The United States was underway in the War of 1812, which some may call, “the second war of independence.” It was August 24th, 1814 – right in the thick of one of the most stifling summers in DC’s recorded history, the British marched on Washington in a childish step of retaliation for the United States’ burning of Yorktown, (now Quebec), and burnt our nation’s newly established capital of DC to the ground. (Ambrose) In response to the United States’ burning of (now-day) Quebec, the British marched on the United States’ capital of Washington DC and burnt government buildings to the ground. The British Government did this to keep the U.S. from sending all of her troops to the Canadian border, the British decided to strike at other points. (Morris) They moved to Washington DC, landing without encountering any major resistance. But there was some resistance. A group of valiant U.S. troop attempted to stop them, but they were outnumbered ten-to-one, and stood no chance of repelling the British. (Morris) They valiantly held their ground for a half-hour, but the British marched on. The British dined in the White House before they burned it.
A British man said of the White House’s dinner arrangments, “…When the detachment sent out to destroy Mr. Madison’s house entered his dining parlor, they found a dinner table spread and covers laid for forty guests… everything was ready for the entertainment of a ceremonious party,” George Gleig, who was part of the detachment that destroyed the White House, said, “You will readily imagine that these preparations were beheld by a party of hungry soldiers with no indifferent eye. An elegant dinner, even though considerably overdressed, was a luxury to which a few of them, at least for some time back, has been accustomed, and which, after the dangers and fatigues of the day, appeared peculiarly inviting. They sat down to it, therefore, not indeed in the most orderly manner…” Everything was on fire. British soldiers provided eyewitness accounts. Several soldiers said that, “the sky was brilliantly illuminated.” An unnamed British soldier said of the condition of several buildings, “… of the Senate House, the President’s palace, the barracks, the dockyard, etc., nothing could be seen except heaps of smoking ruins.” Madison’s wife, Dolley, saved something that she thought was of great importance, and value: a full length portrait of George Washington. She chose to abandon the couple’s personal items in favor of the full-length portrait. (History) Two unidentified gentalmen from New York were ordered to break the frame and roll up the canvas. In her diary, Dolley wrote of the trouble involved in saving the painting.
Unbeknowst to the First Lady at the time, the painting was a copy of the original by Gilbert Stuart. One day after the incident, a tornado bore down on Washington DC. Casualties were inflicted. Several British troops were killed. An unknown number of Americans were killed as a result of the tornado. At the end of the war, casualties totaled over 10,000 people on each side. The total people killed when the British attacked that White House was about a dozen. This is a relatively small amount of people, but the event should never be forgoten. Even though this was one of the lesser-known wars, the image of the burning White House will forever burn into the fabric of American History.