tv Burning of Washington CSPAN August 21, 2014 6:45pm-8:16pm EDT
was it because -- so soon that they didn't have time, or i guess what i'm asking is there any way that the troops that did lead the attack came through the crater could have been better trained? >> yeah, the question is, could the white troops that were leading the attack eventually have been better prepared? the answer is no because we make these last-minute changes on july 29th and the battle is the next morning right at dawn. so there's no prep time. what's my time? okay. >> david rosen from alexandria, virginia. against the background of these circumstances, and what you've described, a little bit of humaneness compels the tension. i wonder if you could tell us something about mahone. >> yes.
i'm not sure all you want to know, but i'll start with a brief biography. mahone is a native of southampton county, virginia, which he is growing up in the era of the imagery of the slave insurrection of 1832. graduates from virginia military institute. enlists at the beginning of the war. not anything superb as brigade commander, but somehow really knows how to handle a division, so his troops absolutely shoot james longstreet near where jackson's mortal wound had been. richard anderson is moved up to first corps command. mahone is moved up to division command. and right after this battle, lee praises ma hone's ability to recapture the lines and promoted to major general. so he'll remain division commander until the surrender. >> what about the -- his showing of humaneness? >> oh, yes. so, yes -- you know, several people comment on this.
he, you know, stops his soldiers from killing blacks as best as he can, and obviously he can't stop them all even when they're right in front of him. mahone is a slave owner. he doesn't believe in equality at the beginning of the war or even perhaps when it ends, yet he has this miraculous sort of desire to become politician. he creates and sustains virginia's first biracial political party, the re-adjusters in the post-war years. and really sort of attempts to cater to blacks. even at one point admits that just steps away from the capitol today down on the national mall. we join the smithsonian associates with a conversation about author anthony pitch about his book "the burning of washington." >> this is the august edition. the september guide will come out next week for september,ing on, and november. always find these programs online at smithsonianassociates.org.
before we begin tonight, please turn off your cell phone. despite the fact we're three stories underground, they to get reception. you don't want to be the person whose phone rings at the crucial moment in the lecture and gets the death glare from all of your neighbors, so make sure it is off now. there will be crucial points of the lecture, because this evening we're coming up on the 200th anniversary of the burning of washington. the actual day is sunday, august 24th will be the 200th anniversary. when we were talking about how we would mark, we wanted to commemorate this anniversary despite the fact that it's a less than glorious moment in our nation's history, and when we thought about who best would come to speak to us about it, the unanimous choice was anthony pitch. for those of you who have been smithsonian associates members for a long time, he's certainly no stranger to you. he has been giving lectures and tours about the lincoln assassination based on his book "they shot papa dead." restaurant tasting tours in adams morgan. and lectures and tours on this topic based on his book aptly
named "the burning of washington." and you will also notice this evening that there are c-span cameras around. they are here broadcasting. those of you who are watching on c-span will be no stranger to anthony pitch. many of his lectures and programs have been taped for broadcast for them before. so we're very lucky to have him tonight. ladiy ies and gentlemen, mr. anthony pitch. [ applause ] >> thank you very much for coming. i'll just put that down. it's raining outside, and so i'm very glad to see a lot of people here tonight. i want to tell you that a few years ago, i escorted somebody into the white house and his name was major ed ross. the same name major general
robert ross who burned the white house. he was a descendant and he wanted to see the scorch marks that i told him were there. they are they're under the front door. and there's a big, stone archway where you can see massive scorch marks from the fires set by the briltish in 1814. and the pastry chef who had his offices close by couldn't stop giggling. he thought, well, here's a man who's come to finish the job. i like to write stories that are epic, true and sad. people ask me why don't you write something funny? i can't. i really like to write epic stories. vietnam was one. and then i wrote the boning of
washington, the president escapes, the city in flames, the national anthem comes out of it and you have andrew jackson's victory at new orleans all in the same campaign. and when i have my lit rare supplement in england, the reviewer says they described what happened here as this amusing little incident. he was parading his ignorance because he didn't realize that the british suffered the greatest defeat in the long annals of the valiant history of military conflict. at the hands of americans. had that happened before the peace treaty was signed, i think we'd been different today. winston churchill described this as not a war of ind pen kens. he denied it was not a war of
independence. who am i to argue with that great man? now, forcunfortunately, he's no here with us so, challenge him. now, if you're at sea and your ships haul off sailors, if you don't do anything, you are surrendering your sovereignty. it's an affront to the dignity and sovereignty to a nation. that's why i call it, without question, a war of independence. so, now, let me tell you what washington was like in 1814. it was a gawky village. there were only 8,000 residents and one sixth were slaves.
when the same diplomat saw the president, he wrote home to his mother, dearest mom, lookly for me, i'm in turkey and they have the most prime evil simplicity of manners. so why would they want to target this village? they want today humiliate around demoralize the americans. the commander of the british commander of north america wanted to give americans what he called a complete dropping. and this was, in part, pay back for american successes. where they burned and plundered some 069 buildings most recently in york and in the individuals on the niagara front.
britain affronts had been targeting the others' trade with neutral america. this spent all the american ships and banning american ships from each other's conditions. in addition, thousands of british troops deserted for better-paying positions. in a six-year period, after 1810, the british hold off about 5,000 sailors of american ships. about 1300 of these were later found being born in america. both of whom had been born after d declaration of independence.
and the man against war was represented to john randolph of roanaoke. well, calhoun was not going to have any of this. he didn't share any emotional attachment to the former colonial power. so he replied, great, indeed, must be the reason for going to war if so much had bound us together in the past. and in the summer of 17812, a bitterly divided congress, as bitter as it was in the vietnam war, declared war on britain.
for two years, it was a distant richble. if you lived in washington and you might not read the newspaper. you might not have known that there was a war going on. but in 1814, napoleon fell. the capital remained undefended. he was one of those characters that history throws up time and time again. people who believe that that judgment is best for everybody else, even when reality to the country stairs him in the face. he was one of those. he was a former minister to france. and it was said of him that nature and habits forbid of him to speak well of any man. he was that kind of person.
when a fleet of british w warships came up the chesapeake bay, the secretary of war dismissed him. they said he would not come with such fleet, without meaning to strike somewhere. but they certainly will not come here. what the devil are they doing here? baltimore is the place. this is a lesson to be learned from the war of 1812. it doesn't have the analysis that a greater inspection would have by a greater number of people. that is the lesson to be learned.
there are many lessons to be learned, but that is the greatest lesson. armstrong quit his job when people refused to serve underhim. he was dismissed with groo fee tee on the ruin capital. describing him as a coward. he was a wrong person in the right job at the right place. he wasn't the kind of person that he could see they were going to attack baltimore, philadelphia or washington. so the british disembarked about 9,000 troops.
the path to the capital was clear. fear in washington turned to terror. and terror gave way to pandemonium. their possessions were spilling over the sides of the carts and wagons and more precious than jewelry. that's setting what it was like. and so i dislike books that give a dry recitation of effects. these are real people with real emotions reacting to different circumstances.
this is what i tried to portray. what happened to the people involved? most of the cloaks were over 45. and, therefore, exempt from the militia. but in the basement of the house of representatives, nearly all of the offices were empty because most of the cloaks were youchk people. only j.t. frost, a newcomer, remained at his desk. he was over 45. so, in this moment of unparalleled crisis, a man is now burdened with the need to make rapid decisions of national
importance. that's how history operates around one man. and so nobody was around to advise poor frost. i use this word vandals with care. it's den grating the british, but there's no other word. there was a colleague who tried hard to reason at his desk. but, he, too, had been marched out of the city to meet the enemy. when it was too late, most of the carts and wagons had been grabbed by the military. and the remainder were piled high with the goods in flight.
so in desperation, he ordered three messengers to scour the country side for transport. they came back in 1814 six months out of town. then they returned to the capitol to arrive august 24th, 1814. he was frustrated beyond measure. both men knew they skould have saved all the papers of the house and even the vast contents of the library of congress if only they'd been able to seize more transplant. the library of congress faced the western edge of them all.
it was a large room with tempered ceilings. it went up like a tinderbox. you know about thomas jefferson's offering and it was presented as a new rye brar of congress. 6,487 books. and he said it will take about two weeks for the books to arrive at the library of congress. you should see what they incured for bookcases at the library of congress. every subject you can think of, it's all there in different languages. that was thomas jefferson.
two days before the british arrived, he got them out of the navy yard into virginia. we settled up across from georgetown. he rode uch ap and told the two apparent owners he was impounding it. so some citizens who might normally have buckled under bureaucratic pressure, now bristles. it's got my fingerprints all over it at the national archives.
booth was one of the last to free the city before the british arrived. and before he did so, he decided to check at the white house. he saw an american colonel and the colonel dismounted, went over to the locked front door of the white house, pulled hard on the bell rope, banged on the front door shouting out the name of the french, john latif of the household staff. but for booth, all was as silent as a church. only then did this poor navy cloak realize that in his words, the metropolis of our country was abandoned to its horrid fate. you can almost hear his howl.
he then ordered his stuff to secure as best they could in the departmental records. one of the cloaks, steven plesant, remember that name, stephen with a p-h and pleasantton. p-l-e-a-s-a-n-t-o-n. but pleasanton described himself as chiefly instrumental in this. very gently, put the o rirjales, believe it or not, the declaration of independence, the constitution and george washington correspondence into bags that he had made up into book bags that were lynning. while this was being done, none other than the secretary of war
passed by. and armstrong rebuked him for being an alarmist. plez santon was not intimidated. imagine, he stood up to the secretary of war and said it's more prudent to protect the documents of the revolutionary government. so he loaded the carts across the potomac river and put them in an abandoned mill. burr then he immediately had second thoughts. he was now opposite fox hole's foundry. certainly to be star getted by the brit ish. a spy or a turncoat could easily lead the enemy to a hiding place. so he went further into virginia, got some wagons, came back and loaded them up and he drove 35 miles west to leesburg, virginia. put them in an empty house,
locked the door and gave the key to the collector of internal revenue and then checked into a hotel. that night, the residents of leesburg went into the streets and they could see the fiery glow over the burning city of washington. pleasanton was not amongst them. he was too tired and fast asleep. now, i know this happened because 39 years later, pleasanton thought he was going to lose his job because he didn't know anybody in the incoming administration.
in those days, you had to know people. he said i could have been rewarded by the british if i had given them the documents, and i didn't. and the letter is in buccanon's papers in the library of congress. i was always up set by the condition of his grave. we walked from the capital to the white house. as we passed the national archives, i was testimonying stories all the time from the war of 1812 and i said if it were not for steven pleasanton, you would not be able to see those documents in the national archives today. of course i raised the money and
we got an expert and he restored the tombstone, it's upright now and the man has now got the credit that is so long orr due. now, i want to tell you about a woman who was equally as brave and fear leless and disregarded the safety of her own life. her name is dolly madison. she is, without doubt, the most beloved first lady ever to live in the white house. jackie kennedy was admired, but dolly was beloved. she was a marvelous woman. new year's day in particular,
people used to pay courtesy to her from the president on downwards. steward's full-length portrait of george washington hang in the west wall of a large dining room. it had been acquired by the federal government in 1800 for the white house at a cost of $800. at that moment, two new yorkers scape into the white house and asked if they could do anything to help. according to a historian who interviewed them late ere, save that picture. under no circumstances allow it to fall into the hands of the british. when she saw that a slave was taking too long, she told him to break the wood and take out the canvas.
now, french john comes in. did french john tell jennings to stop and, with doris' approval, took out a knife and cut the fabric from its frame, 95 inches long, 59 3/4 inches wide. or did dolly tell the slave to break it from the wood and take it out? we don't know fr sure. but the conservatives didn't find any cut marks. he put it flat in the wagon and drove through georgetown into the country side and left with a farmer overnight.
pay master and oversaw the rating of the warehouses of cultural produce. but i checked it out. thomas canes was the pay master of the debitization. but none of the ewe set foot in washington. so either he's mistaken as it's the white house, well, we then went to see the portrait of george washington. they took away the rope that keeps you about 20 feet away. and then, for the first of countless times, i recall saw the artisan made a mistake. in the painting, george washington is standing up facing you. there's a table next to his right leg. under the table are some books,
fine art. and the title painted on one of the books reads laws and constitution of the united states. s-a-t-e-s. can you believe it? gill spert stuart made a spelling mistake. it's extraordinary. well, when the british arrived on capital hill, they found it confronted and linked not by a dome, but by a 100 foot long, covered, wooden walkway. they expected to find signs of republican simplicity. but, instead, they found evidence of monarch yal splendor.
it wasn't a normal building. it represented the hopes and aspirations now, of course, it's a beacon of voracity. he was an architect. it could compare with any of its weather counter parts in europe. there were no sculptors of american. when he found two worthy tus cans, he hired them. he exasperated him. he called him an artist of first-rate excellence. and the other sculptor was
linsone yurks. he feared it didn't resemble the bird of prey. and latrobe didn't want any criticism, least of all, from a congressman from the western states. so he wrote a letter asking for the drawing of a head and yosz of a bald eagle. he opens his package to find the perfect head and neck of a bald eagle. shoot the bird of prey to look at the arrangement of its feathers. working in meticulous detail, he wouldn't leave a year beyond the departure of the british.
he put all of his creative energy in this. when he had finished, latrobe marvelled. he called it the finest eagle. it had a wingspan of 12 feet and was hoisted high above the speaker's chair in the awesome hall of the house of representatives. now, sadly, it would be destroyed. along with all the other works of art over the objections of junior officers and british army who said we don't mind a string of ordinaries and some ammunition and weapons and everything like that. but why artwork? i have correspondence that you could see it in baltimore.
you could even see it in the ship's logs of british warships on the river, 50 miles east. that's extraordinary. now, 100 soldiers and sailors. that's all. two columns tramped down pennsylvania on their way to the white house. on iert side of them were double rows of poplar trees planted by thomas jefferson. when one of the men started to talk, an officer shouted silence. i'll shoot the first man who speaks.
slaves scurried ahead. the ring runs a boarding house. major general robert ross entered under the low door and began to tease the woman saying madame, we have come to sock with you. terrified woman. tried to steer across the road to the hotel, but cross wouldn't have it. he said that he preferred the view of the government buildings from her boarding house. and so the friegtsenned woman went to the backyard to slaughter chickens for them. now t british were exhausted.
they fought an hour-long battle and a heat so intense that 18 of the men dropped dead from heat exhaustion. then they marched 6 months southwest of the capital and then burned the capital and tramped almost a mile down pennsylvania avenue to where they were now. they were famished and thirsty. admiral george coburn was the driving force. his superior, major general robert ross had second thoughts and he wanted to return. and coburn forced him by the influence of his occupants, to proceed. he said we've only got militia men ahead of us. that's nothing. we've come so far, we have to continue.
he had been recognized by nelson. he acknowledged coburn ability and knowledge and zeal. he was naugt of so highly by the british admiralty, that he was chosen to take the great napoleon into exile on the island. and i got ahold of his diary. and he said this man, napoleon, sometimes, wants to play the sovereign. i won't allow it. that is the fiber of a man who grabbed an american who was innocent. he took him and grabbed him for the white house as a british ban dit. the man he select ed was roger chu.
he became a long-time mayor of the city of washington. he was in a free-willing mood. he taunted and mocked the madisons. and then he tweaked the honor of whiteman. he said take a souvenir chltsds he said i'll take one for myself. he selected a hat belonging to the president. and the british drank, they bought wine from decanters into cut glass. that he told us at the hemt of their region and the success of his majesty's land and they drank for peace to american and down with madison. and when one of the men found a
ceremonial hat and raised it by the tip of the bayonet. he said if they could not capture the little president, they won't parade his hat in england. and that night, they burned 2 white house and the treasury. and that night, the state and war departments, the last of which because the content of rope and tar sent clouds of choking black smoke over the city. the ruins were a telting commentary on a scale of cities deg regags. that's the seen as they left the capital. now, they came on wednesday night. at thursday, 2:00 p.m., there was a two hour storm that may have been a hurricane.
locals had never seen anything like it. but it's mythological to say that that storm extinguished the flames. i have correspondence from a number of sources that says the flames burn for several days a 56 the storm. so now uch this terrible site. but that's noot the end of america's humiliation. washington ions, in the middle of this catastraphoe, were the ones that tid most of the looting. many waiting for the military to be out of sight. now they were free to steal and run. no one was around to protect private property on forced law and order. paul jennings, madison's slave, had been told by dolly's brother-in-law to go to 48th street to get his carriage.
and from that vantage points, the slave would later recollect a rebel taking advantage of a confusion, ran all through the president's house. that's what they call the white house then. then. and stole lots of silver. the british limited their looting to souvenir hunting in iegslated cases of robbery for which the thooefings paid dear to their home. they assured that their property would be safe. they appointed a company to patrol pennsylvania avenue to protect private property. they would perform so honorably
for years. so excuse me while i take one more sip. that's what happened while washington was being occupied. it was only three weeks later that the british forces surrendered. history has a way of taking a humiliating moment like that and turning it into glory. and this is what happened. it was raining hard and they were slashed with trenches. but even though the men were wet, damp, tired and hungry,
they were itching for pay back for what had happened in washington. the general in charge of the british, major general robert ross rode far ahead of the bulk of his troops. he predicted tonight i will stop in baltimore or in hell. he never made it to baltimore. question don't know whether he made it to help or hell. but a sniper's bullet tore off his right arm and lodged in his chest. his body was taken in a cart over a bumpy road to the ships. but by the time he got there, demoralizing everybody along the route, he was dead. so they took his corpse, aboard h.m.s. royal oak. and immersed him in hog's head rum where he would swish and sway at halifax, nova scotia. it took about an hour to
overwhelm an inferior force of mostly militiamen. if they could bludgeon the mission, baltimore was theirs and philadelphia was probably next. but even though there was no cover and the pounding went on for a day and a night, nobody ran. nobody flimpled. the british planned an attack at night. they would later draw defenders away from the hef shrill fortified eastern hills so that the british infantry would then be able to charge through and capture the city. but, towards midnight, the naval
commando sent a message to his land commander that he would not be able to help. he said the force could you describe not penetrate the cattle behind which they waited with gun boats. and so the land command er if i failed my military character was gone forever. there was a man called phoeb phoebe morris. and she wrote to her father. she said papa, we may have to
swear allegiance to the british crown in three months that. 's how high the stakes were. there was a hostage on board called francis scott key. he was a hostage from this way. they only remained 24 hours or 26 hours, somewhere around there. we were afraid of being cut off and attacked on their way back to the ships. it was still there. this is what they did to deceive the americans. they, in turn, captured a friend of francis skothd key, his name
was dr. william beings. they took him away as a hostage. key pleaed for his friend's release. at sunset, he had seen this gigantic flag. what so proudly we held at the twilight's last gleaming. it was 42 feet by 30 feet. it had been raised there by the fort's commander, major george armestead. he was in active defiance. he was saying if you want baltimore, you first have to lower this flag.
that's how key got to see what's happening. and it paced if deck of the ship and the doctors hoping the explosions would continue. if there was silence, it might mean the fort had been capitulated. but in the dark hours before dawn, there was a lower in the firing. never before had he looked with such reverence upon the symbol of his country. never before had the flag had such a sheen to its glory. in his ecstasy, there was no other word. on the back of it, he jotted down thoughts, words, phrases,
anything that would tumble through his mind while the intensity of the moment lasted. three days later, the british withdrew. his poem was now published and set to the tune of a popular song in those days called two are in help. now, five days later, congress met in the undamaged patent office in washington around 8:30 in the evening. and they put the congressman's chairs and desks right up to the fireplace flfs one advantage. they didn't have to shout.
they debated the motion that would move the capital to philadelphia or elsewhere to save the cost of rebuilding the ruined city. imagine, the north earners, stuck in their heel, they said no. if the original language establishing washington as the nation's capital described it as the permanent seat of government. to do anything else would be to affront the dignity of george washington who, himself, had discovered the site. it was approved. when it was put in legislative form, it was long debated.
it ended this costly war between two exhausted nations. john quincy adams, and later, going to bed that night, having pry prayed that this would be the last great war between if two great, english-speaking countries. but it took a long time for word to cross the atlantic in those days. andrew jackson assembled an army of pie rats and miliitia men and put them behind a makeshift. facing this mighty british army, forced through centuries of warfare.
later that year, it would include the downfall of napoleon. they should have waited until they took the flank across the mississippi river. instead, they had no cover. they were picked off one after the other. surprisingly, the american artillery was more accurate. as the day wore on, the ditch became a pool of british dead.
when it was all the over, there were more than 2 million british casualties. britain had never suffered such a lopsided defeat in its military history. i think, it didn't speculate in the book, but i will now. i think had that battle been fought in advance of the peace treaty, we might be running canada today. and so from that moment, you could say that america won its dignity and respect and admiration. the second war of independence was truly over. and so is my speech. [ applause ]
>> why did the u.s. troops withdraw their ammunition from the top of the hill there? >> that's a very good question. there was a poem fought at lunchtime at the same day that the british arrived at sunset in washington. and the british rolled all over the americans. the poem made fun of the americans running. it was called the blatantburg's races. most of the people who ran and broke ranks, were not so well trained like regulars. the british army, it was the finalist. they were seasoned in the british war.
the americans, who had been trained 114 marines. they fought as well as they got. they fought so gallantly. they took 10% casualties. they were terrified at the beginning of these british who had just been trained so well that they crossed a narrow bridge and then they would go forward in lines. and the americans were later in baltimore, too. they were so impressed with this, they couldn't believe it. so it was inevitable that the
british could succeed. in fact, before the battle began, the secretary of war and the general commanding of american forces had pointed out the roots of escape for the americans. the british were so anxious, to engame the enemy that they rushed forward without the approval of the british commander. they said oh, if we only had this man, he would teach the value of patience. they were horrified to see this, but it was too late. the british were storming through. so it's very, very unfair to blame the americans.
that's why there is a myth going around that the commandant's home that the marine barracks were saved. i didn't find any documentary evidence of the bravery of the marines that they spared that house. i didn't find any documentary of the evidence to support that, that's a myth that's come up into the modern age, i don't know whether that's true or not. >> thank you for your presentation, anthony. i was wondering if you could give us some details about the burning of the washington naval yard. >> of the naval yard? yes.
the question was can i give some background to the burning of the navy yard. this is a terrible story. none of us would want to go through what commandant thomas tingy went through that night. he had been told by the secretary of the navy that if the british succeeded at the battle of braithersburg and proceeded within the boundaries of washington, then he was to take preemptive action and burn the shipping, the ordinances, supplies, everything else at the navy yard. this was a terrible decision to make. but they didn't want this to fall into the hands of the enemy. and, so, he waited until the last minute. he sent his scouts out and came back with the news that, yes, the british had succeeded and they were pouring into washington. so he had no alternative. now, they took the decision that
horrified them. they had laid gun powder and set it alight. like pyrotechnics. and people there couldn't believe what themp doing, but they had to carry out orders. this came from the very top of the secretary of the navy. preemptive action. and that's what they did. they watched these built by the finest labor. she had been built and gone to virginia and he was going to come back and take her. and she was amazed at the billowing flames coming over the navy yard. it felt like she was in the middle of it all.
and she said, she wrote a letter to her sister, the letter survives in princeton. she said nobody slept that night because of the awful sight and awful sounds that people saw and heard. she was talking about the navy yard. it must have been a terrible moment. >> thank you so much for your talk. fascinating. you eluded to in your talk, the taking of alex and dree ya, which was, as i have come to understand now, a second detachment of the british flaet that had some rather amazing, treacherous sailing up the potomac river and somehow managed to get away. could you comment on that a little bit if you would?
>> the briltish had hoped that the moment, if they would have succeeded, that benedict coming up fa the east and a squadron coming up the potomac river and arrive at washington and probably that would be it. the labor force coming up the potomac river had not been there before. they didn't realize that they were the kettle bolt toms. a lot of the ships got caught on the kettle bottoms. but they came up the potomac river.
and they were at the white house, which was then in place on the shores. and they were about three miles from this fort. what was it called again? fort washington. he held a conference for some of his people. he said i think we better s surrender. we better leave the fort. so without a shot being fired, they retreated the fort. they left it to the british. the british couldn't believe the good luck.
they couldn't understand this. but as the fort was folding, it lit up on fire. dyson was convicted and kicked out of the mim tear. they drnt want anybody of that caliber. he said what's the point of flying a flag if we're going to be taken anyway. he was the worst kind of commander that you want at a time like that. so the british took a fort. and there was knock between them in alexandria and virginia. so they sailed upstream. and they late-sieged alexandria. now, just about everybody from alexandria had been called up and gone to other places. and they were old and infirmed and they were either two young or too old.
they were in no position to defernd the city. so a delegation from alexandria, of notables, went to see coburn. he demeaned them. and he told them that they would be attacked and ransacked if they took action against the forces. but he told them that they were going to raid the warehouses of agricultural produce. he also demanded that sunken american ships be raised by the americans. they said they couldn't do this. but they did raid the warehouses. and they did terrible damage, terrible damage. the americans brought some people from baltimore, notably commander john rogers, to harass
the british as they descended down the potomac away from alexandria. and they did a good job, but they ran out of ammunition. they literally ran out of ammunition. and they were castigated in the press for this folly. that is, the people, the critics of the americans. and they took away this vast agricultural produce from alexandria. one or two people did go -- americans, they went on horseback into alexandria. they captured a british sailor and they had to release him.
they yanked him up by his collar and put him on a horse. they were too terrified. and dolly madison was terrified of this. she was horrified. she said that they should have blown up the city rather than to surrender it. she was one of those that said, in a situation like that, you don't fly the white flag. you defend the place, or you let it be destroyed. but you do not give it away to the enemy. and that is exactly what happened. and the british sailed away, and they managed to get away. none of their ships were sunk. yes? >> did the british try to pursue president madison after he left the city? >> no. they did make that mocking
remark that this little president, this 5'4" man, they would braid his hair in england, if they didn't capture him. madison had escaped across the potomac river into virginia. agreeing to meet his wife at wiley's tavern, which is 16 miles northwest of washington near great falls. and he was 63 years old. this little retiring man. brilliant. but he was described as like a school master, just finished whipping his school boys, and now he was crying over the fact -- it was very different from his outgoing wife, who was very outgoing and garilous. many americans didn't know where he was at. he probably stayed in an estate
on route 23 south, probably at raines' tavern, an inn recommended by thomas jefferson at falls church. and then he went up to wiley's tavern and finally he met his wife, dolly. and he crossed over into montgomery courthouse, which was now called rockville. they expected to find the americans' army there. but they had already gone off to baltimore to defend it. and so that was friday night. so he rode over east to brookville, a quaker village in montgomery county, out of the path of the advancing british. they couldn't capture him there. and there are interesting scenes. the american cavalry and infantry lit their flickering fires by the river and by the
mill, and brookville residents, young and old, pressed their faces against the window panes trying to get a glance of the president who was in their little village. and he stayed at the home of caleb and henrietta bentley, quaker friends of dolly. it was also the postmaster. that building still stands where he stayed. and by his presence, supreme executive authority resided in brookville at that moment. because washington was in captivity. and so that's why the residents of brookville described their village as the capital of america for one day. but they never caught him, they never caught his wife, dolly, who was also roaming around, unknown to a lot of americans. they did come back. the british arrived at sunset on wednesday. they retreated on thursday night.
madison came back on saturday morning after he had been told that the british had left. and it took him five hours to ride from brookville to washington, about 25 miles, and then he didn't leave any written commentary of what he felt like. that distressed me, i wanted to know what this person thought. there are descriptions of melancholy. that is a description that appears time and again. and shame and embarrassment and graffiti, and it went on and on. but not from madison. he kept his peace. dolly came back on sunday, the day after, and she was disguised in the clothing of another person. she had lost eight of her bodyguards, who decided to get drunk rather than to defend her, and she arrived with one bodyguard. and she even had to acknowledge her identity to a guard at the
potomac river, which she didn't want to do, but she had to, to be allowed to cross. and then she was described by people who saw her that day, and the next days, as a person who was totally broken in spirit. this woman who was normally ebullient, and very well liked, she was now distraught and very introverted. but she was fiery and feisty. and she said if only she had weapons to use, she would have used them at that stage against the enemy. and so the british really, they had done what coburn had decided. they wanted to get washington, because he said, if you can strike at the heart of an enemy, which is the capital city, you will destroy their morale. that's exactly what he wanted to do. he knew -- didn't have anything to offer strategically,
washington, but it did have the capital building in the president's house. and it was the nation's capital. and that's why they totaled it. but there was an occupation that did a lot of damage. nearly all the government buildings were destroyed, with the exception of the patent office, which was really saved because thomas -- dr. thornton was the superintendent of patents. and he learned that the british were going to destroy it. and he said to them, this is not private property -- this is not public property, this is private property. these are private inventions. and the british bought it, and they saved that building. but they never caught the madisons. yes? >> do we know how long it took to rebuild the white house and the capital after it burned? >> yes, the white house, because
it didn't have any major additions, took three years. they invited hoghogan, who won medal for designing it, to redesign it, and latrobe to redesign the capitol, which took five years. now, the capitol was, at that time, many people think it was destroyed. that's not true. the flames which were set by the british, they unremittingly came back towards the british, and the vaulted ceilings which were pioneered by latrobe, as an architectural feature, they managed to act as fire breaks, so that the vaulted ceilings protected a lot of the capitol. and a lot of it was saved. if you want to see the parts that were saved, go into the vestibule near the old supreme
court where the senate used to meet. that was destroyed. but you will see in the vestibule columns there that are beautifully topped with corn cob capitals designed by -- carved by giovani andre. and instead of having the normal cantel sleeves showing husks of corn, the corn cob capitals. and those are in the vestibules. and then you'll see in the rotunda, you will see the places that survived. and there's a room now occupied by the house majority leader, which is doubled at that time as a committee in the district of
columbia, and an office for the president when he went to the u.s. capitol. and coburn wanted a souvenir. so he went into this office. it still stands. and he found a boring book, a book on the table belonging to madison, and it was written there in gold type, president's copy. it was an expenditures of the u.s. government for 1810. a very boring book. but he wrote on the inside cover, probably at a later date, taken by admiral coburn on the destruction of the capitol during the occupation of washington august 24th, 1814, and given to him by his brother. in philadelphia in 1940, a rare book dealer authenticated the
writing and gave the book to the library of congress. when brian lamb interviewed for book tv, it was in the main reading room of the library of congress. he said to me before we aired, would you like any props? and i said, please, bring it down from the red book division. and he brought it down. they gave me the white gloves to handle it. and i was trembling. because this is the visible proof of the past. the tangible evidence of its happenin happenings. and if you didn't react with a heightened sensation, you needed a heart transplant. so, you know, some marvelous -- there was so much. i didn't think there would be so much extent at the time when i decided to write the story. and i was amazed that if you dig deep, really deep, and you go for the original documents, not
other people's books. i really dislike doing that. go for the original documents, the affidavits, depositions, reports back to the british, which i found in the national archives in queue, you will find so much that makes this a living testimony of what happened at the time. it was not a forgotten war as it's called today. it was a war that should be remembered by everybody. i give a speech at ft. mchenry, well, i did before my stroke two years ago, but every year, on the anniversary of francis scott key writing the national anthem in september, i would go to ft. mchenry and give a speech on why and when and how he wrote the national anthem. at the end of it the people would come up to me afterwards and say, thank you, i didn't realize the story. i couldn't believe it. because this is one of the
fundamental beliefs of this country. is that, this is such a momentous occasion writing the national anthem, the words to the national anthem. and they didn't know the story. i think it's a thrilling moment. i really -- when i go to ft. mchenry, i feel this every time. when you hear the anthem next and you now know the story, i'm sure you'll listen to it with a different kind of feeling. because it's not archaic words, it's something that resonates down the centuries. and it's very meaningful. >> thank you for being here. >> thank you very much. [ applause ]
1812. here's another perspective. one that was mentioned earlier during his talk. dolly madison, how she saved of the painting of george washington before the british burned down the white house. 200 years ago, on august 24th, 1814, british forces entered washington, d.c., and burned the capital building, the president's house and most of the federal buildings. next, steve vogueel, author of through the perilous fight, six weeks that saved the nation, uses his boat to take us on a river tour of the burning of washington. >> we're on the potomac river approaching georgetown. on the afternoon of august 24th, as the battle is winding down,
dolly receives a note sent by james madison, as he's departing the battlefield, that things are going very badly at bladensberg. the coalition has collapsed and washington is in grave danger. he recommends that she leave at once. now, dolly had been making some preparations. a number of the belongings had already been packed up into wagons and carriages. but at the same time, she had insisted on not conveying a sense of panic. and she had ordered that dinner be set for the president, and any officers and other visitors who might be coming back to the white house later in the day. so the servants were setting up
the dining room for a large dinner. and meantime, though, there's panic out in the streets. as word of what's going on in bladensburg spreads, around the streets are filling up with refugees trying to get out of town, and dolly madison makes some last preparations at the white house. once she gets the message from president madison. among the things that she spots at the last minute is the portrait of george washington. gilbert stewart, portrait that life size, that it had already taken on something of an iconic status in the united states. president washington had been dead for about 15 years at this point. and already visitors would often come to look at this portrait of the first president. and dolly madison grasped at
once to allow the portrait to fall into british hands would be adding insult to injury. and so she instructs some of her servants, including the madisons' house slave, paul jennings, and the gardener, paul mcgraw, to get it off the wall. this proved to be quite difficult. she often gets credit for saving the portrait of george washington, but it should be noted that she actually leaves at this point. being urged by some citizens, and others who were saying that she was in great danger and needed to leave immediately. and so she takes some of the silver, and other belongings with her, and gets in a carriage and rides up to georgetown. leaving jennings and some of the other servants to get the portrait down, which they finally managed to do with the help of a hatchet. now, the portrait would then be
saved by several businessmen from new york who came by, and secured a wagon, and took it away into maryland for safekeeping. president madison arrives at the white house around 4:00 in the afternoon. dolly has left. and he takes sort of a last look around the place. he's accompanied by a couple of aides. he's obviously exhausted. 60-year-old man who had been riding out on horseback, out to a battlefield, had come under rocket fire, had come back to the white house. you can only imagine what his thoughts are at this moment. this is a nation that he had helped conceive. he had been the guiding light behind the constitution. and now, you know, america's great enemy, great britain, had a clear path, was on its way into washington.
the 200th anniversary of the british invasion of washington, d.c., is sunday. next, an overview of the burning of washington. >> 200 years ago, on august 24th, 1814, british forces entered washington, d.c., and burned the capitol building, the president's house and most of the federal buildings. next, steve vogel, author of through the perilous fight, six weeks that saved the nation, uses his boat to take us on a river tour of the burning of washington. >> after burning the capitol, ross and coburn moved with the troops down pennsylvania avenue to the white house. dolly and james madison had both
left a number of hours earlier. the british along the way stopped and talked to some civilians, asking where madison was. and were somewhat disappointed to learn he had already left the city. as they approached the white house, they passed a tavern on the corner right near the treasury building. and they actually went in to order dinner. and the woman proprietor tried to send them off to another establishment, but that didn't work. and they ordered some chicken, and then continued down pennsylvania avenue. and entered the white house, which they found unlocked. of course, it had been abandoned the previous hours. the servants had all left. and entering it, in the dining room they found the great feast
that dolly madison had ordered set for the evening. and needless to say, they didn't hesitate to help themselves to it. and this is one of those remarkable stories that's actually quite true. that the british were wined and dined at the white house, and then set the place afire. again, they went through with gunpowder paste and rubbed that on the door frames, and around the windows. they gathered a number of chairs and other flammable material, and created a little bonfires. they set drapes afire. pretty soon, the entire building was up in flames. some of the british soldiers actually felt a sense of regret about it. this was such a beautiful
building. and it was hard not to feel some regret at seeing such a place go up in flames. but again, the british antipathy toward madison was so great, that any regrets were pretty much overshadowed by the hope that this would force the united states to make a quick peace. for the british who had been locked in this incredible struggle with france for two decades at this point, the u.s. declaration of war in 1812 against great britain was just an act of enormous treachery. they felt they were trying to save the world, save civilization from napoleon. and for the united states to stab them in the back was an unforgivable act. and, you know, for the first two years of the war, they had been tied up with the fight with
napole napoleon. but when that war seems to be over, they have more forces to send over. there is certainly an element of revenge that flowed through the mind of many of the soldiers and sailors that marched into washington 200 years ago. to me, anybody who listens to the star spangled banner, or sings it, you know, has to understand that this first verse that we all sing at baseball games, you listen to at -- during the super bowl, you always have to remember that that verse ends in a question mark. because key really didn't know what the future was going to hold for the united states at that moment.