24 AUGUST 1814: British Marines and sailors march overland from Benedict MD toward Washington City under the joint command of Gen’l Robert Ross and Admiral Cockburn (pronounced “Co-burn”). American militia and Joshua Barney’s U.S. Marines await them at the bridge at Bladensburg, ordered to stop them before they can get to the capital. After several British charges across the bridge at Bladensburg, they break through, causing the militia to flee, but Barney’s sailors and Marines hold until Barney is wounded and dismisses them to try to get to Washington City and help with its defense. It did nothelp that the teamsters, whose wagons carried the ammunition for the American cannon and muskets, also abandoned the field, leaving the defenders in a bad way. The contemporary press labeled the event the “Bladensburg Races” in recognition of the militia’s running away in the face of the British regulars. Interestingly, when Commodore Barney was ultimately captured by Gen’l Ross, he was told the British were about ready to surrender, having lost so many men in their many attacks against the well defended bridge, when the militia ran!
The British marched on to Washington City, arriving just before dark, where they found it abandoned by almost all the citizens and all the politicians. Dolley Madison, of course, (wife of Pres. James Madison) is credited with saving many important documents as well as the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington held in the President’s Mansion (As the White House was then called). Adm. Cockburn dined in the empty Mansion at the president’s table with this officers while his troops began setting fire to the public buildings around the city, including the Capitol building, the library of Congress, the Treasury building, and later, the President’s Mansion.
It is worth noting that no private property, with but one exception, was damaged. The exception was the offices of the National Intelligencer, a newspaper which never missed an opportunity to rail against the invaders! And, to avoid it falling into enemy hands, the Americans burned the Washington Navy Yard themselves!
“Not all who wander are lost!” J.R.R. Tolkein
Fair Winds! Old Salt