Today we are back to the bicentennial we are in the midst of celebrating about America's “second war,” the War of 1812. But getting the information wasn't easy.
Today we are back to the bicentennial we are in the midst of celebrating about America's "second war," the War of 1812. But getting the information wasn't easy.
The sometimes reliable calendar from the National Museum of the United States Army had as the entry for Aug. 24, 1814: "Battle of Bladensburg; British capture and burn Washington, DC."
That was a pretty big event in the young Republic's early life, but when I checked the almost always reliable VFW calendar, there was no entry for Aug. 24. Say what?
So I went to the off and on again in reliability source, the Army's official history book, American Military History. The only date in August 1814 mentioned is Aug. 19, when a force of some 4,000 British troops under Maj. Gen. Robert Ross, landed on the Patuxent River and marched on Washington.
All else said is that "Ross easily dispersed 5,000 militia, naval gunners, and Regulars hastily gathered to defend the Capital. The British then entered Washington, burned the Capitol, the White House, and other public buildings, and returned to their ships."
The Army Almanac confirmed the event, listing the Bladensburg Campaign, Aug. 17-29, and the burnings.
But I had to go to the Chronicle of America, a 956-page tome filled with superb facts that was given to me many years ago by a reader who said she enjoyed my columns and thought this monster book might be of assistance. Over the years, it has been.
This book goes into great detail about the battle and the role of the First Lady, Dolley Madison, who escaped the White House just before the British arrived. She took the original copy of the Declaration of Independence and Gilbert Stuart's painting of George Washington with her to safety. They remain safe to this day.
Ross' British troops were veterans of fighting against Napoleon's troops in France, but he pushed them so hard on the forced march that more than 60 of the hardy veterans died from exhaustion or sunstroke.
And although I'd not seen Ross' quote before as a famous military quote, I'd put it in a book of such quotes. When some American militiamen attempted to halt the British column, Ross said to his men, "Even if it rains militia, we go on." No wonder 60 died during the march.
The article, in the form of a news release from an unnamed newspaper, said "This town is a ghost theater tonight: the House of Representatives, the President's House, the Library of Congress, and other landmarks of the young republic are a charred backdrop."
In August 1814 Washington was a town of just 8,000 people, half of them freed slaves. British commanders felt that its destruction would cripple the spirit of the young nation. It wasn't the first, nor will it be the last, time enemies misjudged the will of the American people. That last sentence is my opinion, and not from the source.
Fast forward 100 years and we are at the time of The Guns of August, a description of WW I's beginning from a famous book by that title. War is about to rage again in Europe, with old foes France and England on the same side, trying as hard as possible to convince the United States to enter The Great War. We eventually did, and next year will celebrate the centennial of its beginning.