'') is the representative of the British monarch The monarchy of the United Kingdom, commonly referred to as the Briti ...
. The book was eventually returned to the
Library of Congress The Library of Congress (LC) is the research library A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are easily accessible for use and not just for display purposes. It is responsible for housing updated information in order ...

Library of Congress
in 1940. The British intended to burn the building to the ground. They set fire to the southern wing first. The flames grew so quickly that the British were prevented from collecting enough wood to burn the stone walls completely. However, the Library of Congress's contents in the northern wing contributed to the flames on that side. Among the items destroyed was the 3,000-volume collection of the Library of Congress and the intricate decorations of the neoclassical columns, pediments, and sculptures originally designed by
William Thornton Dr. William Thornton (May 20, 1759 – March 28, 1828) was a British-American physician, inventor, painter and architect An architect is a person who plans, designs and oversees the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means t ...

William Thornton
in 1793 and
Benjamin Latrobe Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe (May 1, 1764 – September 3, 1820) was a British-American neoclassical Neoclassical or neo-classical may refer to: * Neoclassicism or New Classicism, any of a number of movements in the fine arts, literature, thea ...
in 1803. The wooden ceilings and floors burned, and the glass skylights melted because of the intense heat. The building was not a complete loss; the House rotunda, the east lobby, the staircases, and Latrobe's famous Corn-Cob Columns in the Senate entrance hall all survived. The Superintendent of the Public Buildings of the City of Washington, Thomas Munroe, concluded that the loss to the Capitol amounted to $787,163.28, with $457,388.36 for the North wing and main building, and $329,774.92 for the South wing.


White House

After burning the Capitol, the British turned northwest up
Pennsylvania Avenue Pennsylvania Avenue is a diagonal street in Washington, D.C. and Prince George's County, Maryland that connects the White House and the United States Capitol and then crosses the city to Maryland. In Maryland it is also Maryland Route 4 (MD ...
toward the White House. After US government officials and President Madison fled the city, the
First Lady#REDIRECT First lady {{Rcat shell, {{R from move {{R from other capitalisation {{R unprintworthy ...
Dolley Madison Dolley Todd Madison (née Payne; May 20, 1768 – July 12, 1849) was the wife of James Madison James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, diplomat, expansionist, philosopher, and Founding Father who served ...

Dolley Madison
received a letter from her husband, urging her to be prepared to leave Washington at a moment's notice. Dolley organized the enslaved and other staff to save valuables from the British. James Madison's personal enslaved attendant, the fifteen-year-old boy Paul Jennings, was an eyewitness. After later buying his freedom from the widow Dolley Madison, Jennings published his memoir in 1865, considered the first from the White House: Jennings said the people who saved the painting and removed the objects actually were: The soldiers burned the president's house, and fuel was added to the fires that night to ensure they would continue burning into the next day. In 2009, President
Barack Obama Barack Hussein Obama II ( ; born August 4, 1961) is an American politician and attorney who served as the 44th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government ...

Barack Obama
held a ceremony at the White House to honor Jennings as a representative of his contributions to saving the
Gilbert Stuart Gilbert Charles Stuart (born Stewart; December 3, 1755 – July 9, 1828) was an American painter from Rhode Island Colony The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was one of the original Thirteen Colonies The Thirteen Colon ...

Gilbert Stuart
painting and other valuables. (The painting that was saved was a copy Stuart made of the painting, not the original, although it is the same one on display in the
East Room The East Room is an event and reception room in the Executive Residence, which is a building of the White House The White House is the official residence and workplace of the president of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pen ...
.) "A dozen descendants of Jennings came to Washington, to visit the White House. They looked at the painting their relative helped save." In an interview with National Public Radio, Jennings' great-great-grandson Hugh Alexander said, "We were able to take a family portrait in front of the painting, which was for me one of the high points." He confirmed that Jennings later purchased his freedom from the widowed Dolley Madison.


Other Washington properties

The day after the destruction of the White House, Rear Admiral Cockburn entered the building of the D.C. newspaper, the ''
National Intelligencer The ''National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser'' was a newspaper A newspaper is a Periodical literature, periodical publication containing written News, information about current events and is often typed in black ink with a white or ...
'', intending to burn it down. However, several women persuaded him not to because they were afraid the fire would spread to their neighboring houses. Cockburn wanted to destroy the newspaper because its reporters had written so negatively about him, branding him "The Ruffian". Instead, he ordered his troops to tear the building down brick by brick, and ordered all the "C" type destroyed "so that the rascals can have no further means of abusing my name". The British sought out the
United States Treasury The Department of the Treasury (USDT) is the national treasury A treasury is either *A government department related to finance and taxation, a Finance minister, finance ministry. *A place or location where treasure, such as currency or preciou ...
in hopes of finding money or items of worth, but they found only old records. They burned the United States Treasury and other public buildings. The
United States Department of War The United States Department of War, also called the War Department (and occasionally War Office in the early years), was the United States Cabinet department originally responsible for the operation and maintenance of the United States Army, al ...
building was also burned. However, the War and State Department files had been removed, so the books and records had been saved; the only records of the War Department lost were recommendations of appointments for the Army and letters received from seven years earlier. The First U.S. Patent Office Building was saved by the efforts of
William Thornton Dr. William Thornton (May 20, 1759 – March 28, 1828) was a British-American physician, inventor, painter and architect An architect is a person who plans, designs and oversees the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means t ...

William Thornton
, the former
Architect of the Capitol The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is the Federal government of the United States, federal Government agency, agency responsible for the maintenance, operation, development, and preservation of the United States Capitol Complex. It is an agency of ...
and then the Superintendent of Patents, who gained British cooperation to preserve it. It is written that a loaded cannon was aimed at the Patent Office to destroy it. Thornton "put himself before the gun, and in a frenzy of excitement exclaimed: 'Are you Englishmen or only
Goths The Goths ( got, 𐌲𐌿𐍄𐌸𐌹𐌿𐌳𐌰, translit=''Gutþiuda''; la, Gothi) were a Germanic people who played a major role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the emergence of medieval Europe. In his book ''Getica'' (c. 551), ...
and
Vandals The Vandals were a Germanic people Germanic may refer to: * Germanic peoples The historical Germanic peoples (from lat, Germani) are a category of ancient northern European tribes, first mentioned by Graeco-Roman authors. They are also ...
? This is the Patent Office, a depository of the ingenuity of the American nation, in which the whole civilized world is interested. Would you destroy it? If so, fire away, and let the charge pass through my body.' The effect is said to have been magical upon the soldiers, and to have saved the Patent Office from destruction."
"When the smoke cleared from the dreadful attack, the Patent Office was the only Government building ... left untouched" in Washington. The Americans had already burned much of the historic
Washington Navy Yard The Washington Navy Yard (WNY) is the former shipyard A shipyard (also called a dockyard) is a place where ships A ship is a large watercraft that travels the world's oceans and other sufficiently deep Sea lane, waterways, carrying go ...

Washington Navy Yard
, founded by Thomas Jefferson, to prevent capture of stores and ammunition, as well as the 44-gun
frigate A frigate () is a type of warship A warship or combatant ship is a that is built and primarily intended for . Usually they belong to the of a state. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faste ...

frigate
USS ''Columbia'' and the 22 gun USS ''Argus'', both new vessels nearing completion. The Navy Yard's
Latrobe Gate The Latrobe Gate (also known as Main Gate, Washington Navy Yard) is a historic gatehouse located at the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast, Washington, D.C., Southeast Washington, D.C. Built in 1806 and substantially altered in 1881, the ceremonial ...
, Quarters A, and Quarters B were the only buildings to escape destruction. Also spared were the
Marine Marine is an adjective meaning of or pertaining to the sea or ocean The ocean (also the sea or the world ocean) is the body of salt water which covers approximately 71% of the surface of the Earth.
Barracks Barracks are usually a group of long buildings built to house military personnel or laborers. The English word comes via French from an old Spanish word "barraca" (hut), originally referring to temporary shelters or huts for various people and ani ...
and Commandant's House, although several private properties were damaged or destroyed. In the afternoon of August 25, General Ross sent two hundred men to secure a fort on Greenleaf's Point. The fort, later known as
Fort McNair Fort Lesley J. McNair is a United States Army The United States Army (USA) is the land military branch, service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the eight Uniformed services of the United States, U.S. uniformed servic ...
, had already been destroyed by the Americans, but 150 barrels of gunpowder remained. While the British were trying to destroy it by dropping the barrels into a well, the powder ignited. As many as thirty men were killed in the explosion, and many others were maimed.


"The Storm that Saved Washington"

Less than four days after the attack began, a sudden, very heavy thunderstorm—possibly a
hurricane A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation Atmospheric circulation is the large-scale movement of Atmosphere of Earth, air and together with oc ...

hurricane
—put out the fires. It also spun off a
tornado A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the Earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. It is often referred to as a twister, whirlwind or cyclone, althoug ...

tornado
that passed through the center of the capital, setting down on
Constitution Avenue Constitution Avenue is a major east–west street in the northwest The points of the compass are an evenly spaced set of Vertical and horizontal, horizontal directions (or Azimuth#In navigation, azimuths) used in navigation and geography. A com ...

Constitution Avenue
''The War of 1812'', Scene 5 "An Act of Nature", History Channel, 2005 and lifting two cannons before dropping them several yards away and killing British troops and American civilians alike. Following the storm, the British troops returned to their ships, many of which were badly damaged. There is some debate regarding the effect of this storm on the occupation. While some assert that the storm forced their retreat, it seems likely from their destructive and arsonous actions before the storm, and their written orders from Cochrane to "destroy and lay waste", that their intention was merely to raze the city, rather than occupy it for an extended period. It is also clear that commander Robert Ross never intended to damage private buildings as had been recommended by Cockburn and Alexander Cochrane. Whatever the case, the British occupation of Washington lasted only about 26 hours. Despite this, the "Storm that saved Washington", as it became known, did the opposite according to some. The rains sizzled and cracked the already charred walls of the White House and ripped away at structures the British had no plans to destroy (such as the Patent Office). The storm may have exacerbated an already dire situation for Washington D.C. An encounter was noted between Sir George Cockburn and a female resident of Washington. "Dear God! Is this the weather to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?" enquired the Admiral. "This is a special interposition of Providence to drive our enemies from our city", the woman allegedly called out to Cockburn. "Not so, Madam", Cockburn retorted. "It is rather to aid your enemies in the destruction of your city", before riding off on horseback. The Royal Navy reported that it lost one man killed and six wounded in the attack, of whom the fatality and three of the wounded were from the
Corps of Colonial Marines #REDIRECT Corps of Colonial Marines The Corps of Colonial Marines were two different British Marine (military), Marine units raised from former black people, black slavery, slaves for service in the Americas, at the behest of Alexander Cochran ...
. The destruction of the Capitol, including the Senate House and the House of Representatives, the Arsenal, Dockyard, Treasury, War Office, President's mansion, bridge over the Potomac, a frigate and a sloop together with all
Materiel Materiel or matériel (; ) refers to supplies, equipmentEquipment most commonly refers to a set of tool A tool is an object that can extend an individual's ability to modify features of the surrounding environment. Although many animals us ...
was estimated at £365,000. A separate British force captured Alexandria, on the south side of the
Potomac River The Potomac River () is found within the Mid-AtlanticMid-Atlantic or Mid Atlantic can refer to: *The middle of the Atlantic Ocean *Mid-Atlantic English, a mix between British English and American English *Mid-Atlantic Region (Little League World ...

Potomac River
, while Ross's troops were leaving Washington. The mayor of Alexandria made a deal and the British refrained from burning the town. President Madison returned to Washington by September 1, on which date he issued a proclamation calling on citizens to defend the District of Columbia. Congress returned and assembled in
special session In a legislature A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority In the fields of sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture that s ...
on September 19. Due to the destruction of the Capitol and other public buildings, they initially met in the Post and Patent Office building. In 2013, an episode of the Weather Channel documentary series ''When Weather Changed History'', entitled "The Thunderstorm That Saved D.C.", was devoted to these events.


Aftermath

Most contemporary American observers, including newspapers representing anti-war
Federalists The term ''federalist'' describes several political beliefs around the world. It may also refer to the concept of parties, whose members or supporters called themselves ''Federalists''.http://m-w.com/dictionary/federalist. History Europe In E ...

Federalists
, condemned the destruction of the public buildings as needless vandalism. Many in the British public were shocked by the burning of the Capitol and other buildings at Washington; such actions were denounced by most leaders of continental Europe, where capital cities had been repeatedly occupied in the course of the
French Revolutionary The French Revolution ( ) refers to the period that began with the Estates General of 1789 and ended in November 1799 with the formation of the French Consulate The Consulate (French: ''Le Consulat'') was the top-level Government of ...
and
Napoleonic Wars The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major World war, global conflicts pitting the First French Empire, French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon, Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of Coalition forces of the Napoleonic W ...
but always spared destruction (at least on the part of the occupiers – the famous burning of Moscow that occurred less than two years prior had been an ). According to ''
The Annual Register ''The Annual Register'' (originally subtitled "A View of the History, Politicks and Literature of the Year ...") is a long-established reference work, written and published each year, which records and analyses the year's major events, development ...
'', the burning had "brought a heavy censure on the British character", with some members of Parliament, including the anti-establishment MP Samuel Whitbread, joining in the criticism. The majority of British opinion believed that the burnings were justified following the damage that United States forces had done with its incursions into Canada. In addition, they noted that the United States had been the aggressor, declaring war and initiating it. Several commentators regarded the damages as just revenge for the American destruction of the Parliament buildings and other public buildings in
York York is a cathedral city with Roman origins at the confluence of the rivers River Ouse, Yorkshire, Ouse and River Foss, Foss in North Yorkshire, England. It is the historic county town of Yorkshire. The city has long-standing buildings and str ...
, the provincial capital of
Upper Canada The Province of Upper Canada (french: link=no, province du Haut-Canada) was a Province, part of The Canadas, British Canada established in 1791 by the Kingdom of Great Britain, to govern the central third of the lands in British North Americ ...
, early in 1813. Sir George Prévost wrote that "as a just retribution, the proud capital at Washington has experienced a similar fate". The Reverend
John Strachan John Strachan (; 12 April 1778 – 1 November 1867) was a notable figure in Upper Canada The Province of Upper Canada (french: link=no, province du Haut-Canada) was a Province, part of The Canadas, British Canada established in 1791 by th ...

John Strachan
, who as Rector of York had witnessed the American acts there, wrote to Thomas Jefferson that the damage to Washington "was a small retaliation after redress had been refused for burnings and depredations, not only of public but private property, committed by them in Canada". When they ultimately returned to Bermuda, the British forces took with them two pairs of portraits of
King George III George III (George William Frederick; 4 June 173829 January 1820) was King of Great Britain There have been 12 British monarchs since the political union of the Kingdom of England The Kingdom of England was a sovereign state on the ...

King George III
and his wife,
Queen Charlotte Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (Sophia Charlotte; 19 May 1744 – 17 November 1818) was Queen of Great Britain Queen may refer to: Monarchy * Queen regnant A queen regnant (plural: queens regnant) is a female monarch, equivalent in ...

Queen Charlotte
, which had been discovered in one of the public buildings. One pair currently hangs in the
House of Assembly House of Assembly is a name given to the legislature A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kind of collective) who ...

House of Assembly
of the
Parliament of Bermuda The Parliament of Bermuda is the bicameral Bicameralism is a type of legislature A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority In the fields of sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patte ...
, and the other in the Cabinet Building, both in the city of
HamiltonHamilton may refer to: * Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), first American Secretary of the Treasury and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States **Hamilton (musical), ''Hamilton'' (musical), a 2015 Broadway musical written by Lin-Manuel Mira ...

Hamilton
.


Reconstruction

Although the President and military officers returned to Washington only a few days after the British left, Congress did not return for three and a half weeks. The Thirteenth Congress officially convened on September 19, at the Blodgett's Hotel, one of the few surviving buildings large enough to hold all members. The Blodgett's Hotel also housed the U.S. Patent Office. Although the British had destroyed all public buildings, the Blodgett's Hotel and U.S. Patent Office were spared. It was in this building that Congress met between September and December 1815 (when construction of the Old Brick Capitol was complete). There was a movement in Congress to relocate the capital after the burning. Congressmen from the North pushed for relocation to Philadelphia or other prominent northern cities, while Southern congressmen claimed that moving the capital would degrade the American sense of dignity and strength (however, many Southern congressmen simply did not want to move the capital north of the
Mason–Dixon line The Mason-Dixon line, also called the Mason and Dixon line or Mason's and Dixon's line, is a demarcation line{{Refimprove, date=January 2008 A political demarcation line is a geopolitical border, often agreed upon as part of an armistice o ...
). On September 21, the House of Representatives voted to strike down a proposal to relocate the capital from Washington, D.C. by a margin of 83 to 54. On February 3, 1815, in an effort to guarantee that the federal government would always remain in the area, Washington property owners funded the building of the Old Brick Capitol, a larger meeting space where the Supreme Court now stands. Construction of the Old Brick Capitol cost $25,000 and was funded primarily through the sale of stocks. The largest donor was Daniel Carroll of Duddington, a rich English property owner in the area. Construction began on July 4, and concluded in December. Congress met in the Old Brick Capitol between December 1815 and December 1819, when the Capitol reopened. The Capitol reconstruction took much longer than anticipated. The Old Brick Capitol took only five months to complete; the Capitol took twelve years. A committee appointed by Congress to investigate the damage to the District concluded that it was cheaper to rebuild the already existing and damaged buildings than to build an entirely new one. On February 13, President Madison and Congress passed legislation to borrow $500,000 to repair the public buildings, including the Capitol, "on their present sites in the city of Washington".
Benjamin Latrobe Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe (May 1, 1764 – September 3, 1820) was a British-American neoclassical Neoclassical or neo-classical may refer to: * Neoclassicism or New Classicism, any of a number of movements in the fine arts, literature, thea ...
, architect of the Capitol who took over for
William Thornton Dr. William Thornton (May 20, 1759 – March 28, 1828) was a British-American physician, inventor, painter and architect An architect is a person who plans, designs and oversees the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means t ...

William Thornton
in 1803, was rehired to repair the building on April 18. He immediately requested 60,000 feet of boards, 500 tons of stone, 1,000 barrels of lime, and brick. With the $500,000 borrowed from Washington banks, Latrobe was able to rebuild the two wings and the central dome before being fired in 1818 for being difficult.
Charles Bulfinch Charles Bulfinch (August 8, 1763 – April 15, 1844) was an early American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of Amer ...

Charles Bulfinch
took over and officially completed the renovations by 1826. Bulfinch modified Latrobe's design by increasing the height of the Capitol dome to match the diameter of 86 ft. With the reconstruction of the public buildings in Washington, the value of land in the area increased dramatically, paving the way for the expansion of the city that developed in the years leading up to the
American Civil War The American Civil War (also known by Names of the American Civil War, other names) was a civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865, fought between northern U.S. state, states loyal to the Union (American Civil War), Union and sout ...
.


See also

* Bibliography of the War of 1812 * List of incidents of political violence in Washington, D.C. * 2021 storming of the United States Capitol


Notes


References


Citations


Sources

* Crawford, Michael J. (Ed) (2002). ''The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, Vol. 3''. Washington: United States Department of Defense. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Further reading

* Latimer, Jon. ''1812: War with America'', Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. *McCavitt, John, and Christopher T. George. ''The Man Who Captured Washington: Major General Robert Ross and the War of 1812''. (2016); se
online review
* Martin, John.

" ''LC Information Bulletin'', September 1998 * Pack, A. James. ''The Man Who Burned The White House'', Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987. * Phelan, Mary Kay. ''The Burning of Washington: August 1814'', Ty Crowell Co, 1975. * Pitch, Anthony S.
The Burning of Washington
, ''White House History Magazine, Fall 1998 * Pitch, Anthony S. ''The Burning of Washington'', Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000. * Snow, Peter ''When Britain Burned the White House, The 1814 Invasion of Washington'', London: John Murray, 2013. * Whitehorne, Joseph A. ''The Battle for Baltimore: 1814'' (1997)


External links


The War of 1812 and Relocating the Nation's Capital


Maryland State Archives

{{DEFAULTSORT:Washington 1814 fires 1814 in Washington, D.C. Arson in Washington, D.C. August 1814 events Battles involving the United Kingdom Battles of the War of 1812 in the United States, Washington Burned buildings and structures in the United States Fires at legislative buildings Fires in Washington, D.C. Presidency of James Madison Urban fires in the United States, Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C., in the War of 1812 Battles of the Chesapeake campaign