Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Burning of Washington!

“Rained all the forenoon and I made a wagon tongue for the heavy wagon.  After dinner, I took it up to have some irons fixed on it and father dragged while I was ….. I got home about 4 and dragged until night.  Ground works very fine.”

Burning of Washington 1814

The Burning of Washington was an incident of the War of 1812 between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the United States of America. On August 24, 1814, a British force occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to many public buildings following the American defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg. The facilities of the U.S. government, including the White House and U.S. Capitol, were largely destroyed, though strict discipline and the British commander's orders to burn only public buildings are credited with preserving the city's private buildings. This has been the only time since the Revolutionary War that a foreign power has captured and occupied the United States capital

The White House ruins after the conflagration of August 24, 1814. Watercolor by George Munger, displayed at the White House

 Historians assert that the attack was in retaliation for the American burning and looting of York (now Toronto) during the Battle of York in 1813, and the burning down of the buildings of the Legislative Assembly there. The British Army commanders said they chose to attack Washington "on account of the greater political effect likely to result".

The United States Capitol after the burning of Washington, D.C. in the War of 1812. Watercolor and ink depiction from 1814, restored

Governor-General Sir George Prevost of Canada wrote to the Admirals in Bermuda calling for a retaliation for the American sacking of York and requested their permission and support in the form of provision of naval resources. At the time, it was considered against the civilized laws of war to burn a non-military facility and the Americans had not only burned the Parliament but also looted and burned the Governor's mansion, private homes and warehouses

The Burning of Washington forms the background to this portrait of Rear Admiral George Cockburn

Further proof of the intention was that after the limited British burning of some public facilities, the British left. There was no territory that they wanted to occupy, no military facility that they had planned to attack.


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