British Burn Washington
The 24th of August 1814 AD
From 1812 until 1815 Britain was at war with the United States of America. The conflict had numerous causes, from rather petty matters such as the return of alleged Royal Navy deserters, to major strategic questions of control of land to the west of the US and British Canadian controlled territories - the British allied with Native American tribes to try and halt American expansion.
The fighting was sporadic and on a far smaller scale than the contemporaneous campaigns against Napoleon’s France, but once the latter had been settled (temporarily) with Bonaparte’s abdication and brief exile to Elba the British focused on actions across the Atlantic. In April 1813 Toronto (then known as York) was attacked by the Americans, who went beyond the rules of war in looting and burning private homes as well as official buildings. Partly to avenge that act, and also to deliver a crushing blow to the psyche of the still new American nation, a glorified raiding party of roughly 4000 men led by General Robert Ross hit Washington on August 24 1814.
America’s forces, her government, and President Madison all fled, the latter leaving the White House with a banquet for 40 laid and ready, a feast enjoyed by British troops before they burned the place down. Other state facilities were treated similarly: the Senate; naval dockyards and various military establishments. In spite of some provocation – Ross was fired on when under flag of truce – the British were disciplined, leaving private homes untouched. Their message conveyed, the British retreated having killed only the partisans who fired on the truce party.
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