On this day in 1814, a British force under Major General Robert Ross, burnt down the White House, as well as a number of other important buildings including the Capitol, in what would become known as 'The Burning of Washington'. Throughout the history of the United States, the United Kingdom is the only country to have ever captured Washington, D.C. and indeed the only time since the American Revolutionary War a foreign power has captured and occupied the United States capital.
The event was part of the War of 1812, which had broken out following rising tensions between the two nations, at least in part caused by a naval blockade imposed by Britain to choke off the USA’s trade with Napoleonic France, who Britain were at war with. Historians in Britain often see it as a minor theatre of the Napoleonic Wars; in the United States and Canada, it is seen as a war in its own right. Neither country was particularly well prepared for a fight on the American continent and the war rumbled on inconclusively until 1815.
The Burning of Washington occurred following the British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg earlier in the day. President James Madison, military officials, and his government, who had mostly been present at the battle, had already fled the city. The American army had been completely routed and the British army was able to enter Washington D.C. unopposed.
Less than a day after the attack began, a sudden, very heavy thunderstorm put out the fires. It also spun off a tornado that passed through the centre of the capital, setting down on Constitution Avenue and lifting two cannons before dropping them several yards away, killing British troops and American civilians alike. Following the storm, the British returned to their ships, many of which were badly damaged. The occupation of Washington lasted only about 26 hours. After the "Storm that saved Washington", as it soon came to be called, the Americans returned to the city.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on interesting events and people in British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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