Monday, August 24, 2015


24 August 2015: During the "northern campaign" in the War of 1812, American troops under Zebulon Pike and sailors under Isaac Chauncey attacked and burned the Canadian capital at York. York, by the way, is now called Toronto. That was 27 April 1813. The Brits were anything but happy about it, possibly more because they got beat by those damn upstarts, but likely in equal measure, because the capital city was put to the torch. The anger festered and boiled until August 1814 when they extracted their retribution.

Royal Navy ships under Admiral Alexander Cochrane, involved with ravishing the Chesapeake Bay area (for the second time) sailed up the Patuxent River to Marlboro MD and then, in true British style, "quick marched" toward Washington DC. Each Royal Marine and sailor carried, in addition to their own weapons and packs, a twelve pound cannonball for the artillery they also dragged. While Adm. Cochrane remained on his flagship, his second in command, Admiral George Cockburn (pronounced "co-burn" - it's Scottish) and his Army counterpart, Gen'l Robert Ross, led their combined force through the blistering August heat. As a matter of interest, they lost more men from heat prostration than from enemy action! And action they had at Bladensburg, where they had to cross a bridge in order to carry on to the nation's capital.

With the knowledge that the British forces would be coming that way, militia and regular federal troops were arrayed in the hills and trees on the Washington side of the river. Included in the American force were Commodore Joshua Barney's men -sailors and US Marines - from his gunboat fleet. He had scuttled his ships on the orders of the Defense Secretary to help with the upcoming fight. At the end of the day, after the militia and regular federal troops ran away in the face of British fire, Barney's Marines were the only ones left to defend the bridge. The newspapers of the time referred to the American disaster as the "Bladensburg Races."

Unfortunately, their teamsters driving the wagons with the shot and powder also ran away and the commodore got himself wounded. He told his men to head for Washington to see if they could be of help there. And the British, after four attempts, got across the bridge on continued on, unhindered, to the capital.

Commodore Barney is wounded, and captured by Gen'l Ross (in red)
The enemy arrived in Washington City about dusk and began their work, burning and looting. They were instructed to burn only government buildings and, in fact, only one civilian property was destroyed: the offices and press of the National Intelligencer newspaper. And because some local ladies pleaded with Cockburn not to burn it as they feared the fire would spread to their homes, he had it dismantled, brick by brick! The admiral was annoyed that the paper had written uncomplimentary articles about him! Fair's fair; the Americans had burned only the government buildings in York the year before.

Adm Cockburn in front of burning Washington
The Capitol and the President's Mansion (now called the White House) suffered mightily, and the Washington Navy Yard was burned by the Americans to preclude it and the ships there from falling into the enemy's hands. All because Americans burned York the year before! While the British, realizing they could not hold the territory, finished up their work and headed back to their ships a day or so later. (We'll have more on that soon.)

The President's Mansion aflame


As a matter of interest, it was the only time our capital has been occupied by an enemy force since the American Revolution!
So, on that note, until next time, I wish you all
                                Fair Winds,
                                   Old Salt

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