The Battle of Washington D.C.

By 1814 the defenders of Canada had repelled five separate American invasions, but they were running low on reenforcements and supplies to withstand the American assaults.

In Quebec City, the British Governor General of Canada Sir George Prevost believed that he could not hold out much longer without more help from Great Britain, he wrote desperate appeals to London to send him men and supplies.

In the summer of 1814 Sir George Prevost got his wish. Napoleon had been defeated in Europe freeing up tens of thousands of British troops to fight in North America, most of the British forces were shipped over to Quebec City and Montreal and put at the disposal of Governor General Prevost.

Prevost had a reputation of being a hesitant commander but now he had enough troops to go on the offensive.

Governor General Prevost devised plans for his first full scale invasion of the United States. He would personally lead the main invasion force south from Montreal down the Richelieu River and into Lake Champlain, if he could destroy the American naval facilities there he would turn his attention to control of the great lakes and the Michigan territory which the British had promised to the Indian people as a future country.

The key to controling the lakes was the American naval base at Sackets Harbour, and that is where President James Madison felt most vulnerable.

While the United States government was concentrating on the defences hundereds of miles away on it's northern border it neglected matters closer to home.

In the late summer of 1814 a British fleet was sent into Chesapeake Bay to make a deversionary attack against Washington and Baltimore.

When the lead British ships appeared in Chesapeake Bay in August 1814 the Americans had no idea where they were headed or what their intentions were. The British sailed up the Patuxent River and moved ashore a force of nearly five thousand crack troops fresh from the battle fields of Europe.

In the American capitol there was a curious lack of alarm when word arrived that the British invasion force had come ashore. At the new Congress building there was no serious worry that the capitol of the United States might be attacked. At the White house or President's Palace there was little concern, the leaders of the United States had been assured by the Secretary of War that there was no danger.

John Armstrong assured the president that the British might attack Baltimore but the young capitol was in no danger.

Mr. Madison rode to the front to watch the up coming battle, he sent a note to his wife:

"My dearest I have passed among the troops who are in high spirits and make a good appearance. The reports as to the enemy has varied from hour to hour, the last and probally best information is that they are not very strong and are without cavarly and artillery and of coarse they are not in a condition to strike at Washington."

Dolly Madison the presidents wife was now hearing differently. Mrs. Madison knew what was a foot better than her husband the British moved relentlessly on Washington knowing the effect it would have on the people of the United States to have their nations capitol attacked.

The British soon got word that the only troops standing between them and Washington were militia units. The main British force moved into a Washington suburb and after a brief battle the militia units broke and ran, in the words of one American observer:

"They ran like sheep being chased by dogs".

Several hunderd U.S. sailors came ashore to fight but they could not stop the British advance for very long.

The military problems of Mr. Madison and his cabinet faced on the Canadian frontier were now being repeated at the door of the nations capitol.

Once the battle had commenced Mr. Madison and the Secretaries of War and State decided it would be better to withdraw to a position in the rear.

Ahead of the President word shot back to Washington that all was not well. The British invasion force was now clearly in on the capitol, the presidents wife Dolly Madison dashes of a note to her sister:

"Will you believe it my sister, we have a battle or skirmish near the city. I am still within sounds of the cannons, Mr. Madison comes not. May God protect us. Two messengers come in and asked me to leave the capitol, I must stay here and wait for my husband."

While Mrs. Madison showed great courage at the White House . Mr. madison was tracking down the Secretary of War to find out what steps were in the works to meet the final British assault, he was shocked and disheartened to find out there was no plan.

The 25th of August 1814, the British approached the heart of Washington, march down Constitution Avenue bearing a flag of truce and demand a surrender. Suddenly from a house window the flag of truce is fired apon.

The British troops rushed into the house where the shots had been fired from, and put all who were found in the house to the sword and then reduced the house to ashes. They went onto burn and destroy every building connected to the government.

While Washington burned, the president and his cabinet became fugitives fleeing westward deep into the hills of Virginia. At the White House Mrs. Madison was persuaded to leave also, and soon after the British troops arrived.

When these British soldiers who had been sent to destroy the President's house entered they found a dinner that had been made for about forty people. They ate every bit of food and drank every bottle of wine, then started to destroy the White House.

Washington D.C. the capitol of the United States was a city on fire, what had started two years earlier as the invasion and conquest of Canada had now turned into a defensive war.