The British Invasion of the Capital and a Nation's Rise from the Ashes
Robert P. Watson
An insightful re-examination of one of the most dangerous moments in US history, the British assault on Washington, DC
Perhaps no other single day in US history was as threatening to the survival of the nation as August 24, 1814, when British forces captured Washington, DC. This unique moment might have significantly altered the nation’s path forward, but the event and the reasons why it happened are little remembered by most Americans.
When Washington Burned narrates and examines the British campaign and American missteps that led to the fall of Washington during the War of 1812. Watson analyzes the actions of key figures on both sides, such as President James Madison and General William Winder on the US side and Rear Admiral George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross on the British side. He pinpoints the reasons the campaign was such a disaster for the United States but also tells the redeeming stories of the courageous young clerks and the bold first lady, Dolley Madison, who risked their lives to save priceless artifacts and documents from the flames, including the Constitution. The British invasion was repulsed over the coming weeks and months, and the United States ultimately emerged stronger.
General readers interested in the history of Washington, US history, and military history will be fascinated by this book.
List of Illustrations
Prologue: The Sacking of York
PART 1: CHESAPEAKE CAMPAIGN
1. “The Silliest Damned War”
2. A Fateful Decision
4. The March to Washington
5. Saving History
6. National Treasures
PART II: DESTRUCTION IN WASHINGTON
7. The Bladensburg Races
8. Saving the Army
9. Put to the Torch
10. “Queen Dolley”
11. “C” is for Cockburn
12. The “Finger” of George Washington
PART III: FUTURE OF THE CAPITAL
13. Destruction and Despair
14. “The Robbing of Alexandria”
15. Another Invasion
16. “O Say, Can You See”
18. The Debate
PART IV: REBIRTH OF A NATION
19. The Vote
21. “Peace! Peace!”
22. Rebuilding the Capital City
Appendix A: Extract of Dolley Madison’s Letter to Her Sister, August 23, 1814
Appendix B: Account of the Burning of Washington by Capt. Harry Smith, Adjutant to Maj. Gen Robert Ross
Appendix C: Account of the Burning of Washington by Lt. James Scott, Adjutant to Adm. George Cockburn
Appendix D: Extract of Account from Stephen Pleasonton of Saving National Treasures
About the Author
"An exceptionally vivid account of the siege on our nation’s capital during the War of 1812. The oft-forgotten heroics, vulnerabilities, and at times, flawed decision-making that occurred during that fateful time are brought to life. Watson explains how the nation reaffirmed its national purpose, rebuilt the capital, and reconstructed the American identity."—Richard M. Yon, Ph.D., associate professor of Political Science, United States Military Academy, director of Terrorism Studies, Combating Terrorism Center
"A lively and very readable account of the most important episode in the War of 1812—the British burning of Washington, DC. Watson’s narrative of this momentous and embarrassing event is one of the fullest and most colorful that we have ever had."—Gordon S. Wood, author of Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution
"Robert Watson has revealed the little-known roles played by a largely anonymous army of government clerks who rescued key documents and historical treasures from going up in flames. Watson clearly demonstrated how, like the mythical Phoenix, Washington DC too arose from the ashes—a closer-run thing than many have supposed. A must-read for all students of the War of 1812."—Charles P. Neimeyer, professor, Naval War College, Fleet Support Program
Robert P. Watson is Distinguished Professor of American History at Lynn University and the author or editor of more than forty books, including George Washington’s Final Battle: The Epic Struggle to Build a Capital City and a Nation (Georgetown University Press, 2021).
312 pp., 6 x 9
11 b&w illus.
312 pp., 6 x 9
11 b&w illus.
11 b&w illus.