tv Politics Public Policy Today CSPAN September 3, 2014 9:00am-11:01am EDT
wide. or, did dolly tell the slave to break it from the wood and take it out? we don't know for sure. but the conservators didn't find any cut marks on the canvas. it's a little bit murky. whatever happened, they gave it to barker one of the new yorkers who started to roll it up. until he was stopped by the french man for fear the paint would crack. they put a flat in the wagon and drove through georgetown into the countryside and left wit a farmer they lodged with overnight and a few weeks latter, they returned it to dolly. now, today, it hangs in the east room of the white house. when the president is giving a press conference there in the east room or he's awarding medals of honor, et cetera, you will see it behind his shoulders. and when my book came out, it was invited to lunch at the white house. they took me to rooms off
limits. we passed through the map room, so-called because there's a map of europe over the mantelpiece and it shows the swastika symbols which plot the nazis there's a little medicine chest nearby about so big. and it's got holes for vials of medicine and you can pull out the drawers.1 in 1939, a canadian wrote to president roosevelt and his name was archibald canes. and he said, my grandfather was a paymaster aboard the british warship "devastation" which came up the potomac river at that time and laid siege to alexandria and oversaw the raiding of the warehouses of agricultural produce. but i checked it up.
thomas canes was the paymaster of the "devastation" but none of the crew set foot in washington. so either he exchanged booty with another briton or archibald canes the canadian is mistaken as is 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 saw the artist's amazing mistake. in the painting george washington is standing up facing you. there is a table next to his right leg, under the table are some books and the title painted on one of the books reads "laws and constitution of the united states" s-a-t-e-s. can i believe it?
gilbert stewart made a spelling mistake. extraordinary. well, when the british arrived on capitol hill, they confronted by the twin buildings of the senate in the north, the south and covered wooden walkway. as they entered, they expected to find signs of republican simplicity. but instead, they found evidence of splendor. now, i go to town in this book on what the building was like because it wasn't a normal building. it was like those great cathedrals in medieval europe built with a lot of money and the finest artisans. they want to glorify something and so it was with the u.s. capitol. it represented the hopes and aspirations of the young republic. and when it was restored, it would represent resilience and unity. now, of course, it's a beacon of democracy.
but they saw this now created a colossal formidable beauty. he was an architect, latrobe. there were no sculptors of note in america so latrobe looked to the land of michelangelo, donatello, davinci, and finding two worthy tuscans, he hired them. they began to sculpt the columns and he exasperated latrobe with the slow pace and finishing the first one, latrobe exalted, called him an artist of first-rate excellence and the sculptor began modeling a bald eagle until he was stopped by latrobe for fear it didn't resemble the bird of prey and latrobe didn't want any
criticism, least of all from congressmen from the western states who knew what the bird looked like. he wrote a letter to the philadelphia artist peel asking for a drawing of the head and claws of a bald eagle. when the stagecoach arrived with mail from philadelphia, latrobe was in for a surprise. he opened the package to find the perfect head and neck of a bald eagle. and a drawing and a cover letter followed saying shoot the bird of prey to look at the arrangement of the feathers. he set to with an obsessive passion. working in meticulous detail. it was a sick man. wouldn't live a year beyond the departure of the british. he pulled all the creative energy into this. if you have ever created anything, quilting, gardening, a book, anything, you know what i'm talking about. and when he had finished, latrobe marveled. he called it the finest eagle in the history of sculpture. he said the wingspan of 12 feet and was hoisted high above the
speaker's chair in the awesome hall of the house of representatives. but now sadly it would be destroyed. along with all the other works of art over the objections of junior officers in the british army saying we don't mind destroying ordinances and ammunition and weapons and everything like that. but why artwork? well, they followed orders. and the british bonfires with furniture, with the -- where they couldn't find enough furniture, they hacked at the window and door frames and spread the wood with the rockets. the flames were so great that night that i have correspondence that you could see it in baltimore. you could even see it in the ships logs of british warships on the river 50 miles east. that's extraordinary. and so, that's what they did in the u.s. capitol.
now, 100 soldiers and sailors, that's all, the rest of them remained on capitol hill at the headquarters. 100 soldiers and sailors in 2 orderly columns tramped down the broad, quiet of pennsylvania on their way to burn the white house. on either side of them were double rows of stately 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 warning the remaining residents to flee the city because the british had just -- were on the way to burn the white house. excuse me while i just have a sip. when they got to the southeast corner of pennsylvania avenue and 15th street where the white house visitor center stands today in the department of commerce building, they ringed what was then a long low brick building, run as a boardinghouse
by the widow barbara suto. major general robert ross commanding the land forces entered under the low door and began to tease the woman saying, madame, we have come to supper with you. the terrified woman tried to steer them across the road to the hotel but ross wouldn't have it. he said that he preferred the view of the government buildings from her boardinghouse and the frightened woman went into the backyard to slaughter chickens for unwelcomed guests to return around midnight after they burned the white house. now, the british were exhausted. the day begun with a seven-hour forced march from upper marlboro through woods and dense thickets and brush to bladensburg and fought an hour-long battle and the heat so intense that 18 of their men dropped dead from heat exhaustion. then they marched 6 miles southwest to the capitol. burned the capitol and tramped almost a mile down pennsylvania avenue to where they were now.
they were famished and thirsty but when they entered the white house, they found a table laid before 40 because dolly expecting the captains of the military leaders for dinner. admiral george coburn was the driving force behind the assault on washington. his superior major general robert ross had second thoughts and wanted to return and coburn forced him by the influence of his arguments to proceed. he said we have militia men ahead of us. that's nothing. we have come so far. we have to continue. coburn had been recognized by none other than admiral horatio national. coburn had been a sailor from the preteen years and nelson acknowledged coburn's ability and courage and zeal. and he was thought of so highly by the british admiralty that he
was chosen to take the great napoleon into exile on the island and i got a hold of the diary and he said, this man napoleon sometimes wants to play the sovereign. i won't allow it. that is the fiber of the man who grabbed an american, who was innocent, he grabbed him and took him into the white house as the british burned it. he wanted him to represent america. the man he selected was roger choo whiteman. he was a book seller recently married and he would become a long-time mayor of the city of washington. he taunted and mocked the madisons in the coarse lingo of a common sailor and tweaked the honor of whiteman. with mischievous relish. he said to whiteman, take a
souvenir and whiteman looked for something that was valuable. and he said, oh no, that's being delivered to the flames. take something of useless value. monetary value. he took something that had no value at all and then copan said i'll take a souvenir for myself and selected a cushion and a bra which is a hat probably belonging to the president and the british drank, poured wine from decanters into cut glass. they told us that the health of the prince regent and success of his majesty's land and naval forces and drank to peace with america and down with madison. and when one of the men found the ceremonial hat belonging to the president, he raised it by the tip of his bayonet and he said, if they could not capture the little president, madison was only 5'4", they would parade his hat in england. that night they burned the white house and the treasury and the next morning, the state
department and the rope walks and the last because of the content of rope and tar sent columns of choking black smoke over the city. the ruins were telling commentary on a scale of the city's degradation. now, that's the scene as they left the capitol. and now these flames, there's -- they came wednesday night. and on thursday, at 2:00 p.m., there was a two-hour storm that may have been a hurricane. it was so fierce it lifted heavyweight cannons and things like feathers and dropped them at random. and it spread eagled horses and britons. they were terrified. locals had never seen anything like it. but it's mythological to say that storm extinguished the flames.
i have correspondence from a number of sources that says the flames burned for several days after the storm. so now, you have this terrible sight but that's not the end of america's humiliation because washingtonians in this moment of catastrophe that did most of the looting, believe it or not. many waited for the streets to be empty, the houses to -- the military out of sight. now they were free to steal and run. no one was around to protect private property or enforce law and order. poor jennings, madison's slave, had been told by dolly's brother-in-law to go to 40th street to get his carriage, and from that vantage point the slave would later recollect a rabble taking advantage of the confusion ran through the
president's house.éa s(i that's what they called the white house then and would steal lots of silver and whatever else they could run off with. souvenir hunting and isolated cases of robbery for which the thieves paid dearly at the hands of their own. time and again enemy commanders reassured the remaining residents that their property would be safe so long as they didn't take up arms against the occupying forces. and these were not promises.ç they even accompanied a company protect private property.ç they would perform so honorably with two exceptions. extraordinary. occupying force behaving like that. so, excuse me while i take one more sip. that's what happened while
washington was being occupied. now, six weeks, it was only three weeks later that the british forces, the same british forces descended on baltimore. this was a city now bulging with more than 15,000 defenders, many had come in from surrounding counties and from pennsylvania and virginia. 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 the bulbous hills were slashed with soggy trenches but even though the men were wet, damp, tired and hungry, they were itching for payback 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 and at breakfast he rashly predicted, tonight
i'll sup in baltimore or hell. he never made it to baltimore. we don't know whether he made it to help or hell, but sniper's bullet tore through his right arm and lodged in his chest. and his body was taken in a cart over a bumpy road to the ships. but by the time he got there did he moralizing everybody along the route, he was dead. so they took his corpse aboard hms royal oak and in hogs head of rum where he would swish and sway in the dark spirit until his internment at halifax, nova scotia. his successor colonel arthur brook took about an hour to overwhelm an interior force of mostly militia men. meanwhile, british warships pounded ft. mchenry between 1500 and 1800 shells each weighing over 200 pounds.
if they could bludgeon the fortress into submission, baltimore was theirs and philadelphia was probably next. but even though there was no cover, and a pounding went on for a day and a night, nobody ran. nobody flinched. that's the extraordinary heroism of ft. mchenry. now, the british had planned a combined naval and land attack in the dead of night. the naval force would create a faint passed ft. mchenry drawing defenders away from the heavily fortified eastern hills so that the british infantry would then be able to charge through and capture the city. but towards midnight, the naval commander sent a message to his land commander that he would not be able to help. he said his force could not penetrate the mouth of the channel between ft. mchenry and ships behind which they waited
with gun boats. and so, the land commander was devastated. into his diary he later groaned, in a moment all my hopes were blasted. if i took the place i should have been a greatest man in england. but if i failed, my military character was gone forever. the stakes were terribly high. incredibly high. there was a lady called phoebe morris in philadelphia which was next on the list probably. and she wrote to her father who was the american minister to spain and she said, papa, we may have to swear allegiance to the british crown in three months. that's how high the stakes were. now, there was a hostage on board called francis scott key. he was a hostage this way. when the british withdrew from washington and they only
remained 24 hours or 26 hours, somewhere around there. because they were afraid of being cut off and attacked on their way back to the ships. they need not have feared but that was their fear, and so they stayed very quickly. they left quickly. and they actually burned logs on capitol hill to make it appear that they were still there. and so, this is what they did to deceive the americans. now, some of them were captured, some stragglers. but one of them escaped and brought some british troops back. they, in turn, captured a friend of francis scott key's. his name is dr. william beans and they took him away on board a ship as a hostage. key got president madison's permission to board the british ships and plead for his friend's release. but when he boarded the ship, the british commander said, oh
no, both of you now know our target. you know the strength of our forces. you know our morale. once we have captured baltimore, we'll release you. that was how francis scott key came to witness what happened next. at sunset, he had seen this gigantic flag flying over fort mchenry. what so proudly we held at the twilight's last gleaming. it was 42 feet by 30 feet and had been raised there over the fort by the fort's commander, miningor george armistead. and he was in active of defiance. he was saying if you want baltimore, you first have to lower this flag. that's how key got to see what was happening, and he paced the deck of his ship in the darkness hoping the explosions would continue because if there was silence, it might mean the fort capitulated but in the darkness before dawn there was a lull in
the firing. and key didn't know whether it's a signaled submission by the fort or whether the british had imposed a sooegs fire. cease-fire. gradually the morning mist began to clear. oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light? once more he made out the stars and stripes. never before had he looked with such reverence upon a symbol of his country. never before had the flag had such a sheen to its glory. in his ecstasy, there is no other word. in his ecstasy, he took a letter out of his pocket and on the back of it, jotted down thoughts, anything that tumbled through his mind while the intense moment lasted. three days later, the british withdrew, they couldn't take it. they take it as a rebuke from improbable survivors.
key was allowed to land, and with minor revisions his poem was published and set to the tune of the popular song in those days. now, five days later, congress met in the undamaged office in washington at in the northwest and they put the congressman's chairs and desks right up to the fire police and window sills, but they still couldn't accommodate anybody. but there was one advantage. they didn't have to shout like they had to do in the previous assembly where the acoustics were so bad, and they debated noork new yorker's motion to move the capital from philadelphia elsewhere to save the cost of rebuilding the ruined city. imagine. the northerners wanted it at
least 100 miles north closer to the canadian war front and to satisfy the creditors. the southerners dug in their heels. they said no. 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 selected the site. it was approved, but when it was put into legislative form, it was narrowly defeated after long debate in which one of the congressmen from north carolina warned once you've set the seat of government on wheels, there is no saying where it will stop. on christmas eve 1814 in ghent, now belgium, the commissioners from both countries met to sign the treaty of peace and amority that would end this costly war between two
exhausted nations. john quincy adams, leader of the american delegation, went to bed that night having prayed that this would be the last great war between the two great english speaking countries, but he -- it took a long time for word to cross the atlantic in those days, too late for armies squaring off at new orleans. andrew jackson had assembled a rag tag army of frontiersmen, roughians, pirates, and militiamen to put them behind a make shift ram part of wood and mud facing the mighty british army forge through centuries of warfare and later that year it would include the downfall of napoleon. the british were impatient. they were led by the brother-in-law of none other than the man who defeated
napoleon, the great duke of wellington. they should have waited until they took the flank across the mississippi river, but instead they charged the front of the assault on a flat field. they had no cover and were picked off one by the other from the sharpshooters of tennessee. surprisingly, the american artillery was accurate, and as the day wore on, the ditch in front of the ramparts became a pool of british dead, battlefield sticky with blood and heavy with corpses, and when it was all over, there were more than 2,000 british casualties. there were six american dead and seven american wounded. britain had never suffered such a lopsided defeat in its military history. i think i did not speculate in
the book but will now, i think had that battle been fought well in advance of the peace treaty, we might be running canada today. and so from that moment, you could rightfully say that america regained pride and dignity and the second war of independence is really, truly over, and so is my speech. [ applause ] i finished earlier than i thought, far earlier, and that means much more time for questions. please, i beg of you, limit them to the extent of my talk because
my expertise is with washington and baltimore and new orleans. the rest, it's a long war. i really am not at liberty to speak with any authority on the rest of the war. so may we have some questions? yes, the lady. would you mind, rebecca, because i'm -- my hearing aid has gone off. would you mind repeating that question? >> the battle, why did the u.s. troops withdraw their ammunition from the top of the hill there? >> why did the americans withdraw the battle of bladensburg? >> that's a very good question. i'll tell you something, there was a poem written after the
battle that was fought at lunch time on 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 bladensberg races. it denigrated those who fought to spare the americans. it's not fair. most of the people who ran and broke ranks were militiamen, not so well trained like regulars of which the british army was the finest. they were seasoned in the peninsula wars with napoleon. the americans who were trained, 114 marines, they fought as well as they got. they fought so gallantly, so gallantly, they took 10% casualties, 114 of them, and
engaged in hand-to-hand combat when they ran out of ammunitionr so it's not fair to say that the americans broke ranks.od they were terrified at the beginning of the british who just had been trained so well that they crushed a narrow bridge, and then they would go forward in lines, and if that line fell, the next line would proceed, and the americans and later in baltimore too, they were so impressed with this, they couldn't believe it. that's how they had been trained. so it was inevitable that the british would succeed. in fact, before the battle began, the secretary of war and the general commanding american forces have pointed out the roots of the escape for the americans. you see, they knew it was going to be a walkover.
and it was. the british were so anxious to ó engage the battle, to engage the enemy that they rushed forward without the approval of the british commander. he said, oh, if we only had this man -- forgot his name now -- he would teach these people who are so anxious to crossover and engage the enemy, teach them the value of patience. they were horrified to see this, and it was too late, the british were storming through, so it's very, very unfair to blame the americans. those who fought, fought as we would expect. that's why there is a myth going around that the commandant's home at the marine barracks at 8th and e was saved.
i didn't find any documentary evidence to support the theory that they were so -- the british were so enamored of the bravery of the marines that they spared that house. i didn't find any documentary evidence to support that, but that's a lasting myth that has come up into the modern age. i don't know whether that's true or not. >> thank you for the 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 background to the burning of the naval yard. this is a terrible story. none of us would want to go through what commandant thomas tingey went through that night.
he had been told by the secretary of the navy that if the british succeeded at the battle of bladensberg and seemed to be within the boundaries of washington, he was to take preemptive action and burn the shipping, the ordnance supplies, and everything else at the navy yard. this was a terrible decision to make, but they didn't want this to fall in the hands of the enemy, so he waited until the last minute. he sent his scouts out, and they came back with the news that, yes, the british had succeeded, and they were pouring into washington. so he had no alternative. and now they had a decision that horrified them. they laid gun powder into the building, the ordnance, into the shipping, and they set it alight. like pyrotechnics, and people there couldn't believe what they
were doing, but they had to carry out orders, and this came from the top secretary of the navy, preemptive action, and that's what they did, and they watched these, built with the finest labor and taken so long to build the ships, and one or two saved, but there was a burning -- one was called mary hunter on pennsylvania avenue in her home, and she was left by her husband and children who gone to safety in virginia. he was going to come back and take her, and she was amazed at the billowing flames coming over the navy yard. felt like she was in the middle of it all, and she wrote a letter to her sister, the letter survived, the sister was in princeton, and she said, nobody slept that night because of the awful sight that our eyes had to see and that our ears had to
hear, and she was talking about the navy yard and the enemy on capitol hill brandishing their rockets and flying the union jack. it must have been a terrible moment. >> thank you so much for the talk, fascinating. you eluded to in your talk the taking of alexandria, which was by as i have come to understand now a second detachment of the british fleet that had some rather amazing treacherous sailing of the potomac river and somehow macked to get away. can you comment on that, if you would? >> what happened at alexandria? >> that's a good question. this follows up on the medicine chest. the british hoped the movement would succeed if they had the land forces coming up from
benedict, from the east, and a war squadron would come up the potomac river and would arrive at washington and, boom, that would be it. but the naval force coming up the potomac river had not been there before and they didn't realize that there were the cattle bottoms, which were large clusters where the holes got caught on the cattle bottoms and so to release the shipping got trapped there. they had to lighten the ships so they would float away. that took time. a lot of the ships got caught, and they came up the river, and they were -- the white house, which was then a gun and placement place on the shores, and they were about three miles from this fort -- what was it
called again? fort? >> fort washington. >> fort washington, that's right. and it was commanded by captain samuel dyson, a young man, and he held a conference with some of his people. and they said, i think we'd better surrender. we had better leave the fort. so without a shot being fired, they retreated from the fort. they left it to the british. the british couldn't believe the good luck. they just couldn't understand this. they thought it was a trick, but they destroyed the fort. naturally, and at a moment when the flag should have been flying, it was fold up in the darkness as the judge advocate general later said in a court marshal. dyson was convicted, kicked out
of the military, and they didn't want anybody of that caliber. he said, what's the point of flying a flag if we're going to be overtaken anyway? it was the worst kind of commander that you wanted to turn out, and so the british took the fort and there was nothing between them and alexandria in virginia. so they sailed upstream, and they laid siege to alexandria. now, just about everybody from alexandria had been called up and gone to bladensburg and other places. and they were old and infirm and they were either too young or too old. they were in a new position to defend the city. so a delegation from alexandria of notables went to see copan, and he spoke to them as if they were underlings.
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 demanded sunken american ships be raised by the americans. they said they could not do this. he overlooked that. but they did raid the warehouses. they did terrible damage, terrible damage. the americans brought some people from baltimore, notably commodore john rogers, to harass the british as they descended down the potomac away from alexandria. and they did a good job, but 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 of two people did go -- americans -- they went on horseback into alexandria, captured a british sailor and had to release him. yanked him up by the collar and put him on a horse, but that was early action. they were too terrified, and dolly madison was terrified of this. she was horrified. she said 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. you do not give it away. that's exactly what happened. the british sailed away apart
from the harassment, they got away, none of their ships are sunk. >> did the british try to pursue president madison after he left the city? >> no. they did make that marking remark that they would capture the little president, this 5'4" man, they would parade his hat in england if they couldn't capture him. they didn't pursue him.
he escaped across the potomac river in virginia agreeing to meet his wife at the tavern 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 schoolboys and now he was crying over the fact. he was very different from the outgoing wife. very affable and garilous. they did not pursue him at all. they did not know where -- a lot of americans did not know where he was either, but stayed in a state on route 23 south probably at a tavern, an inn recommended by thomas jefferson at falls church, and then he went up to wiley's tavern and finally met his wife, dolly.
and he crossed over into montgomery courthouse, which is now called rockville. and they expected to find the american's army there, but they went to baltimore to defend it. that was friday night. he rode over east to brookville, a quaker village 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 sterling glance of the president who was in their little village.
he stayed at the home of caleb bentley, quaker friends of dolly. he was also the postmaster. that building still stands where he stayed. by his presence, supreme executive authority resided in brookville at that moment because washington was in captivity. that's why the residents of brookville described their village as the capital of america for one day. they never caught his wife, dolly, who was also roaming around unknown to a lot of americans. they did come back. the british arrived on sunset on wednesday. they were treated on thursday night. madison came back saturday morning after he was told 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 ti
that really distressed me. i wanted to know what the president thought. i mean, descriptions of melancho melancholy, that was a word that appears time and again, and shame and embarrassment and gra fill t graffiti. 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 lost eight of her body guards who decided to get drunk rather than to defend her, and she arrived with one body guard and she even had to acknowledge her identity to a guard of the potomac river, which she didn't want to do butñr she had to to 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 abouliant and very well-liked and now was 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. the british really, they had done what copan had decided. they wanted to get washington because he said if you can strike at the heart of the enemy, which is the capital city, you will destroy the morale. that's exactly what he wanted to do. he knew that he didn't have anything strategically to offer washington, but it was the nation's capital and that's why they targeted it. there was a lightning occupation. did a lot of damage. nearly all the government buildings were destroyed with
the exception of the patent office which is only 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. this is a private inventions, and the british bought it and never destroyed that building and they never caught the madisons. yes, sir? >> do we know how long it took to rebuild the white house and capital after it had burned? >> yes. the white house, because it didn't have any major additions, took three years. they invited hogen, who won the medal for designing it to redesign, and latrobe was
invited to redesign the capital, which took five years. now, the capital was, at that time -- many people think it was destroyed. it's not true. the flames set by the british, they unremit tingly 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 capital and a lots of it was saved. if you want to see the parts saved, go in the vestibule near the old supreme court where the senate used to meet. that was destroyed, but you'll see in the vestibule columns beautifully topped with corn cobb capitals designed by --
carved by giovani andre. instead of having the normal sleeves on the top, you will see husks of corn pulled back so that the corn shows. the corn cobb capitals, and those were in the vestibules. you'll see after the old supreme court, you'll see the places that survived, and there's a room now occupied by the house majority leader which is doubled as a room at that time as a committee on the district of columbia and an office for the president when he went to the u.s. capital, and the admiral coburn wanted a souvenir so he still stands, and he found a boring book, a coffee table sized book on the table that
belonged to madison, and it was written there in gold type, president's copy. it was an expenditures of the book, but he wrote on the inside cover, probably at the later date, taken by admiral coburn on the destruction of the capital during the occupation of washington, august 24th, 1814, and given to him by his brother, the book disappeared and resurfaced in philadelphia in 1940, and a dealer authenticated the writing and gave the book to the library of congress. when brian lamb interviewed me onbook tv, it was when brian lamb interviewed me on book tv, it was in the main reading room of the library of congress, and he said to me y before we aired, would you liked any props, and i said, please,
bring that book down from the rare book division, and he f brought it down, and gave me ro white gloves to handle it, and e i was trembling because this is the visible proof of the past, the tangible evidence of its happenings. and if you didn't react with a h heightened sensation, needed a heart transplant. a so, you know, it's a marvelous, there was so much i didn't thinu that there would be so much extent at the time when i decided to write the story. and i was amazed that if you dip deep, really deep, and you go for the original documents -- us not other, people's books. bo i really dislike doing that.slio go for the original documents, the affidavits, depositions, things like that, reports back to the british. which i found in the national archives in queue, you will fin
so much that makes this a living testament of what happened at th the time.e it was not a forgotten war, as it is called today. it was a war that should be ulde remembered by everybody. i give a speech at fort mchenry. i did before my stroke two years ago. but every year on the anniversary of francis scott ke writing the national anthem, i ' would go to fort mchenry and mce give a speech on how and why he wrote the an testimony them.hem. people would come up to me and say thank you, isa didn't realit the story. i couldn't believe it. because this someone of the fundamental beliefs of this country. is that this is such a momentous occasion, writing the national t anthem.tional the words to the national anthem. know the story. i think it's a thrilling moment. when i go to fort mchenry, i
feel this every time., when you hear the anthem next yo and you nowu know the story, io sure that 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 verd meaningful. >> thank you so much for being here. >> thank you very much. >> announcer: 200 years ago british soldiers invaded washington, d.c. and burned down the white house and the u.s. capitol. while president james madison and first lady dolly madison fled the city. this week, a two-day symposium marking the anniversary of the british burning of washington and the war of 1812 hosted by the white house historical society and the u.s. historicali society. our live coveragea begins toda
at 1:00 p.m. eastern on c-span 3. with live coverage of the u.s. house on the c-span and the senate on c-span 2, here on c-span 3 we complement that coverage by showing the most relevant congressional hearings and public hearing events and then on sunday, american history tv. with programs that tell our nation's story. the civil war's 150th anniversary, visiting battlefields and key events. american artifacts, touring museums and historic sites. history book shelf, with the best-known american history writers. the presidency, looking at the policies and legacies of our nation's commander-in-chief. and our new series, "real america" featuring archival government and educational films from the 1930s through the '70s. c-span 3, created by the cable tv industry and funded by your
local cable or satellite provider. follow us on twitter. 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 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. this program is about 90 minutes. >> i've had a boat on the potomac geez, about 30 years. it's a great way to see the city. it's a different city as seen from the water. lots of people think of the potomac as basically an obstacle, you know, that they have to cross on their way to d.c. it's like a commuter obstacle. but it's, it's the reason that the city is where it is.
and it's, it's really one of the most remarkable urban rivers in the country, i think. well, we're in the middle of the potomac river. off of fort washington, maryland, about eight or nine miles south of washington. more than anything, the waterways really define the attack on washington and the ultimate attack on baltimore. this, the british were really making good use of the waterways. chesapeake bays and all the rivers that feed into the bay, including the potomac. the patuxent river, the patabsco. and by 1813, the chesapeake had pretty much turned into a british lake. rural navy squadron under the
commander of rear admiral george coburn had showed up and established domain over the water here. george coburn, very effective offerser who served under nelson in the wars with france. and he had been sent over here to pep things up. he was a very capable officer, had a very droll sense of humor. ruthless without being vicious. and he pretty quickly determines that the americans are not capable of providing much in the way of a real defense. from the start he sees washington as being vulnerable. very quickly, as he spreads the terror up and down the bay, he becomes not only the most feared man in america, but very possibly also the most hated.
he's compared to atilla the hundred and satan among others. doesn't do much to dissuade opinion. he's takes a number of, anybody who shows any sort of resistance, can expect to be taken away in chains up to halifax. the chesapeake really provided access to some of the richest and most important land in america at this time. certainly in addition to being the home of the capitol, washington, d.c. some of the most important cities are baltimore and norfolk are on the water and within easy access of the british. so by establishing control of the bay the british were able to put a lot of pressure on the united states. it's important to remember that this war is primarily, up until this point had been fought along the canadian frontier, the
united states was trying to take over some of the territory of the colonies that belonged to great britain. and in british north america and ontario and quebec. and weren't having a great deal of success with that. and in order to relieve the pressure on the frontier area, the british had sent coburn and his squadron here, in 1813. with the idea of causing some trouble. and this is exactly what coburn does. in fact there's a british historian who's in the united states at the time. that the war breaks out and he later says that until george coburn shows up, people of the chesapeake only know him by hearsay.
the town was at the top of the chesapeake bay, maryland, was burned. half the town's houses were burned down. the town of hampton in virginia, was very brutally burned and so the inhappen tants killed by army troops, including some french prisoners that were with the british. and the effect of all this terror is to really paralyze both the militia units which are supposed to be protecting this area and the american government. coburn, nobody was quite sure where he would be next and the british made very good use of a real weakness in american
society. and that was our reliance on slavery. a number of plantations all up and down the shorelines of the bay and the rivers feeding into it. and the british encouraged american slave does come over to the other side. to escape british problems with their freedom and an opportunity, if they wished to fight against their former masters. and a lot of them do they come down to the waterways, like the potomac and the makeshift raft and they make their way up to the british fleet. coburn sets up a base of operation on tangier island. in the middle of the bay, on the deep water harbor. this is a perfect place for running this expeditionary operation. a number of the slaves that have been encouraged to come over to the british side are trained there. asthma reasons. and they form a regiment of
colonial marines as they're known. they turn out to be very effective as fighters and provide the british with a lot of intelligence. they knew these waterways and the back roads. in many cases their masters did. and the british make excellent use of this information. and pretty much are coming up the rivers and spreading terror wherever they go. and news of this of course is coming back to washington, there's enormous fear that, that washington or other cities like baltimore, could be targeted. but there's also i guess some confidence that probably the british can't make it that far. the rivers, including the potomac had some shoals in them that would make it hard for large ships such as the british
had, laden down with heavy guns, to make it as far as washington. i think there was sort of maybe too much complacency in some ways about what the dangers were. in the highest seats of the government. in madison's own secretary of war, john armstrong is dismissive of the idea that washington would be a target for the british and the rest of the cabinet was equally pretty skeptical that the british had logistical wherewithall with relatively small force, to make their way to washington. now from the start, coburn had thought that washington could be taken and when he comes back in 1814, after wintering in bermuda, he decides he's going to push even harder and he sends messages back to london urging that more force be sent over.
and he writes that if he was given just even a small number of army troops were sent over, he could be within his possession the capital of the united states in pretty short order. >> and in 1814 he's going to get his wish. the key development in europe is that napoleon abdicates and great britain which had been locked in this enormous war with france for more than 20 years at this point, is suddenly freed up do send more force over here. and they agree to send several thousand troops over about 4,000 are sent here to the chesapeake. to join the forces that are already here, that the royal navy and some other troops are sent up to canada, to bolster the british position up there. and coburn uses the time while
he's waiting for the troops to arrive to further scout the rivers here. checking out the depth of the potomac and the patuxent rivers and the patabsco to find out how and a halving aable they are. he finds out it will be possible to send ships up the potomac -- navigatable. some 4,000 troops arrive in the chesapeake under the command of major general robert roth. roth was had been one of wellington's most able lieutenant in the peninsula wars that had been fought in pain and portugal and france. and wellington had personally chosen roth to head this expedition to america. now 4,000 troops by the scope of things that had been going on in europe was tiny.
you would have armies of over 100,000 fighting over the continent of europe in recent years. so 4,000 troops didn't sound like much to some of the royal navy commanders here, but coburn urges his superior, admiral cochran to push ahead with a possible attack on washington. and coburn's idea is to make use of several different waterways in an attack on washington. if the british force sailed up on the potomac, everybody would know that the washington was the ultimate target. coburn decides or recommends that the force be split up. that one squadron sail up the potomac river and threaten the capital and the city of alexandria.
the main force is going to go up the patuxent river into southern maryland. and the advantage of the patuxent is it would kind of shield the ultimate british intention because a move up the patuxent might mean many things. it might mean an attack on washington. but it could also mean an overland attack on baltimore. or an attack on annapolis. or it could mean that the british were simply chasing after commodore joshua barney. who was the american commander of the chesapeake flotilla. who had a -- flotilla of shallow-draft barges that were perfectly suited for navigating the shallow waters of the chesapeake and the rivers feeding into it. >> barney had been trapped in the patuxent river. he was further upriver than the british. and the british could use
barney's presence in the patuxent river to more or less shield their movement towards the capital. and that's exactly what coburn recommends and it's what the british commanders, general roth and admiral alexander cochran, who is in charge of the entire fleet appearance in north america agree to do. so on august 19th, of 1814. the army land in benedict. which is about halfway up the patuxent river from the bay towards washington. meantime you have the other squadron underneath captain james gordon sailing up the potomac and still some other ships moving up the chesapeake bay to threaten baltimore. they had this three-pronged operation. the main attack is accompanied by the 4,000 troops. and admiral coburn and the royal
marines. after landing at benedict they move jointly by land and water, royal marines and barges further up the river and succeed in trapping joshua barney and the flotilla. barney basically scuttled the flotilla. has it flown up and escapes with his men. but the net result of all this is that the american commanders back in washington were utterly paralyzed. as to what they should be doing. they had one squadron coming up the potomac. a force they weren't quite sure how large in the patuxent, with forces that had been landed. there's a lot of hope that they're just after barney and that after destroying barney's flotilla they'll reboard their ships and move back into the
bay. so one of the results of all of this indecision is that the american commander general william winder doesn't do a very effective job of doing anything in terms of setting up defenses around washington. in terms of mustering much of a force. he's getting very little support from the secretary of war, john armstrong, who even at this late date with british troops on the ground in maryland and moving in the direction of the capital still maintains that washington is under no threat whatsoever. and he thinks it's much more likely that the british are either after barney or going to go up to baltimore. which at the time was a much bigger city than washington. baltimore, 40,000 people, third largest city in the united states. one of the really important ports in the country. where washington at this time was not much more than a
village. 8,000 people in the city, of course it's home to the federal government with the white house and the capital. but it didn't seem like much of a target to armstrong. the result is the british are able to play on the american indecision and move closer to washington. if you move up to upper marlborough, 15 or 20 miles from the city. voss quite skeptical about the idea of capturing to washington. his instructions for london don't say anything about try cog tap tur the capital of the united states. he's there to create a diversion and not do anything to risk this force. which ultimately is intended for an attack on new orleans. but ross is persuaded by coburn
that the american defenses are very light. that the militia fearful of having a slave uprising or slave escape, had been reluctant to leave their home. and they're very little defenses on the way to washington. and ross is persuaded largely by the fact that he's met very little resistance. as he moves from benedict up to upper marlborough. they've had little contact at all with american forces. no defenses sets up along the way. no ambushes, there are many positions where the americans slowed down the british advance. and he was astonished that nothing of the sort had been done, and this encourages him. he's almost suspicious that he's been lured into an ambush because of the lack of american resistance, general winder is moving his forces back and forth. he moves them from washington, into maryland.
at a point where he can position himself between the attacking force in the capital and then he loses his nerve, marches back to washington. his force gradually is getting larger. it had only been about 2100 when the british landed at benedict and within about four or five days. enough forces had been gathered that they now outnumber the british force. through a series of feints and just playing up on the american indecision, roth continues to move towards the capital and then feints directly towards the city. and instead moves more north toward the village of ladenstore. this is what's today known as the anacostia river. back then, 200 years ago, it was
known as the eastern branch of the potomac. it's a tributary of the potomac. and it plays a key part in everything that happens at bladensburg. this used to be a deepwater river. in fact, when bladensburg was founded in 1749, this was a deep-water port with ships coming if around the globe. but by 1812, silt had filled in a lot of the eastern branch. so bladensburg was no longer any kind of a major port. it was still important by virtue of all the roads across there. >> and the river up there was quite shallow and easily fordable.
whereas the eastern branch down river from here is a pretty major river still. that you need to have a bridge pretty much to be able to cross it. the british wouldn't have been capable of crossing it without a bridge. this first bridge that we see right in front of us, was the location of the all of a sudden known as the eastern branch bridge. it was not that far from the washington navy yard and in order to get into washington from a more direct approach. the british would have to cross the river at this bridge. and the american commanders had set up forces and explosives underneath the bridge, ready to blow it when the british approached. so ross had opted to cross the river up at bladensburg, still a couple of miles upriver from
where we are now. and august 24th at noon after he sends his forces across the river, the first one to cross on the bridge withed a bladensburg, which the americans had neglected to blow just in the chaos and confusion of the moment, led by colonel william thornton, one of the ross's brigade commanders, they, they hit the maryland militia head-on. took some initial casualties, but pretty quickly were able to envelope the americans get around them and force the militia to start retreating. pretty quickly. the militia retreated to a second line of defense and the british kept on coming. they also had concrete rockets this was a relatively new weapon at the time.
coburn had used them with quite a bit of effectiveness in his chesapeake campaign. most of the american militia troops hadn't seen them before. these rockets were notoriously difficult to aim. but they were really weapons of care. because they were almost like huge skyrockets that would flare up in the sky and come down and cause quite a bit of blaze and damage where they would hit. but because they were so difficult to aim, they were difficult, they weren't a very reliable weapon for the british. but they were good at frightening the american troops. and the british were able to use them with great effectiveness at bladensburg river with great effectiveness. when they started firing these, many were going over the heads of the militia troops, that was enough to cause some of them to start turning and running. in fact president madison had
ridden up from washington, his headquarters was down here. near the navy yard where the general winder had convened on the morning of august 24th. madison and most of the cabinet had come there as well. and madison had ridden by horse out to bladensburg. there to mostly to observe and to make sure his secretary of war, john armstrong, would give general winder the support he needed. madeson, when he gets to bladensburg, almost runs directly into british lines. the british are just arriving as madison gets there. and madison actually rides across the bridge into bladensburg before being told by bay scout up front, that mr. madison, the british are at bladensburg and madison and his
attorney general, richard rush turn around and head back to american lines where they're observing the battle. once the fight starts out, madison is initially encouraged by the first resistance that the militia is showing. the british when they start firing rockets, fire one that goes right over the head of madison and the rest of his cabinet officers, it was sailed high, harmlessly. but madison at this point becomes the first american president to come under fire on a battlefield. madison moves back at that point to a somewhat safer distance. in the meantime, the american lines are starting to collapse. as the british start crossing the river in force. some are use the bridge, others are wading across the water. pretty soon they have enough of a force that the second line of
militia defense is collapsing. one of the problems of the americans are encountering here with command interference. you had james monroe, who was secretary of state. >> he come to scout out the lines. he basically been serving as a scout for several days. for madison. even though he was secretary of state. he was throwing himself into danger's way. but he directed some of the militia troops to move further back from the front line. so monroe didn't really do the american troops that at bladensburg much of a favor by his attempts to reorganize them. so you have two lines now of militia that are collapsing. they're all trying to retreat. but with no fixed point in mind.
general winder hadn't saved or hadn't designated any kind of rally point. winder already had a lot of experience at retreating now. as the british had advanced on washington. he ordered his troops back a number of times. but he really botches this retreat. so as the maryland militia are falling back, a lot of them start heading north towards baltimore. others are heading towards georgetown and none of them are heading back to the third line of defense. which had been formed by joshua barney and his navy platoon men and the district militia, which had raced up from washington during the course of the morning. in the terrible heat. the maryland militia commanders hadn't even been informed that there was a third line. no one had told them that joshua barney and the district militia had formed behind them.
so they're retreating in a chaotic fashion. winder is losing his nerve. and he ends up ordering a general retreat. and this even as the british are starting to approach the third line of defense. which is made up of barney and the district militia. the british at bladensburg have do move uphill to attack this third line. barney is situated on a strong position on the district maryland line. he had big guns,dffñ 18 pounds weapons that he brought with him and some of the u.s. marines, the marine corps barrack here in washington. which had come up to support the flotilla men serving as infantry for them. and the british at their tried to move into the face of these guns, take quite significant casualties. the front-line troops from the
85th light infantry were taking one-quarter casualties. so very significant bloodshed. it appeared to that barney and some of the district militia commanders, that they were on the verge of maybe turning the tide here. winder with the american militia in retreat, had ordered a general retreat. barney couldn't get this word. he and his men keep on fighting. and then he sees that the district militia has pulled back under orders from winder. >> ross manages to get high ground over barney and his flotilla men and some of the british sharpshooters are able to take down a number of the flotilla men including some of the gun crews. and barney himself is hit in the hip. severely wounded. and tries to disguise his wounds from the british. but and from his own men.
because he doesn't want them to lose face. but very quickly barney is also running out of ammunition. all the civilian crews had joined in the general retreat. it was clear barney was surrounded or close to it at this point he orders them to leave him on the battlefield. one of his officers stays with him. most of the flotilla men are able to escape back towards washington. barney is left on the battlefield and is found by the british soldiers who run and get admiral coburn. barney had been the one american officer who had offered strong
resistance to the british. offered to pardon barney on the spot. but he was out of the war at this point until he could be traded for another prisoner. the americans are now in full retreat back towards washington. the british own the field at bladensburg after several hours of combat. this is sometimes called the bladensburg races because of the way the militia retreated so chaotically. in a sense that it's an accurate term. but it does discredit a lot of the fighting that did happen here. particularly from barney's flotilla men and the marines who fought bravely and took heavy casualties and at one point seemed like they might be able
to turn the hit of the battle. certainly the british fought bravely fighting uphill against those guns. but these guys were known as wellingtons and vikt yuctuals f reason. the forces here at bladensburg were not a match for them. the british were left with an open road into washington. madison is retreating back to the city. ahead of the troops. and he sends word back to washington to dolly, that the british are coming. this bridge had been rigged to blow by the americans. the british don't waste much time at bladensburg before they start coming down bladensburg road to the district of columbia. it's getting to be not quite dark at this point, but it's
evening time and as the british enter the district of columbia, orders are given to blow the bridge. it's kind of ironic that the british are already on this side of the river. they're already in washington. but for whatever reason the americans decide to blow this bridge anyway. it was a wooden bridge. it was really fairly substantial bridge. that was clearing out of explosives to take down. the wood, when it blew up, just went sky-high into the air. and it was a tremendous black cloud of smoke. wind her wanted to make sure that it blew up and it certainly did. at the navy yard, commodore
thomas hingey in charge of the navy yard, sees the bridge blowing and starts making preparations for burning the washington navy yard. roth and coburn had been left with an open path into washington. so as they're moving down bladensburg road entering the city, they come to a halt not very far from the capital. it's getting dark by now. there's a home, the belmont home as it's known today. it was about two blocks or so from the capital. and then the evidence to me it was pretty clear that ross and coburn had already agreed that
washington's federal buildings should be burned. in the reports that they sent back to london afterwards, they described this as the object of the expedition. coburn's hope in all of this has been that by capturing the capital, they would so humiliate the government of james madison or jimmy as he calls him, that they could force the government to collapse, force the united states to make peace on british terms. possibly even causing the dissolution of the american union. roth had come to see it that way as well. he was quite eager to end this war. he wanted to get back to his wife who was sending him letters describing she was, indicating she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
she had not expected her husband, after fighting with wellington in the peninsula, to now have to go fight another war in america. roth believes that capturing washington will be the stroke that ends the war. as they're approaching the capital, they do make some effort at parlay. the drums are rolled and some men are sent forward to see if there's anyone to negotiate with. roth and coburn are very near the capital at the school belmont home when suddenly shots ring out. and roth has come under fire. shots from inside the house. you actually strike his force and hit several soldiers. causing some casualties. and roth quickly orders that the house be surrounded.
some of the people inside the house have already escaped. the best evidence is that these were some of barney's flotilla men. who depart want to surrender and take shots at the british. now some of the british officers would later claim that the fact that the british came under fire in this manner is what prompted them to burn the capital and the white house, but indications are that this decision had been made and this is what very quickly happened. as the british are making preparations, they see a big lights on the horizon, not very far away. and that's from the washington navy yard. it looks like the washington navy yard is going up in flames. before the battle of bladensburg, the secretary of the navy, william jones had come
up to madison that morning. and asked for permission to burn the navy yard if, if the british were to capture washington. the washington navy yard was the oldest military installation in the country. a really key facility. in addition to holding vast amounts of naval goods, there was a frigate that was under construction here, as well as the schooner. and other ships being repaired. allowing this material to fall into british hands would have been, would have been a disaster in itself. now thomas hingey, who was a british-born officer, who was a commandant of the washington
navy yard, had received instructions from jones not to let it fall into british hands. as the british are coming into town, the bridge blows up and tingy makes preparations to burn the washington navy yard. some of the residents came up to and implored him not to burn it a big wind was blowing and the fear was, if he burned the navy yard, the neighborhood surrounding the washington navy yard would go up in flames as well. pingy agrees to at least wait until he can get some more scouting reports about what the british are up to. pingy's one of the navy clerks at the navy yard.
mordechai booth volunteers to go scouting to see what the british are up to. he's accompanied by patten crayton. one of the senior officers at the navy yard. they ride through town and encounter, find the british on capitol hill. and they actually come under fire from british sentries. near the capital. and they ride back and they give this update to tingy, tingy gives orders for the navy yard to blow. the navy yard is so stocked with timber, tar, all sorts of supplies, that tingy has powder laid out and he and william taylor, a sailing master at the yard, start lighting, putting torches to these lines of powder. and very quickly much of the navy yard is up in flames. including some of the ships that
are here. it makes a tremendous conflagration that is of course very visible to the british on capitol hill. but also visible for many miles around. and there would later with complaints that americans shouldn't have burned the navy yard because why did they do that, it's causing all of this disruption to such a valuable military installation. it's pretty clear that the british would have done it had the americans not. and they probably would have captured some supplies that would have been useful for them. the navy yard sits about a mile or so from the capital. it's still of course an active navy base. so the british seize the navy yard in flames. and if they had any compunctions
about burning the capitol before that, they certainly didn't at this point. the some of the british troops wind up in front of the capitol, which at that point it wasn't the capitol we see today. the dome did not yet exist. you basically had two separate buildings. the house chamber and the senate chamber which had been built, housing the supreme court and the library of congress. so quite a bit of importance for the young nation. and the two buildings that were connected by a gangway. the british fired a volley of shots into the building. basically to make sure that there were no troops lying in ambush. broke through into the building
and coburn came in personally and started rummaging through and found one of madison's congressional looks there. which he took as a souvenir. and a lot of the british were actually quite impressed by the grandeur of the building. the house chamber in particular had been built essentially to last the history of the republic. it was probably the most impressive room in america at the time. ornate sculptures and beautiful marble. the british went to work middle of the chamber, other flammable materials. all the books from the library of congress made quite good tinder for lighting fires. they put gunpowder paste around windows and also fired some rockets from inside the building up through the, into the ceiling
and roof of the building. and it took a while. before too long the building was up in flames. started on the south side and moved up to the north and pretty soon both chambers were completely engulfed in flames. there was fire whipping up into a spiral above, above the buildings that madison could see as he's riding off into virginia. very dismal site great building of american democracy going up in flames. tingy and some of his party were out on the navy yard, out on the water where we are now and the sight of the navy yard and the capitol in flames filled them with both awe and absolute despair. it was a site that no one who
saw it would ever forget. we're on the potomac river, approaching georgetown. right near the watergate and the kennedy center. not that far from the white house. on the afternoon of august 24th, as the battle of bladensburg is winding down, dolly receives a note sent by james madison as he's departing the battlefield, that things are going very badly. at bladensburg. the militia has collapsed and
washington is in grave danger. and he recommends that she leave at once. dolly has been making some preparations. a numb of belongings had already been packed up into wagons and carriages. 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 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, there's panic out in the streets, as word of what's going on in bladensburg spread. and the streets are starting to fill up with refugees trying to
get out of town. and dolly madison makes some last preparations at the white house once, once she gets the message from president madison. among the things that she spots at the last minute is a portrait of george washington. gilbert stewart portrait is a life-sized, that it's already taken on something as iconic stat is in t"us" in the united president washington had been dead for 15 years and already visitors would come to look at this portrait of of the first president and dolly madison grasp at once that to allow the portrait it fall into british hands would be adding insult to injury. so she instructed some of her servants, including the madison
house, paul jennings house slave and the gardener, to get the portrait off the wall. this proves to be quite difficult. dolly madison 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 other who is are saying 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 into a carriage and rides up to georgetown leaving jennings and some of the other servants to get the portrait down. which they finally are able to do with the help of a hatchet. now 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. dolly rides into georgetown and
goes to the home of one of the madison's friends. and she's waiting word from madison. president madison arrives at the white house around 4:00 in the afternoon. dolly is left and he takes sort of a last look around the place. he's accompanied by a couple of aides. he's obviously exhausted. a 60-year-old man who had been riding out on horse back out to the battlefield had come under rocket fire. had come back to the white house. you could only imagine ha his thoughts are at this moment. he had been the guiding light behind the constitution and you now, america's great enemy, great britain, had a clear path, was on its way into washington.
he pauses for a glass of wine. and collects his thoughts and then he gets on horse back and rides down here to georgetown. where the sun is setting by this point and there's a ferry, known as mason's ferry, that could carry people as well as horses across the river. over here to mason's island. which is next to the virginia shore. today known as theodore roosevelt island. from there, madison, who is accompanied by paul jennings, the house, the madison's house slave and several aides rides by causeway into virginia. and will spend the next three days as a refugee. there's no air force one or marine one helicopter to take
him away. there are no guards with him. dolly madson, the streets of georgetown are so clogged she can't reunite with the president, she ends up going further upriver, chainbridge, crossing into virginia. it would be belter part of a day before she and the president are reunited. after burning the capitol. roth and the troops move down pennsylvania avenue to the white house. dolly and james madison had both left a numb of hours earlier. and the british along the way stopped and talked to some civilians asking where madison was and were somewhat disappointed to learn that he already left the city as they
approached the white house, they passed a tavern on the corner right near the treasury building. and they went in to order dinner. proprietor tried to send them off to another establishment, but that didn't work and they ordered some chicken and continued down pennsylvania avenue and entered the white house, which they found unlocked. it had been abandoned in the previous hours. entering in in the dining room, they found the great feast that dolly madison had ordered set for the evening. this is one of those remarkable stories that is actually quite
true. that the british were wined and dined at the white house and set the place afire. they went through with gun powder paste and rubbed that on the door frame, and around the windows. and gather a number of chairs and other flammable material and created a little bon fires, they set drapes afire. and 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. >> it was hard not to feel some regret as seeing such a place go up in flames. the british antipathy towards
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. 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 treasury. they felt that they were trying to save the world. save civilization from napoleon and from the united states to stab them in the back was an unforgivable act. for the first two years of the war i they were tied up with napoleon. when the war seems to be over, they have more forces to send over. >> flow through the mind of many
of the soldiers and sailors that march into washington 200 years ago. madison as he's riding into the virginia countryside, is able to see glimpses of the fires back in washington. pretty soon they're lighting up the entire night. late in the night, that the white house is also in flames. the very sad moment. we're practically right beneath the francis scott key bridge. name ford key, who lived almost exactly where the bridge enters the d.c. shore there.
the ramp leading up to the bridge to the freeway where key's home used to stand. a nice brick home, sort of overlooking the river with a garden cascading down to the shore. he was an interesting guy. he was one of the first of what we now know as washington attorney. maryland native. he was in his mid 30s during the war. ironically for someone that we associate with the most patriotic of all american songs, "the star-spangled banner." he, like a lot of other americans, was deeply opposed to the war. declare on great britain, such a powerful nation. he was very religious guy and
something in just by nature. he actually celebrates when whe attempts to invade canada fail. he writes to his friend, john randolph of virginia, that though this may be treason, i embrace the name traitor. that goes to show the depth of emotion against this war. key was not at all alone in expressing sentiments like that. but key felt quite differently when his home and maryland and washington were being attacked. he had served in the georgetown artillery during some of coburn's raids and then at blanes burg, he is actually out there as a civilian volunteer to the district militia, doesn't
really help things out particularly, but after the fight, he comes back to his home and from his home here in georgetown, he witnesses the burning of washington. he is in something of a state of shock. -- he had sent his family, which included six children by then, and his wife away, up to the family home in maryland. but he is nonetheless quite fearful that georgetown will be attacked. a few days later, he would launch the mission to try to gain freedom for a doctor that would lead to his eyewitness seat of the bombardment of baltimore and lead to the
writing of the national anthem. >> big rainstorm hits the city that night after the british had stopped for the evening. actually sting wishes flames, including at the treasury. coburn, the next morning, rides up to the white house, pretty much just for the satisfaction of seeing the burnt building still lying in ruins and the white house had been pretty much -- all the interior had been destroyed. but the british start sending out some parties to finish off buildings that hadn't completely burned or had been extinguished by the rain. one party sent up to the navy yard coburn remarks he's glad the americans saved him the trouble of burning the place but he sends some of his sailors and
royal marines there to take care of some of the remaining buildings that hadn't been burned. another party comes town here to the federal arsenal at green leaf point. this was the southern tip of the city at that point. and federal government had a large arsenal of weapons, gun powder that were being stored here. some canons and hundreds of kegs of powder. party of royal marines gets to work on it and they throw a lot of the powder kegs into a well that was on the property here. they try to destroy the canons that had been left behind. and they're in the process of firing one canon at another,
breech breach of another gun to try to destroy it. another storm is starting to blow up. and the fuse from one of these attempts lands on the ground. and by the count of one of the royal marines who was involved in this episode, the wind picked up this fuse and blew it up, blew it into the well where all this powder had been dumped. and suddenly there's enormous explosion with flames and debris and bodies going -- flying up in the air. absolutely shook the city and caused dozens of british casualties. one of the witness accounts from the royal marine who was here describes bodies being flown over the trees and into the water. and this causes quite a bit of damage both to british morale but also shakes up the city even
further. the marines bury some of the bodies here and they march back to join the rest of the british force up on capital hill. and meantime, the storm that has been blowing up becomes worse and worse. and this, in fact, becomes one or more tornadoes that unbelievably enough run through town in the mist of the catastrophe of the city being burned you have tremendously destructive storm that is come through the city. the witness accounts describe them as approaching from the northwest and running through virginia and into the capital and down into southern maryland. did a lot of damage both to the city. a lot of homes that had been spared by the british ended up losing their roofs. the one federal building that has been left untouched by the
british, which is the patent office, actually loses part of its roof to this storm. so, there was one woman living here in washington at the time, who described the storm hitting after the city had been burned as being almost like the vengeance of god being delivered on washington. this is now ft. mcnair. national defense university is headquartered here. and it's still an important army installation. this is also the spot where some of the conspirators in the lincoln assassination were hung. after the arsenal explosion and the storm that hits town on the 25th, the british made plans for
pretty quick departure. they never intended to stay for long. this, we always have to remember, is a very small force. 4,000 men. general ross was definitely concerned about the possibility of american counter attack. the next target was going to be baltimore. in fact, ross and coburn give serious consideration from going directly from washington to baltimore but ultimately the decision was made, admiral cochran wanted them back in the fleet. a number of wounded they wanted to care for. low on provisions. just 24 hours after the british capture washington on the night of august 25th, they covered the retreat by making some fires and ordering a curfew, but they left the city that night and go back to the ships on the river the same way they came. and washingtonians woke up the next morning to find the city
abandoned, every vestige of power virtually destroyed and one british force gone and another still coming up the potomac river. now all this time as the attack on washington has unfolded, you've had the royal navy squadron under captain gordon moving up the potomac. this turns out to be quite an epic attack in its own right. many in washington thought it was going to be impossible for british war ships to make it up the potomac. they're further down river from where we are now. area known as the kettle
bottoms, notorious shoals that no one had ever been able to sail through. by hook and crook, by enormous labor, gordon is able to use anchors to pull themselves through the mud. all these ships end up going aground but they manage to pull themselves through with great seamanship and a lot of muscle. but this does slow them down. so they've gotten -- by the time they get through the kettle bottoms and they're 20 miles or so from washington on the night of august 24th, they see a red glow in the sky. and it's washingtonñyd burning. and it's just a stunning sight, even from that distance. theñr flames were such that the night was being lit up.
now, in some ways, this was a disappointment, because gordon and the sailors were hoping to, you know, put the torches to the city themselves. but they really had a couple of different missions here. this squadron, by coming up the potomac, was going to be a safety valve for the army forces in washington. if the army came under counter attack, then having the royal navy squadron coming up the potomac would relieve pressure on them and perhaps they could carry out some of the army forces down the potomac if they were to get trapped at washington. beyond that, there were some important targets still up river from where they stood. primarily, this included the city of alexandria, which was then -- although in virginia, in the state of