Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

Subscribe to Email Updates

Tag: war of 1812

The burning of Washington

August 24, 2014, marks the 200th anniversary of the British burning of Washington during the War of 1812.

James Monroe. Copy of painting by Gilbert Stuart. (National Archives Identifier 532933)

James Monroe. Copy of painting by Gilbert Stuart.
(National Archives Identifier 532933)

In August 1814, British forces occupying the Chesapeake Bay began to sail up the Patuxent River in Maryland. Fearing an attack on the capital, Secretary of State James Monroe offered to scout the British position and report back to President James Madison. Monroe, accompanied by cavalry, left Washington and rode into southern Maryland.

On August 19 and 20, the British landed troops at the port town of Benedict, Maryland, and started advancing north. By August 22, it became clear to Monroe that the British intended to invade Washington. He quickly dispatched a messenger with a note to Madison, saying: “The enemy are advanced six miles on the road to the Woodyard, and our troops retiring. Our troops were on the march to meet them, but in too small a body to engage. . . . The enemy are in full march for Washington. Have the materials prepared to destroy the bridges.”

Letter from James Monroe to President James Madison, August 22, 1814. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

Letter from James Monroe to President James Madison, August 22, 1814. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

In the postscript, Monroe added: “You had better remove the records.”

Before Congress created the National Archives, it required each executive department to keep … [ Read all ]

“A Signal Victory”: The Battle of Lake Erie

Our new Featured Document–Oliver Perry’s letter to the Secretary of the Navy–will be on display from September 10 to 19, 2014, at the National Archives in Washington, DCToday’s blog post was written by former student employee Meghan O’Connor.

Early in the War of 1812, the Americans lost control of Detroit and Lake Erie to the British and their Native American allies. The U.S. Navy sent 28-year-old Oliver Hazard Perry to Lake Erie to build a squadron and retake that important waterway.

On September 10, 1813, the Americans defeated the British on Lake Erie. Commodore Perry declared the naval battle “a signal victory.” In a war marked by early failures, this victory secured Ohio and the territories of Michigan and Indiana. It also provided a needed boost in national morale and marked a rare surrender of a complete Royal Navy squadron.

Letter from Commodore Oliver Perry to Hon. Wm. Jones, Secy. of Navy, September 10, 1813(National Archives)

Oliver Perry’s letter to Secretary of the Navy, September 10, 1813 (National Archives)

Letter from Commodore Oliver Perry to Hon. Wm. Jones, Secy. of Navy, September 10, 1813

With a crew that Perry once described as “a motley set, blacks, soldiers and boys,” the Americans met Britain’s powerful Royal Navy on Lake Erie. A flag flew above Perry’s ship, the Lawrence, emblazoned with the words “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” This battle cry was the dying command, in an earlier battle, of Perry’s friend … [ Read all ]

Tornado saves capital, scares British

The Taking of the City of Washington by the British Forces Under Major General Ross on August 24, 1814... the public property destroyed amounted to thirty Million of Dollars. (148-GW-478)

"The Taking of the City of Washington by the British Forces Under Major General Ross on August 24, 1814... the public property destroyed amounted to thirty Million of Dollars." (148-GW-478)

One hundred and ninety-six years ago today, the British sacked the District of Columbia. They were, in turn, sacked by a tornado.

In 1814, the British wanted revenge. U.S. troops had burned the legislative building,  government structures, and private warehouses in the Battle of York (modern-day Toronto), and the Brits were inclined to teach their former colonies a lesson in how to properly sack a city.

Their charge on the American capital city was led by British Maj. Gen. Robert Ross and Adm. George Cockburn, who burned the Capitol, the White House, the Treasury Department, and plenty of other government buildings without losing a single soldier.

Cockburn was, well, a cocky fellow. Aside from burning much of the District, he did it with an unapologetic gusto. He supped on the dinner that had been prepared for President James Madison before burning down the White House.

While marching back through the city, he also made a stop at the National Intelligencer, where the editor had been “telling some tough stories” about him, and later had all the c’s removed from the press so the editor could no longer spell his name. As a testament to Cockburn’s ego, when he … [ Read all ]