August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington

Sunday, August 24, AD 2014

One of the more humiliating events in American history, the burning of Washington was the low point in American fortunes during the War of 1812.


After the British landed an army to attack Washington, Captain Johsua Barney, a Catholic and Revolutionary War hero, go here to read about him, and 500 of his sailors and marines, joined the American army seeking to stop the invaders.  At the battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814, Barney and his men put up a spirited defense, with cutlasses and bayonets against the advancing British, and throughout it all Barney rallying his men with cries of “Board ‘em!  Board ‘em!” Ultimately the Americans retreated, and Barney, seriously wounded, was captured one last time in his career by the British.  After being paroled by his captors, he spent the rest of the War recuperating at his farm in Maryland.  The heroic stand of Barney and his men had given enough time for Washington to be evacuated, and after the war the grateful citizens of Washington presented a sword to the old sailor for the land fight which ended his naval career.

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5 Responses to August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington

  • “The Burning of Washington”

    I’m starting to know how those Brits must have felt…

  • I always wondered how the fires were extinguished. Divine Providence, an answer to Washington’s prayer at Valley Forge.

  • There were times when I worked there…that I wished the British had succeeded in razing the place.

    My favorite view of Our Nation’s Capital…is in my rearview mirror as I am leaving.

  • I would have thought that the low point in American fortunes was the failure to take Canada. By August 1814 Britain was in a position to commit substantial forces to the conflict (Bonaparte had abdicated on 11 April) but the Americans were also in a better position militarily. The burning of Washington was humiliating but was a reprisal for the American burning of York (Toronto) and was of no strategic significance. Within a few weeks the Americans had won an important victory at Plattsburgh and the British had failed to take Baltimore. This meant that the British negotiators at Ghent could not insist on territorial concessions and the treaty of 24 December simply restored the status quo ante bellum.

    Of course the US, which had declared war in the first place, did not achieve her war aims and incurred significantly higher casualties than the British, so on any fair assessment lost the war; except that the war was to a large extent about national honour, and the Americans did vindicate theirs. It was also a defining moment in the history of British North America (Canada), not to mention the aboriginal inhabitants of the continent.

    I see that the British Embassy in Washington has had to tweet an apology for producing a commemorative cake showing the White House surrounded by sparklers. Someone has obviously had a sense of humour failure.

The American Revolution at Sea

Sunday, October 14, AD 2012

I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.

Captain John Paul Jones, November 16, 1778

Yesterday was the 237th birthday of the United States Navy.  On October 13, 1775 the Continental Congress passed the following resolutions:

Resolved, That a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruize eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct.

That a Committee of three be appointed to prepare an estimate of the expence, and lay the same before the Congress, and to contract with proper persons to fit out the vessel.

Resolved, that another vessel be fitted out for the same purposes, and that the said committee report their opinion of a proper vessel, and also an estimate of the expence.”

Congress thus threw down the gauntlet against the mightiest sea power in the world.  Vastly outnumbered by the Royal Navy, the United States Navy gave a good account of itself, raiding British commerce, bringing desperately needed supplies to Washington’s Continental Army, shipping diplomats like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to Europe to enlist the aid of France and other sympathetic countries, and demonstrating to an astonished world, again and again, that it was possible to beat a British warship in battle, as John Paul Jones did commanding the USS Bonhomme Richard against HMS Serapis on September 23, 1779:

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5 Responses to The American Revolution at Sea