tv Politics Public Policy Today CSPAN September 3, 2014 4:50pm-7:01pm EDT
camps, the inability of army commanders to provide decent sanitation and these sorts of things, which the diseases, if they got in an very, very toll on life an substantially more men on the american side died as a result of disease, sickness, than they ever did with the british. and then of course there's a bit of collateral damage that occurs when militia die as a result of what is portrayed to the sort of what we'll be talking about. we might estimate perhaps 15,000 or 16,000 americans died one way or another as a result of the war of 1812. the indians suffered i think proportionately rather a high percentage of losses. we don't know precisely because we don't have very good figures for indian population.
best guesses. but of course the numbers that the indians had operated from a far smaller demographic base so, the impact of heavy losses is going to be much greater proportionately with indians. so the indians lost a great many warriors particularly but also women and children in starvation as a result of the war. and that made it all easier for americans after 1815 to remove some of these people, ship them further west so they ultimately end up on reservations in indian territory. this did facilitate american expansion across the continent. then on top of that i suppose you can throw in property dam e damages a result of british raids, captures of sea merchants, men, things like that. it's probably impossible to put a precise figure on that. the british captured a few
american merchants in the period, but actually americans also captured a good many british merchants. i think it's impossible to put a figure on that. but if we say that human damage is necessary, the greatest any war inflicts, eatest that's what it looks like, i think, on the american side. and i don't think we can do much better than that given our current state of knowledge. yes. >> sort of a counterfactual speculation. if the british prevail at challmet, does the treaty of gent get rewritten? >> the answer to that is no, emphatically. this is a myth that is perpetuated by books, particularly books about andrew jackson. want to say jackson saved the nation at the battle of new
orleans. the answer is no. the chronology is quite straightforward. the treaty of ghent was signed on the 24th of december 1814. it was ratified -- according to the war of nations, a treaty cannot come into effect until both governments, the principals of those doing negotiation have ratified it. the british government ratified the treaty of ghent on the 28th before it was sent off to washington. the bat-of new orleans was fought on the 8th of january 1815. the news of the battle and the treaty don't get to washington until the war comes to an end. but the british, by ratifying the treaty, have said to the americans we want this war to be
over. so under international law for thewgñ to have continued after the british ratification the americans would have had to -- that would have had to have been an american decision. and nobody in washington in february said we should throw out this treaty in order to carry on the war. no, that was a great myth that andrew jackson -- this is not to say that jackson's victory did not have consequences for american politics, you know, would jackson have become president without that battle? but no, the british had signaled quietly that the war was over. the americansed a ha a choice, we agree with them, we don't agree with them, they chose to agree. yes. >> in more recent years the war has been referred to as america's second war for independence. could you comment on that?
well, this is -- the word literary critics use is this is a troep. it's not a word i greatly like. but it e americans about the time of the war itself. it emerges sort of -- you know, the first books, american books on the war of 1812 start appearing as early as 1816. and if you read those books particularly from 1816 tru to the civil war they all take this line that america -- and the classic thing is this is a thousand-page book, a thousand pages written by a new york journalist called benson j. lawson. it's probably one of the most widely known 19th century sources on history. and this is exactly the line that lawson takes. he says in 1783 we became free from great britain. we did not become independent
because the british did not respect our independence. the proof that they did not respect our independence was the way they treated us during the napoleonic wars. and benson actually said it's a plot to reduce americans. so when he gets to the treaty of ghent afterwards, he says the british have given up. america finally becomes not only free but independent. and that's sort of the assumption behind the notion that the war of 1812 was necessary to complete the independence that was supposedly won between 1776 and 1783. it's going to take another war to vindicate and consolidate that independence. and this's the dominant myth that runs through american histories of the war for much of the 19th century. it's still there in 20th century histories with 20th century accounts have added additional
layers of correlation and complication as professional historians got more into the records. [ applause ] >> thank you all so much for joining us today. it's been -- we had such an incredible and talented first day of symposium. what a day. so come back tomorrow. those of you attending the anniversary din they are evening that signed up for that, the entrance for that is going to be through the front doors of the historic decatur house. there will be signs. there will be staff. there will be drinks starting to be poured at are 5:30, so be there. and i saw from the agenda something about promptly seating at 5:45. i come from virginia. i find this highly unlike lit will happen that quickly, but i love the fact we're in d.c. and maybe we can do that. then please come back tomorrow
day two of the conference on the war of 1812 is also live tomorrow here on american history tv. the white house historical association and the u.s. capitol historical society is hosting the event. you'll be able to watch it live tomorrow morning starting at 8:30 eastern here on c-span3. here are some highlights for this coming weekend. friday, live at 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span, the nebraska supreme court will hear oral argument on the keystone xl pipeline. saturday at 6:30 p.m. on the communicators, former fcc commissioners michael copps and robert mcdowell with campaign 2014 gearing up, watch the latest debates on c-span. sunday at noon, debates between kate hagen and a republican opponent tom tillas. and from the california governor's race, jerry brown and
neil casskari. friday night at 8:00, author jn yu shares his opinion on i remember law and the effect it has on the behavior of nations. saturday on book-tv, mike gonzalez on how he thinks republicans can make gain for the hispanic vote at 10:00 p.m. and sunday at noon on "in depth," our three-hour conversation and your phone calls with the former chair of the u.s. commission on civil rights, mary francis berry. friday night at 8:00 p.m. on american history tv on c-span three, authors and historians talk about the burning of washington during the war of 1812. saturday on real america, the building of the hoover dam. and sunday night at 8:00, the anniversary of president gerald ford's pardon of richard nixon. find our television schedule at c-span.org and let us know what you think about the programs you're watching. call us. join the c-span conversation,
like us on facebook, follow us on twitter. 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 aushgs author of "through the perilous fight: six weeks that saveded 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 great way to see the city. reallitis 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 the way to d.c. it's like a commuter obstacle. but xzrdñit's the reason that t city is where it is, and it's, you know, really one of the most
remarkable urban rivers in the country i think. we're in the middle of the potomac river off ft. washington, maryland, maybe eight or nine miles south of washington. more than anything, this -- the waterways really define the attack on washington and the ultimate attack on baltimore. 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 potatsco and by 1813 the chesapeake had pretty much turned into a british lake. royal navy squadron under the
command oaf rear admiral joe coburn had showed up and quickly established domain over the water here. george coburn, very effective officer who'd 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. an he pretty quickly determines that the americans are not capable of providing much in the way of a real defense. and from the start he sees washington as being vulnerable. very quickly, as he spreads this 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 compare to attila the hun
and satan among others and doesn't do much to dissuade opinion. he, you know, 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 provied 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 like baltimore and norfolk were 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 was primarily 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 british north america today ontario and quebec and we 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 theed idea of causing some trouble. this is exactly what coburn does. in fact, there's a british historian who's in the united states at that time that the war breaks out and he later says that until george coburn shows up, people of the chesapeake would only have known by hearsay that there was a war going on. and that changes really quickly once coburn arrives. he goes on what i think is best described as a reign of terror up and down the bay, burning a
number of town, plantations, any sort of place where he runs into any resistance whatsoever under coburn's rules, that was good enough for burning the place. and so the town of habit and grace at the top of the chesapeake bay in maryland but burned. half the town's houses were burned down. the town of hampton in virginia was very brutally burn ed and some of the inhabitants killed by army troops including 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. you know, coburn -- nobody is quite sure where he would strike next. and the british also made very good use of the real weakness in american society, and that was our reliance on slavery.
number of plantations all up and down the shorelines of the bay and the rivers feeding into it. and the british encouraged american slaves to come over to the other side, to escape -- promise them their freedom and an opportunity if they wished to fight against their former masters, and a lot of them do. they come, you know, down to the waterways like the potomac in makeshift rafts and make their way up to the british fleet. coburn sets up a base of operations on tangier island, which is in the midto feel bay, the deep-water harbor, and 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 and they form a regiment
of colonial ma reens as they were known. they turn out to be very effective fighters and also provide british with a lot of intelligence. they knew these waterways and the back roads in many cases better than their masters did. and the british make excellence use of this information and pretty much are coming up these rivers and spreading terror wherever they go. the news of this, of course, is coming back to washington. there's enormous fear that washington or other cities like baltimore could be targets. 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 governme government. madison's secretary of war, john armstrong, is absolutely dismissive of the idea that washington would be a target for the british and the rest of the cabinet was equal ly pretty skeptical that the british had the logistical where withwith relatively small force to make their way to washington. now, from the start coburn had thought that washington could be taken. and when we comes back in 1814 after wintering in bermuda, he decides he's going to push even harder for this and he sends messages back to london urging that more force be sent over,
and he writes that if he was given just eve an small number of army troops were sent over he could have 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 to send more force over here. and they agree to send several thousand troops over, so about 4,000 are sent here to the chesapeake to join the forces that are over here with the royal navy and then some other troops are sent up to canada to bolster the british position up there.
and coburn uses the time to further scout the rivers here. checking toult dep ining out th potomac and the other river, trying to figure out just how navigable they are. he decides it is going to be possible to send ships up the xx potomac. so in august of 1814 some 4,000 troops arrive in the chesapeake under the command of major general robert ross. ross had been one of wellington's most able lieutenants in the peninsula wars in -- that have been fought in spain and portugal and france and wellington had personally chosen ross to head this expedition to america. now, 4,000 troops by the scope of things that have been going on in europe, was tiny.
we've had 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 simply sailed up the potomac, everybody would know that washington was the ultimate target. coburn decides that 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 was that it would kind of shield the ultimate british intention, because a move up the patuxent could mean in m 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 shall o'lowe waters of the chesapeake and the rivers feeding into it. barpey, by the summer of 1814, 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 toward the capitol. that's exactly what coburn recommends and exactly what the british commanders, admiral ross,ster cochran, who's in charge of the entire fleet here in north america, agree to do. so an august 19th of 1814, the army lands in benedict, which is about halfway up the patuxent river from the bay toward washington. meantime, you have the other squadron underneath, captain james gordon sailing up the potomac, and still some other ships move up the chesapeake bay to threaten baltimore. so they had this three-pronged operation. the main attack is accompanied by the 4,000 troops and admiral coburn and the royal marines.
and after landing at benedict, they move jointly by land and by water, royal marines and barges, further up the river and succeed in trapping joshua barney and his flotilla. barney basically scuttles the flotil flotilla, has it blown up, and escapes with his men. but the net result of all this is 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're going to reboard their ships and move back into the bay. and so one of the results of all
this indecision is that the american commander, general william winder, doesn't do a very effective job of doing anything in terps of setting up defenses around washington, in terms of mustering much of a force. it's been -- 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, in moving in the direction of the capital, still maintains that washington is under no threat whatsoever and he thinks it's much more like lay 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, whereas washington at this time was really not much more than a village, you know, 8,000 people
in the city. of course it's home to the federal government with the white house and the capitol, but it didn't seem like much of a target to armstrong. so the result is the british are able to play on the american indecision and move closer to washington. they move up to upper marlborough, about 15 or 20 miles from the city. ross is quite skeptical about theed idea of capturing washington. his instructions from london don't say anything about trying to capture the capital of the united states. he there's to create a diversion and not to do anything that's going to risk this force, which ultimately is intended for an attack on new orleans. but ross is persuaded by coburn
that, you know, the american defenses are very light, that the militia, fearful of having a slave uprising or slaves escape, have been reluctant to leave their homes, and that there are 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 to upper marlborough. they've had little contact at all with american forces. no defense is really set up along the way. no ambushes. there are many positions where the americans could have slowed down the british advance, and he was astonished that nothing of the sort had been done. and this encourages him. he's actually almost suspicious that he's being 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. but then he loses his nerve, marches back to washington. his force gradually is getting larger. and it had only been about 2,100 when the british landed at benedi benedict. and within about four or five days. enough forces had been gathered that they now outnumber the british force. but through a series of fates and just playing up on the american indecision, ross continues to move towards the capital and then faints directly towards the city and instead moves more north toward the village of bladensburg. 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 this play ss a key part in everything that happens at blai bladensburg. in fact, when bladensburg was founded in 1749, this was a deep-water port with ships coming from around the globe to take away tobacco that was grown on-in the country around here. but by 1812, silt had really filled in a lot of the eastern branch so bladensburg was no longer any kind of a major port but it was still important by virtue of all the roads that crossed there. and the river up there was quite shallow and easily fordable. whereas the eastern branch
down -- 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. certainly the british wouldn't have been capable of crossing it without a bridge. and this first bridge that we see right in front of us was the location of the -- what was then 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 miles upriver from where
we are now. and august 24th at noon, after he sends his forces across the river, the first ones cross on the bridge with -- at bladensburg, which the americans had neglected to blow just in the chaos and confusion of the moment. and led by colonel william thornton, one of ross' brigade commanders, 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. and these rockets were notoriously difficult to aim, but they were really weapons of terror because they were almost like, you know, huge sky rockets that would flare up in the sky and could come down and cause quite a blaze and quite a bit of damage where they hit. but because they were so difficult to aim they were, you know, 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 wefor that reason. they started firing these. many were going over the heads of the militia troops, but that was enough to cause some of them to start turning and running. in fact, president madison h,
written up from washington. his headquarters were down here near the navy yard where general winder had convened on the evening of august 24th. madison and most of the cabinet had come there as well. and madison0pñ had ridden by ho 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. madison, when he gets to bladensburg, before the fighting has started, 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 a scout who was up front that mr. madison, the british are in bladensburg. and madison and his attorney general richard rush turned 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, actually fire one that goes right over the head of madison and the rest of his cabinet officers. it was -- you know, sailed high harmlessly, but madison at this point becomes the first american president to come under fire on a battlefield. madison moved 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 using the bridge. others are wading across the water. and pretty soon they have enough of a force that the second line
of militia defense is collapsing. one of the problems that americans are encountering here was command interference. you had james monroe, who was secretary of state. he had come to scout out the lines. he had basically been serving as a scout for several days for madison, even though he was secretary of state, he was pretty much throwing himself into danger's way. but he directs some of the militia troops to move further back from the front line. and this leaves them out of support for each other. so monroe didn't really do the american troops 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 starting 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 ha a lot of experience at retreating now, just as the british had advanced on washington, he had ordered his troops back a number of times. but he really botches this retreat. so as the militia are falling back, a lot of them start heading north towards baltimore. others are heading toward georgetown. and really none of them are heading back to the third line of defense, which has been formed by joshua barney and his navy flow till a men and the district militia, which had raced up from washington during the course of the morning in the terrible heat. in fact, 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 of militia. now, the british at bladensburg have to move uphill to attack this third line. barney is situated on a strong position right on the district he had big guns, 18-pound weapons that he brought with him. he also had some of the u.s. marines, the marine corps barak here in washington, which had come up to support the flotilla men serving his infantry for them. and the british, as they're trying 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 barney and to some of the district militia commanders that they were on the verge of maybe turning the tide here. but winder with the maryland militia in retreat has ordered a general retreat. barney doesn'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 wound from the british but -- and from his own men because he doesn't want them
to lose faith. but very quickly barney is also running out of ammunition. all the crews that were bringing his ammunition, civilian crews, they had joined in the general retreat, so barney was running out of ammunition. it was pretty clear he was surrounded or close to it at this point, so barney then orders his men to surrender and retreat. and he orders them to leave him on the battlefield. one of his officers stays with him. most of the men are able to escape back toward washington. barney is left on the battlefield and pretty soon he's found by some of the british soldiers who run and get admiral coburn. barney, over the course of the previous several months, had been really the one american officer who had really offered strong resistance to the british.
and both coburn and ross were quite impressed with him. and ross comes up as well, and they -- they agree to pardon barney on the spot. meaning that he wouldn't be officially held in british custody, 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. you know, this is sometimes called the bladensburg races because of the way the militia retreated so chaotically. in a sense, it's an accurate term, but it also does discredit to a lot of the brave fighting that did happen here. particularly from barney's flotilla men and the marines who fought bravely, took heavy casualties and at one point seemed like they might be able to turn the tide of the battle. and certainly, you know, the
british fought bravely, fighting uphill against those guns in that type of heat. but these guys were known as wellingtons and visyules for a reason. they had fought the french in europe, and the forces they met here at bladensburg just were not a match for them ultimately. so the british are left with an open road into washington. madison is retreating back to the city ahead of the troops. and he send word back to washington to dolly that the british are coming. now, this bridge has been rigged to blow by the americans. and the british don't waste much time at bladensburg before they start coming down the bladensburg road into 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 because the british are already on this side of the river. they're already in washington, but for whatever americans decide to blow this bridge anyway. it was a wooden bridge. it was really a fairly substantial bridge that, you know, took a fair amount of explosives to take down. the wood, when it blew up, just went sky-high into the air, tremendous black cloud of smoke. winder had wanted to make sure that it blew up, and it certainly did. at the navy yard, commodore thomas tingy, who's in charge of
the navy yard, sees the bridge blowing and starts making preparations for burning the washington navy yard. ross 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, sewell belmont home as it's known today, about two blocks or so from the capitol. and the evidence to me is pretty clear that ross and coburn had already agreed that washington's federal buildings should be
burned.ckburn had already agreed that washington's federal buildings should be burned. in the reports they sent back to london afterward, they described this as the object of the expedition. cockburn's hope in all of this had 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. ross 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, you know -- indicating that she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown because she had not expected her husband after fighting with
wellington in the peninsula to now have to go fight another war in america. ross believes capturing washington will be the stroke that ends the war. as they approach the capital, they do make some efforts at parlay. the drums are rolled and some men are sent forward to see if there's anyone to negotiate with. ross and cockburn are very near the capital at the sewell belmont home when suddenly shots ring out. and ross has come under fire. shots from inside the house actually strike his horse and hit several soldiers, causing some casualties. 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 didn't want to surrender and had taken some shots at the british. now, some of the british offi r officers would later claim that the fact that the british came under fire in this manner is what prompted them to burn the capitol and the white house, but indications are that this decision had been made and this is what very quickly happens. as the british are making preparations, they see big lights on the horizon, not very far away. that's from the washington navy yard. and 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 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 a 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 tingy was a british-born officer who was the commandant of the washington navy yard. and he received his instructions from jones to not let it fall in
british hands. as the british are coming into town, the bridge -- tvbbñ easte bridge blows up, and tingy starts making preparations to blow up the -- and to burn the washington navy yard. some of the residents of the area that live right around the navy yard came up to him and implored him not to burn it. a big wind was blowing, and the fear was that if he burn the navy yard the neighborhood surrounding the washington navy yard were going to go up in flames as well. to at least wait until he can get some more scouting reports about what the british are up to. tin tingy's -- one of the navy clerks at the navy yard, mordecai booth, volunteers to go scouting, see what the british
are up to. he's accompanied by captain creighton, one of the senior officers at the navy yard. they ride through town and encounter -- they find the british on capitol hill, and they actually come under fire from british sentries near the capitol. and they ride back and give this update to tingy. tingy then gives orders for the navy[91gz 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 e'waround. and, you know, there would late b r be complaints that the americans shouldn't have burned the navy yard because why did they do that, causing such major destruction to a valuable military installation. but it's clear the british would have done it had the americans not and probably captured some supplies that would have been useful for them. the navy yard sits about a mile or so from the capitol. it's still of course an active navy base. so the british see the navy yard in flames and if they'd had any
compunctions about burning the capitol before that, they certainly didn't at this point. the -- some of the british troops lined up in front of the capitol, which at that point wasn't the capitol that 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. also housing the supreme court and the library of congress. so quite a bit of importance for the young nation in those 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, and then broke through into the building and cockburn
came in personally and started rummaging through and found one of madison's congressional books there, which he took as a souvenir. and a lot of the british were actually quite ims pred by the grandeur of the building. the house chamber was probably the most impressive room in america at that time. just ornate sculptures and beautiful marble. british went to work piling desks into the middle of the chamber and other flammable material. 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, but before too long the building was up in flames. they started on the south side and then moved up to the north and pretty soon both chambers were completely engulfed in flames. there was fire just whipping up in a spiral above the buildings that madison could see as he's riding off into virginia, this very dismal sight of this great building of american democracy going up in flames. tingy and some of his party were rowing off from the navy yard and they were out here on the water where we are now. and the sight of the navy yard and the capitol in flames just filled him with both awe and absolute despair. it was a sight that no one who
we're on the potomac river approaching georgetown. right near the water gate and thea%" 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 that washington
is in grave danger, and he recommends that she leave at once. now, dolly had been making some preparati preparations. a number of 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, 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 she gets the message from president madison. among the things that she spots at the last minute is the portrait of george washington, the gilbert stuart portrait that -- life size that 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 that once to allow the portrait to fall into british hands would be adding insult to injury. and so she instructs some of her servant, servants, including the madisons' house slave, paul
jennings, and the gardner, tom mcgraw, to get the portrait down off the wall. and this proves to be quite difficult. now, dolly madison 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, needed to leave immediately. dd.r&ver and other belongings h 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 manage 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. dolly rides into georgetown and
goes to the home of one of the madisons' friends, and she's waiting more word from madison. president madison 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 aids. he's exhausted. a 60-year-old man who had been riding out on horseback out to a battlefield, had come under rocket fire and come back to the white house. you could only imagine what his thoughts are at this moment. this is a nation he had helped conceive, he had been the guides light behind the constitution and now america's great enemy, great britain had a clear path into washington.
he stops. pauses for a glass of wine and collects his thoughts. he gets on horseback and rides down here to georgetown where the sun is setting at this point. 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's accompanied by paul jennings, the madison's house slave and several aids rides by causeway into virginia and would spend the next three days as a refugee. there's no air force one or marine one helicopter to take
them away, madison is on his own, there are no guards with him. dolly madison, the streets of georgetown are so clogged she can't reunite with the president, she ends up going further up river and rossing into virginia. it would be the better part of a day before she and the president are reunited. 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. they passed a tavern on the corner right near the treasury building and they went in top order dinner and the woman propry tore tried to send them off to another stebment, that didn't work, they ordered some chicken and continued down pennsylvania avenue and entered the white house which they foun% unlocked, of course had been abandoned in 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, this is one of those remarkable stories that's actually quite true.
the british were wined and dined at the white house and then set the place afire. they -- again, they went through with gun powder paste and rubbed that on the door frames and around the windows. they gathered a number of chairs and other flammablea2#e materiad created little bonfires. they set drapes affair. and 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 everything was overshadowed by the hopes 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 an act of enormous treasury. they felt that 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 for the first two years of the war, they had been tied up in the fight with napoleon, but when that war seems to be over, they have more forces to send over, there was an almost of revenge that flowed through the mind of many of the soldiers and sailors that marched into
washington 200 years ago. madison, as he's arriving into the virginia countryside is able to see glimpses of the fires back in washington. pretty soon they're lighting up evident late in the night that the white house is also in flames. a very sad moment for the president, for the nation. we're practically right beneath the francis scott key bridge of course named for he who lived almost exactly where the bridge enters the d.c. shore there.
in fact right near where that ramp leading up to the bridge, where the freeway, where keys home used to stand. it was on m street. a nice brick home sort of overlooking the river with the garden cascading down to the shore. he was an interesting guy. he was one of the first of what we now know as a washington attorney. the maryland naturive, he was about -- in his mid-30s during the war. and ironically, for someone that we associate with the star spangled banner, he like a lot of other americans, was deeply opposed to the war. he thought it really insane for the united states to declare war on great britain. such a powerful nation. he was a very religious guy and
a pacifist by nature. he actually celebrates when some of the u.s. 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, and that just goes to show the depth of emotion against this war. key was not at all alone in expressing sentiments like that. but he felt quite differently when his home, maryland and washington were being attacked. he actually volunteered for the militia. he served in the georgetown artillery during some of coburn's raids. he's 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's in 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 fairland. but he's nonetheless quite fearful that will georgetown will be attacked and a few days later it's from this home that he would launch the mission to try to gain freedom for a doctor from maryland who had been taken prisoner by the british. this would lead to her eyewitness to the bombardment of ft. mchenry in baltimore and lead to the writing of the
national anthem. >> a big rainstorm hits the city that night after the british had stopped for the evening, gone back to their camp. and distinguishes some of the flames, including at the treasury. coburn the next morning rides up to the white house 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. the british start sending out parties to buildings that hadn't completely burned or had been one party sent up to the navy yard. coburn remarks he's glad the americans saved him the trouble of burning the place. 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 down here to the federal arsenal at greenleaf point. this was the southern tip of the city at that point and the federal government had a large that were being stored here. some cannons and hundreds of kegs of powder. the 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, and they also try to destroy some of the cannons that had been left behind. and they're in the process of firing one cannon at another, the breach of another gun in
order to destroy it. and they're having some trouble. another storm is starting to blow up. and the fuse from one of these attexh' lands on the ground. by the account of one of the royal marines who's involved in this episode, the windehñ pickep this fuse and blew it into the well where all this powder had been dumped. and suddenly there's an enormous explosion with flames and debris and bodies going flying up>1$q÷ the air. shook the,]i,%qe and caused dos of british casualties. one of the witness accounts from the royal marine who is heren$v describes bodies being flown over the trees and intopjç the water. -ñ of damage both to british moral,
further. ç m bodies here and they march back force on capitol hill. in the meantime, the storm that's been blowing up becomes worse and%íñ worse. this becomes one or more tornados that unbelievably enough run through town in the midst of the catastrophe of the city being burned, you actually have tremendously destructive storms that come through the city. some of the witness accounts describe them as approaching from the northwest and running through virginia and then into the capitol and down into maryland, into southern maryland. did a lot of damage both to the city, the homes had been spared, they ended up losing their
roofs. they lose part of its roof to the storm. so there is one woman in washington at the time who described the storm hitting after the city had been burned is just being almost like the vengeance of god being delivered on washington. this is now ft. mcnair. the university is headquartered here. it's an army installation, it's also a spot where some of the conspirators in the lincoln assassination were hung. after the explosion on the 25th, qe quick departure.
they never planned to stay for long. this is a very small force. general ross was concerned about the possibility of american counterattack. the next target was going to be baltimore. and in fact ross and coburn give serious consideration. but ultimately the decision was made. they had a number of wounded just 24 hours after the capture of washington on the night of they recovered the retreat by a curfew, they left the city that night, and go back to the ships on the pawtuxet river the way they came.
washingtonians woke up to find the city abandoned. still another coming up the potomac river. now, all this time as the attack on washington has unfolded. you 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 possible for british war ships to make it up the potomac. further down river from where we are now. there's an area known as the kettle bottoms which notorious shoals that no ship ever
carrying heavy guns had ever been able to sail through, but gordon and his squadron by hook and crook, enormous labor, were able to pull the ships through the mud. they managed to pull themselves through with a lot ofm33vñ musc. this does slow them down. so by the time they get through the kettle bottoms and they're about 20 miles or so from washington, they see a red glow in the sky. and it's washington burning. it's a stunning site. the flames were such that the night was being lit up.
in some ways this was a disappointment. gordon and the sailors were hoping to put the torches in the city themselves. 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 í÷÷ñ counterattack, then having the royal navy squadron coming up the potomac, perhaps they would 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. it was part of the land making
up the district in the district of columbia. it was a very wealthy port in the potomac. threat to hadn't been taken by the british army though they don't know this at this point. there's an important foundry that makes weapons for the u.s. navy that is still sitting untouched. in any event they're proceeding up river, when they're hit by the huge storm, the remarkable storm that comes through washington on august 25th, sweeps down river and severely gordon's squadron. and they have to stop to make repairs and they almost consider turning back at that point. they keep coming up river, sail
past mt. vernon which is just down river from here. finally on august 27th, thy come in sight of ft. washington, which is the last fortress guarding the potomac river as they -- on the approach to alexandria and washington. this was a fort that george washington, who lives across the river had urged be built, it's at this strategic point of the piscataway creek and the pa tomorrow augustd2xx river. the fort is built here in the early 1800s isn't that works, platforms up there on the high ground, but this -- because
of the channel coming so close to the shore line here those guns from that height would have an enormous effect on any ships trying to sailhs by. it could have been a much stronger position if the u.s. government hadzrjy done more t fortify it, recommendations had been made that the fort be rebuilt into a stronger, more affected position, that hadn't been done. even so, it's an obstacle that british officers estimated it would cost them at least 50 men would try to take. it would cause some damage to some of these valuable ships if there had been a fight here.
and the british, gordon and his men were expecting to have a real fight on their hands to get by this port they had just lobbed the first of their shells for the evening of august 27th. when gordon watching from the deck of his ship sea horse could see what looked like the garrison retreating from the fort and then there's a terrific explosion and the entire fort goes sky high. gordon and his men aren't quite sure what happened. they don't know whether one of their shelves has been the lucky shot that hit the fort's magazine and the whole thing is blown up, or if the americans have destroyed the fort themselves, it's not until the next morning on august 28th, they send a landing party on shore. and they discover really to their amazement that this fort
which is in position to do quite a bit of harm, to the british, had been blown up by the americans themselves and the american garrison had retreated >> he had been assigned command here, he didn't have a lot of faith or confidence in the garrison, in the equipment he place fall into british hand hands. he saw the smoke rising over squadron, he thinks he's going to be attacked by land at the
same time by british army troops. he's decided to abandon the fort. he would soon be court-martialed for that decision. and the british have an open path to alexandria as well as washington. >> we're right off of alexandria, virginia. about where the captain gordon positioned his wild@z navy squadron for washington's destroyed. everyone in alexandria knew
there was no way to defend the city now. they had been left completely r(t&háhp &hc% government. alexandria's militia had been taken by general winder and pretty much squandered. they hadm!yp positioned off nea fort washington for a while, now that washington had been burned, they had been marched away. the city fathers had no defenses. all the weapons in town. most of the cannons except for a couple had been taken away as [ and ot gone to madison the previous ot year and said, you know, we british make it past the kettle% bottoms in ft. walk, then we're defenseless, and madison had pretty much said, well, we can't
left on its own. the city didn't hesitate in wanting to quickly surrender to captain gordon. in fact they rode out a delegation the day before, and captain gordon had said, wait until i position myself off alexandria, then can you go ahead and surrender. by august 29th he had positioned off the wharfs here in alexandria, his bomb ships, including the ships kev izatiiz devastation, meteor and aetna. these ships were capable of setting the city afire pretty much within five or ten minutes, a few well directed shelves and all of the city of beautiful old brick structures, thisc$hkq was or less george washington's hometown.
he had worshipped here. this city had actually at one point been one of the largest ports in america. beyond that heyday now, but still a very4k(3y wealthy city plenty of warehouses stocked full of goods. tobacco, flour, cotton. and the city essentially once again, the city fathers rode out on the morning of august 29th this time captain gordon took tyis time captain gordon took terms. pretty much the city had to surrender all valuable materials held in these warehouses,í3kz w going to be turned over to the british. all the ships in the city thatz hadn't been sunk or taken away were going to be turned over to the british. and in fact, all the cities, all the ves ems that had been sunk
were to be raised and handed over to the british. these were sppa easy terms, the city didn't hesitate to accept them. as word of this spreads across the river to washington, there's great outrage that the city has surrendered so easily, because i think one of the reasons you have so many beautiful old homes in alex andrea, they decided it would be fool hardy to offer resistance without any real means to protect the city against very powerful british ships. so the british -- their bomb ships anchored out here ready to !cb the foot of king street right across
from us here, where a lot of the warehouses were situated. over the course of the next four days, it took that long to basically empty all the of resistance was offered he would try to squelch it. at one point captain david porter of the u.s. navy came tã scout out the situation. and he was situated up on suitor's hill, the high point overlooking the city. and hej came down trying to gather some intelligence. and they tried to essentially
kidnap a young british m midshipman to get some information. they ran down, came down on horseback, grabbed him and tried to pull him away. but the lad managed to escape. and at that point alexandria was almost put into flames. all of the warships raised their flags and got ready to flyer. mayor simms was able to persuade captain gordon that no offense had been meant by the city. the british continued to empty the city.mo in factny weren, they weren't a fit everything on board, even with the 21 captive ships they were taking away. they didn't have room to fit everything. they needed to.p: lead some st dismay. by september 1st, the british
were readytf?b to leave, and ats point captain gordon has received word that the americans are trying to set up an a.m. bish for him. and in fact david porter and oliver hazard perry, another well known u.s. navy officer have sent up batteries down the potomac river. atr from potomac with militia. atr the idea is, when these ships they'll get pummeled with fire. and also, captain john rogers of the u.s. navy, the most senior officer in the u.s. navy, is working out of the navy yard out of washington, is coming down river with some fire boats. these are boats that have been laden with flammable material
and they're going to set afire and they're going to try to set the4 approach alexandry,la" gordon realizes it's time for him to(ñ4ç leave, and sails out september 1st, one of the ships goes aground just beyond where the wilson bridge sits today. and captain rogers tried to set it afire with one of his fire boats. but the british managed to fend it off. and then as the british continued to make their way down river past fort washington, they run into captain porter's battery at the bellwar shore. porter's set up there at bellwar on higu$auñ ground. for five days they exchange fire. this is a pretty serious back and forth, and there are casualties on both sides.
eventually the wind changes and allows gordon to blast his way past the american position. and blast his way past perry as well, who runs out of ammunition pretty quickly. is delayed getting down river. and this will ultimately delay the attack on baltimore, which has some consequences for the british. so when madison, after three washington. he immediately realizes the importance of not surrendering the city again. move the capitol away. in the city. and that the news of this -- he
realized needed to get on the same ships that were going to be carrying the news of washington's capture back to europe, and in the same newspapers that would carry the news of washington's capture around the country. he wants to send out a message as quickly as possible. that despite the british capture of washington, the united states had not+ykç surrendered and the government was going to stay in washington. and the united states was going to fight on. madison has to fight to get the capitol restored and rebuilt. there's a big debate in congress. and the vote for rebuilding washington is very close. uáñ and oneis very close. of the reasons is, that the british actually by leaving one federal building untouched in
washington left a place for congress to reconvene while the city is restored. the decision to restore washington is made early in 1815. almost simultaneously news comes to great developments. one is, the american victory at new orleans, where andrew jackson defeats the same british force that is attacked at washington andqld8ñ then continues down to new orleans. and then word comes from europe. that a treaty has been signed
escape from the war with a sense of victory. this war tends to be overlooked and this moment in history tends to be forgotten. i think it's important for people to understand what a precarious moment this was in american history. how close the united states came to disaster. you know, this period right after the burning of washington, possible that the united states would as we know it today. to me, anybody who listens to the star spangled banner or sings it, has to understand that this first verse we all sing at
he recently spoke at an event hosted by the smithsonian associates. this is an hour and 15 minutes. >> we are coming up on the 200th anniversary of the burning of washington. the actual day is sunday august 24th. it will be the 200th anniversary, when we were talking about how we would mark, we wanted to commemorate this anniversary, despite that it's a less than glorious moment in our nation's history. 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 members for a long time, he's no stranger to you. he's been giving lectures and tours on the lincoln assassination. restaurant tasting tours and lectures and tours on this topic based on his book aptly named "the burning of washington." and you will also notice this evening, 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. we're very happy to have him here tonight. ladies and gentlemen, mr. anthony pitch. >> thank you very much for coming. it's raining outside, so i'm very glad to see a lot of people here tonight a few years ago i escorted somebody into the white house and his name was major ed ross. the same name, ed ross who burned the white house, he was a decendent and wanted to see the
scorch marks that i told him were there they're under the front door and there's a big stone archway where you can see massive scorch marks from the fire set by the british in 1814. the pastry staff couldn't stop giggling, he thought, here's the man that'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 is one. and then i wrote the burning of washington, which is certainly a roller coaster of a story. the presidentbè, escapes, the c is in flames, and the national
anthem comes out of it. when my book was reviewed by the times literary supplement in england the reviewer said they described what happened here as this amusing little incident. well he was parading his ignorance, he didn't realize the british suffered their greatest defeat in the long annals of the history of military conflict at the hands of americans. had that happened before the peace treaty was signed, i think we might control canada today. winston churchill described this as not a war of independence. he denied it was a war of independence. who am i to argue with that great man. unfortunately, he's not with us today so i can challenge him.
if your ships are bordered on the high sees by an enemy and they forcibly hall off sailors, if you don't do anything, you are surrendering your sovereignty. it's an affront to the dignity and sovereignty of a nation. that's why i call it a war of independence. let me tell you what washington was like in 1814. it was a gawky village, a mere embryo of what it aspired to be. there were only 8,000 residents and 1/6 were slaves. it was a meager ville with a few bad houses and swamps. and a british diplomat who called this a settlement hole. he wrote home to his mother,
luckily for me i have been in turkey, and am quite at home in this primieval area. why would they want to target it? they wanted to demoralize the americans. if they could seize the capitol during wartime, it may lead to the breakup of the united states. the british commander wanted to give the americans a complete dropping, this was in part pay back for american excesses in canada. where they burned and plundered some of the private buildings most recently in york, which is it now called toronto. and on the villages on the niagara front. the countries have been at war for years because britain and france had been at war for years with each side targeting each
other's trade with neutral america. thousands of british troops desserted to the american marine for better pay and conditions. many of them took out citizenship. in a six year period, the british hauled off about 5,000 sailors from american ships. about 1300 of these were later found to be born in america. so for years americans have tolerated this until 1811, a new breed was elected to congress. born after the declaration of independence. what was toolerable for the older generation, was insufferable for the younger generation. war for them was the only
answer. the man who led the crusade against war. was an anglophyle. he argued, how can you take up arms against a people who share the same language, the same blood, same religion, hab yas corpus. and the works of six. calhoun was not going to have any of this. he didn't share any of randolph's attachment to the former colonial power. he replied, great indeed must be the reason for going to war, if so much had bound us in the past. in the summer of 1812, they declared war on britain. and for two years it was a distant rumble on the canadian front. if you lived in washington and did not read the newspaper, you might not have known it was a war going on.
but in 1814 napoleon fell. anxious american diplomats in europe, warned james madison's government that freed up thousands of additional troops for the war against america. the capitol remained undefended and the principle now none other than the secoretary of war, joh armstrong. people who believe reality to the contrary stares them in the face. he was a former major general, it was said of him that nature and habits forbid him to speak well of any man. he was that kind of person, stubborn, self-assured. and when a fleet of warships
came up the chesapeake bay, a frantic head of the d.c. militia went to see armstrong. the secretary of war dismissed him. they would not come without meaning to strike somewhere. they will certainly not count me out. what the devil will they do here? baltimore is the place. you see, this is a lesson to be learned from the war of 1812, the attack on washington. if you put intelligence in the hands of one man or a small country of people, you are asking for trouble. because 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. i don't think it's been learned, but that is the greatest lesson. armstrong was a violent man in the country.
he quit his job when people tore off their epilets and refused to serve under him. he was dismissed with graffiti on the capitol. describing him as a coward, and he was the wrong person in the wrong -- the right job at the wrong place. that was armstrong, he dismissed -- he wasn't the kind of person who could see that they were going to attack baltimore, washington -- even though the president speculated they would attack baltimore, philadelphia or washington. so the british sailed up the pawtuxet river and disembarked 5,000 troops on the 19th of august, 1814. the path to the capitol was clear. the capitol itself which i tethered pray, and as the british began their 50 mile march, fear in washington turned
to terror. and terror gave way to pandemonium. it was the hottest summer in memory. dry industrial roads, clogged with refugees, spilling over the sides of carts and wagons. transport had become more precious than jewelry. and washingtonians fled to maryland and virginia, preferring the security of the wild, to the insecurity of their own hands. that's setting what it was like and so i dislike books that give a dry recitation of facts. reacting to different circumstances, this is what i try to portray, what happened to the people involve d rather tha a dry list of statistics.
many of the government agencies remain starved. they call up the militia, but in the basement of the house of representatives, nearly all the officers were empty. because most of the cloaks were young people. only j.t. frost, a newcomer remained at his desk. he was over 45. so in this moment of unparalleled crisis, a man of scant experience and weak authority is now burdened with the need to make rapid decisions of national importance. he was sorely in need of patrick mcgruder. he had been ill for months and had finally taken his doctor's advice to leave town at this very moment to try to help restore the minerals -- that's how history operates around.
no one knew how or when to save the papers of the house. i use this word vandals with care. it's denny greating the british. but there is no other word that would fit what they did later. and so there is a colleague of his called samuel birch. he tried hard to reason with them. he too had been marched out of the city to meet the enemy. he was struck down three days before. when he went looking for transport, it was too late. most of the carts and wagons had been grabbed by the military fp and the remainder were piled high with the goods of civilians in flight. in desperation, he ordered three messages to scour the
countryside taken from manner of six miles out of town. he loaded it up to the oxen around 9 miles into the countryside, with a deposit them in safety. then they returned to the capitol, only to join the general exodus before the british arrived at sunset on wednesday august 24th, 1814. frost was frustrated beyond measure. both men knew they could have saved all the papers of the house, even the vast contents with the library of congress, if only they had been able to seize more transport. the library of congress faced the western edge of the capitol overlooking the mall. and it was a large room about 86 feet long, with timbered seating. so it went up like a tinder box. all 3,000 books were dried.
destroyed. ironically, many of them were britain printed and on british parliamentary procedure. thomas jefferson submitted 6,487 books for his library of congress. he said i'll take about two weeks for the wagons to arrive in washington. they're so great, they had a fire in the middle of the 19th century, but you can see what remains of them in curved bookcases at the library of congress. and it's incredible this man, this renaissance man. every subject you can think of is there. archaeology. history, art, farming, it's all there in different languages. that was thomas jefferson. two days before the british arrived. the commandant ordered his navy
clerk to get ahold of 24 barrels of gun peril into the safety of virginia. they saddled up and crossed into georgetown. he rode up and told the two apparent owners he was impounding it for the department of the navg very. this is wartime. and so some citizens who might normally have buckled under to bureaucratic pressure. now the power it possesses, chasing of government officials for the abuse and profanities, this is exactly what happened to booth. in a vivid chronicle written two weeks after the departure of the british, he described what happened next. it's got my fingerprints all over it at the national archives. and i dismounted and followed them into the store, where they made use of such language that was degrading to gentlemen. he didn't get his wagon, 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 to see if anybody was there, and to get reliable information. when they rode up, he saw an american colonel on horseback. the colonel dismounted, walked over to the locked front door of the white house, pulled hard on the bell rope and banged on the front door. that drove booth always as silent as a church. only then did this poor navy clerk realize in his words, the metropolis of our country has abandoned to its horrid fate. you can almost hear his howl. he represented america at that moment. and then a note arrived at the state department scribbled by the secretary of state james monroe, who was on horseback spying on the british advance east of washington. he ordered his staff to secure
as best they could, the precious national documents in the departmental records. one of the clerks remembered that name. stephen pleasonton. he's one of the bravest men i'll talk about tonight. >> pleasanton described himself as chiefly instrumental in this, put the generals of the declaration of independence, the constitution international treaties and george washington's correspondence in two bags that he had made up into book bags that were linen. while this is being done, none other than the secretary of war passed by and armstrong rebuked
him for being an alarmist -- he was not intimidated, that's amazing. imagine he stood up to the secretary of war, and he said it's more prudent to try to protect the documents of the revolutionary government. so we alerted them on to carts, crossed the potomac river and drove two miles upstream of georgetown where they put them in an abandoned mill. he immediately had second thoughts, he was now the largest manufacturers in the country. a spy or a turncoat could lead the enemy to a stand by hiding place. so he went further into virginia, got some wagons, came back and loaded them up. and he drove 35 miles west to lees burg, virginia, put them in an empty house, locked the door and gave the key to the collector of internal revenue. and then he 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. they were too tired and fast asleep. now, i knew this happened because 39 years later pleasanton thought he was going to lose his job because he didn't know anybody in the medicationing administration. and in those days, you had know people. so he wrote a letter to his eminent friend james buchanan who became president just before lincoln, and he outlined everything he had done that memorable 24th of august 1814. he said, i could have been rewarded with thousands of pounds sterling by the british if i had given them the
documents and i didn't. and the letter is in the papers in the library of congress. now, i was always upset by the condition of congressional graves. i've been to congressional cemeteries many times about a mile behind the u.s. capitol. it was an angle and you couldn't read his name too well. i heard a fund-raising walk to restore the tombstone. and we walked from the capitol to the white house. as we passed the national archives, i was telling stories all the time from the war of 1812. i said if it were not for steven pleasonton, you probably would not be able to see those documents in the national archives today. and, of course, i raised the money, and we got an expert, and he restored the tombstone, it's upright now. i want to tell you about a woman
who was equally as brave and fearless and disregarded the safety of her own life. her name is dolly madison. beloved first lady ever to live in the white house. jackie kennedy was admired, but dolly was beloved. people said when she wore her jewelry, he was out-shown by her personality. she was a marvelous woman. look how she risked her life or captivity to save a painting. none of us would have done that. i certainly wouldn't. it's not surprising that people pay courtesy calls on her hand. new year's day in particular, people used to pay courtesy to her from the president on downwards. what she did was this.
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 friends of hers, came 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. fortunately, at that moment, frerj john came in. now, it becomes murky. 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 for sure. but the conservatives didn't find any cut marks. so we're not quite sure. it's a little murky. whatever happened, they gave it to barker, one of the new yorkers, who role it up until he was stopped by the frenchman for fee fear it would crack. barker put the flat in the wagon and drove through georgetown into the country side and left with a farmer overnight. a few weeks later, they returned it to dolly. today, it hangs in the east room of the white house. when the president is giving a press conference in the east room, you'll see it behind his shoulders.
when my book came out, i was invited to the white house. they took me to rooms off limits. we passed through the map roochroochm, so called because it's a map of europe. and it shows the swastica simil symbols. there's a little medicine chest near by and you can pull out the drawers. in 1939, a canadian wrote to president roosevelt. and he said my grandfather was a 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? well, they followed orders. 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