- Historical event:
- 24 August 1814
- In August 1814 a British army landed near Washington and defeated the numerically superior but inexperienced American garrison. The victorious British troops then burned down the Capitol Building and the House of Representatives. These events took place during the War of 1812, sometimes called the “Second War of Independence”.
One of the greatest catastrophes in the history of the USA took place on this day.
Their capital at Washington, including the White House and the Senate Building, was burned to the ground. These events are not widely known these days, perhaps because the Americans are still reluctant to speak of them.
Washington was burned down by the British during the War of 1812. This conflict is not widely known, and the Americans sometimes call it the “Second War of Independence”.
The causes of the war were quite complex. One of them were the American territorial pretensions towards Canada (then a British colony). Britain was at the time also waging a war against Napoleon in Europe.
Only once it had defeated Napoleon in 1814 could it bring its full strength against the Americans. In August 1814 a British army landed near Washington and defeated the numerically superior but inexperienced American garrison.
The invasion fleet was commanded by Admiral Sir George Cockburn, a distant ancestor of actress Olivia Wilde, a British aristocrat whose real surname is Cockburn.
After they defeated the Americans, the British continued moving towards Washington and burned it to the ground.
The British commanders were allegedly true gentlemen and ordered their soldiers to exclusively target public buildings, and to spare private houses. It seems these orders were indeed obeyed – the local civilians and their property were left mostly intact.
The British burned down the Capitol Building and the House of Representatives (the famous white-domed Capitol Building was built only later, in 1866).
The British then withdrew, and the war ended without any major changes on either side. The British kept control of Canada, while the Americans rebuilt the White House and the rest of Washington.