tv Burning of Washington CSPAN August 23, 2014 9:01pm-10:21pm EDT
the governments of jefferson and madison were reluctant to have a big, standing army, and relied on the militia. you can see directly what happened at bladensburg. the militia, for the most part, ran, except for the u.s. marines and the navy flotilla, and this shows you why you need a standing army. i would say that this is what now makes the united states probably the primary military nation in the world, because of the strength of the military. >> that is a good point to end on for the americans. can we give the panel a round of applause? [applause] thank you for being in bladensburg and prince george's county, but don't forget to buy the book and continue the
conversation. thank you very much. [applause] [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] >> you are watching american history tv, 40 eight hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter for information about our schedule, upcoming programs, and to keep
up with the latest history news. 200 years ago on august 20 4, 1814, british soldiers routed american troops at the battle of bladensburg festival said washington. openictory left the y it to british forces who marched into the city and burned the white house and capitol building. learn more about the burning of washington during the war of 1812 from author and historian anthony pitch at an event hosted by the smithsonian associates. it is about one hour and 15 minutes. >> we are coming up on the 200th anniversary. we wanted to commemorate this anniversary despite the fact it is a less than glorious moment in our nation's history. when we thought about who best
to come to speak to us, the unanimous choice was anthony pitch. for those who have been smithsonian associates members, he is no stranger to you. he has been giving lectures ,bout the lincoln assassination restauranteurs, and lectures and tours on this topic based on his book aptly named "the burning of washington." you'll also notice this evening there are c-span cameras around. they are here broadcasting. those watching will also be no stranger to anthony pitch. many of his programs have been taped for broadcast by them before. we are very lucky to have him tonight. ladies and gentlemen, mr. anthony pitch. [applause] >> thank you very much for
coming. it is raining outside, so i am very glad to see a lot of people out tonight. i want to tell you a few years ago i escorted somebody into the white house. ross, theas major ed same name the general robert ross who burned the white house. he was a descendent. one can see the scorch marks i told him were there. they are under the front door. there is a big stone archway where you can see massive scorch marks from the fires set by the british in 1814. the pastry chef who has his offices close by could not stop giggling. he thought here is a man who has come to finish the job. [laughter] write stories that are
epic, true, and said. youle ask me, why don't write something funny? i really like to write epic stories. vietnam is one. then i wrote "the burning of washington," which is certainly a roller coaster of a story. the cities in flames. the national anthem hums out of it. you have andrew jackson's retreat all in the same campaign. when my book was reviewed by "the times literary supplement in england, the reviewer described as what happened as "this amusing little incident." he was parading his ignorance because he did not realize the british suffered the greatest defeat in the long annals of their valiant -- the valiant history of poetry conflict at
the hands of americans. had that happen before the peace treaty was signed, i think we might [indiscernible] today. winston churchill described this as not a war of independence. he denied it was a war of independence. who am i to argue with that great man? but fortunately, he is not with us today so i can challenge him. if your ships are bordered on the high seas by an enemy and forcibly haul sailors and you don't do anything, you are surrendering your sovereignty. it is an affront to the dignity and sovereignty of the nation. that is why i call it without question a war of independence. now let me tell you what washington was like in 1814. embryoa village, a mere
of what it aspired to be. there were only 8000 residents. 1/6 were slaves. the attorney general described it as a meager village with a few bad houses and extensive swamps. a british diplomat lamented in his posting what he called this simple chris -- sepulcrous hole. one road home to his mother luckily for me i have been in turkey and am quite at home in this primal simplicity of manners. that was the best quote i got. to tally they want with the small village that had no strategic value? they wanted to humiliate and demoralize the americans. if they could seize the capital during wartime, it might lead as a bonus to them to the breakup of the united states.
the british commander of forces in north america and wanted to give the americans a complete drubbing. this was in part payback for american excesses in canada where they burned and plummeted -- plundered some of the public and private links, most recently in york, now called toronto, and the villages on the niagara. the countries had been at war for years because britain and france had been at war for years, each time targeting the other's trade with neutral america. thousands of british troops deserted to the americans for better pay and conditions. many of them took out citizenship. in six years leading up to 1810, off abouth hauled 5000 british sailors from american ships.
1500 were later found to have been born in america. for years, americans have tolerated this. 1811, the new breed was elected to congress. men like henry clay of kentucky who had been born after the declaration of independence. what was tolerable for the older generation was insufferable for the new generation, the younger generation. war for them was the only answer. the man who led the crusade against war was from virginia, representative john randall from roanoke. he argued, how can you take up arms against people who share the same line which, blood, religion, habeas corpus, representative government, and even [indiscernible] ? calhoun was not going to have any of this. he did not share any of randolph's emotional attachment
to the former colony. he replied great indeed must be the reason for going to war if so much bound us together in the past. in the summer of 1812, a bitterly divided congress declared war on britain. for two years, it was a distant rumble on the canadian frontier. if you lived in washington and did not read the newspaper, you might not have known was a war going on. but in 1814, napoleon fell. anxious american diplomats in europe warned james madison's government to free up thousands of additional troops for the war against america. but the capital remained undefended. war, johnary of armstrong, was one of those characters that history throws up time and time again, people that believe their judgment is
best for everybody else, even when reality to the contrary stares them in the face. he was one of those. he was a former minister to france, a major general. it was said of him that nature and habits for bid him to speak well of any man. [laughter] he was that kind of person. cocksure, stubborn, self-assured. british fleet of warships came up the chesapeake bay in the summer of 1814, the frantic head of the d.c. militia went to see armstrong. but the secretary of war dismissed him. he said they would not come with such a fleet without meaning to strike somewhere, but they will certainly not come near here. what the devil would they do here? baltimore is the place. so you see, this is a lesson to be learned from the war of 1812, the attack on washington.
put intelligence in the hands of one man or a small group of people, you're asking for trouble because it does not have the analysis the greater inspection would have a greater number of people. that is the lesson to be learned. i don't think it has been learned. but that is the greatest lesson. armstrong was the most reviled man in the country afterwards. he quit his job when people tour off their epaulets and refused to serve under him. graffitismissed with on the ruined capital describing him as a coward. he was the wrong person in the right job at the wrong place. that was armstrong. major general in those words. he was not the kind of person who could see they were going to washington,more --
even though their own president they would attack baltimore, photo view, or washington. the british sailed up and disembarked 5000 troops at benedict on the 19th of august, 1814. the path to the capital was clear. the capital was like tethered pray. as the bridge began their march inland, fear in washington turned to terror. terror gave way to pandemonium. it was the hottest summer in memory. it had not rained in three weeks. the dusty roads were clogged with expert refugees with carts and wagons. washingtonians fled to the surrounding woods of maryland and virginia preferring paradoxically the security of the wild to the insecurity of
their own homes. that is what it was like. i dislike books that give a dry recitation of facts. that is not how it happened. these were real people with emotions reacting to different circumstances. ,his is what i tried to portray what happened to the people involved rather than a dry list of statistics. many of the government agencies remained stark because most of the clerks were over 45 and exempt from call up to the militia. but in the basement of the house of representatives, nearly all the offices were empty because most of the clerks were young people. frost, a newcomer, remained at his desk. he was over 45. in this moment of unparalleled crisis, a man a scant experience
and weak authority is now burdened with the need to make rapid decisions of national importance. he was sorely in need of the guiding hand of the clerk of the house, but he had been ill for months. he had finally taken his doctor's advice to leave town at this moment to help restore his health at mineral spas. that is how history operates around one man. nobody was around to advise poor to save the or when papers of the house from inuoye vandals -- enemy vandals. i use this word "enemy vandals" with care. it is denigrating the british, but there is no other word that would fit what they did later. hise was a colleague of called samuel birch. he tried hard to reason with his superiors. he too had been marched out of
the city to meet the enemy. he was stood down three days before the british hoisted the union jack on capitol hill. looking for transfer the following day, it was too late. most of the wagons have been grabbed by the military and were piled high with the goods of civilians in flight. in desperation, he ordered three messengers to scour the countryside for transport. they came back with one cart and four oxon taken from a man who lived six miles out-of-town. they drove nine miles into the countryside with a deposited him in safety. they returned to the capital to join the general exodus before the british arrived on sunset, wednesday, august 24, 1814. frost was frustrated beyond measure. both knew they could have saved
andthe papers of the house content of the library of congress if only they have been able to seize more transport. the library congress in those days faced the western edge of the wall of the mall. the western edge of the capital. it was a large room about 86 feet long with timbered ceilings, so it went up like a tinderbox. all 3000 books were destroyed. ironically, many were printed in britain and some of their work on british parliamentary of them weresome on british parliamentary procedure. you know about thomas jefferson offering his private library as the nucleus of a new library of congress. books. he said it would take about two weeks for the wagons to arrive in washington. they had a fire in the middle of
the 19th century. you can see what remains of them in bookcases at the library of congress. it is incredible. this renaissance man, every subject you can think of is there. archaeology, history, art, farming. it is all there in different languages. that was thomas jefferson. two days before the british ordered the commandant his navy clerk to get hold of transport to take 124 barrels of gunpowder out of the navy yard to the safety of virginia. georgetown where he saw a wagon outside a store. he told the owners he was impounding it for the department of the navy. this is wartime. some citizens who might normally have buckled under to bureaucratic pressure bristled when the power possessors,
chasing off the officials with abuse and profanities. this is what happened. in a chronicle written two weeks after the departure of the british, he described what happened next. it has my fingerprints all over it at the national archives. i dismounted and followed them into the store with a made use of such lane which agreed into gentlemen. he did not have backup power. he did not get his wagon. booth was one of the last to flee the city before the british arrived. before he did so, he decided to check at the white house to see if anybody was there and get reliable information. when he rode up, he saw an american colonel on horseback near the front door. walkedonel dismounted, over to the locked front door of the white house, pulled on the bell rope, and bank on the door shouting out the name of the chief of staff.
all was silent as a church. them -- only then did this poor navy clerk realized the metropolis of our country was abandoned to its cord fate -- horrid fate. you can almost hear his howl. he represented america at that moment. from james monroe who was on horseback spying on the british advance east of washington. he ordered his staff to secure the precious national documents into part until -- departmental records. clerks, stephen onton, remember that name. this is one of the bravest man i will talk about tonight. , he described himself as chiefly instrumental in this, very gently put the
originals of the declaration of independence, the constitution, international treaties, and george washington's correspondence into bags he had made up into book bags. they were linen. while this was being done, the secretary of war passed by. armstrong rebuked him for being alarmist and thinking the british were on their way to washington. ton was not intimidated. that is amazing. he stood up to the secretary of war and said, it is more prudent to try and protect the documents of the revolutionary government. carts,ed them onto crossed the potomac river, and drove two miles upstream to georgetown where he put them in an abandoned mill. he immediately had second thoughts. he was opposite the largest
manufacturer of munitions and sure to be targeted by the british. a spy could easily lead the enemy to the nearby hiding place. virginia,rther into got wagons, came back, loaded westup, and drove 35 miles to leesburg, virginia. put them in an empty house, locked the door, and gave the key to the collector of internal revenue. then he checked into a hotel. that night, the residents of leesburg went into the streets and they could see the fiery glow over the abandoned city of washington. pleasonton was not amongst them. he was too tired and fast asleep. i know this happened because 39 years later, excuse me. i have a slight sinus problem. already nine years later, pleasonton thought he was going to lose his job because he did
not know anybody in the incoming administration. in those days, you had to know people. he wrote a letter to his imminent friend james buchanan who became president just before lincoln and outlined everything memorablee on that 24th of august, 1814. have beencould rewarded by thousands of pounds sterling by the british if i had given them the documents, and i did not. is in buchanan's papers in the library of congress. by thelways upset condition of the president's grave. i had been to the cemetery behind the capital. it was at an angle. you could not read his name will. i held a fund-raising walk to restore the tombstone. we walked from the capitol to the white house.
as we passed the national archives, i was telling stories all the time from the war of 1812. i said if it were not for stephen pleasonton, you probably would not be able to see those documents in the national archives today. of course, i raise the money. we got an expert to restore the tombstone. it is up right now. the man has got credit that is so long overdue. i want to tell you about a woman who was equally as brave and disregarded the safety of her own life. her name is dolly madison. she is without doubt the most beloved first lady ever to live in the white house. jackie kennedy was admired, but dolly was beloved. people said when she wore her jewelry, it was outshone by her personality. she was a marvelous woman. look at how she risked her life
or captivity to save a painting. none of us would do that. i certainly would not. but she did. paid not surprising people .alls to her until her death new year's day in particular, people used to pay courtesy calls on her from the president downwards. full-lengthrt's portrait of george washington held in the west wall of the large dining room. it had been acquired by the federal government for the white house at a cost of $800. at that moment, two new yorkers, friends of hers came into the white house and asked if they could do anything to help. according to an historian who interviewed them later, she said save that picture.
under no circumstances allow it to fall into the hands of the british. slave wasaw her taking too long to unscrew the giant frame from a long, she told him to break the wood and take out the linen canvas. fortunately at that moment, french john came in. now becomes murky. did french john tell jennings to dolley's approval cut the fabric from the frame? 95 inches long and 35 inches wide. tell the slave to break it from the wood and take it out? we don't know for sure. did not findors any cut marks on the canvas, so we are not quite sure. it is a bit murky. they gave it to barker, one of the new yorkers who started to
roll it up until he was stopped by the frenchman for fear the pain would crack. he put a flat in the wagon and drove through georgetown into the countryside and left it with a farmer he lodged with overnight. a few weeks later, they returned it to dolley. today it hangs in the east room of the white house. when the president is giving a press conference or awarding medals of honor, you will see it behind his shoulders. i wasy book came out, invited to lunch at the white house. they took me to a room that is off-limits. we passed through the map room, so-called because there is a map of europe over the mantelpiece. symbols the swastika advanceplot the nazis' through world war ii.
there is a medicine chest nearby. it has holes for vials of medicine. you can pull out the drawers. in 1939, a canadian wrote to president roosevelt. his name was archibald kanes. was themy grandfather paymaster aboard the british warship devastation which came up the potomac river at that time and laid siege to and oversaw the rating of the warehouses of the cultural produce. i checked it out. thomas kanes was the paymaster of the devastation. but none of the crew set foot in washington. so either he exchanged booty with another briton or archibald kanes, the canadian, is mistaken, as is the white house.
we then went to see the portrait of george washington. about 20 away the rope -- that keeps people about 20 feet away. for the first time, i saw the artist's amazing mistake. in the painting, george washington is facing you. there is a table next to his right leg. under the table are books. the title painted on one of the books reads "laws and constitution of the united states -- sates." can you believe it? gilbert stuart made a spelling mistake. [laughter] extraordinary. when the british arrived on capitol hill, they were confronted by the buildings of the senate and house linked by a 100-foot covered wooden walkway. as they entered, they expected to find signs of duplicity. instead they found evidence of
maniacal splendor. -- monarchal splendor. i go into detail of what the building was like because it was not a normal building. it was like the great cathedrals in medieval europe built with a lot of money by the finest artists. they wanted to glorify something. so it was with the u.s. capitol. it represented the hopes of the u.s. republic. when restored, it would represent the resilience and unity. of course, a beacon of democracy. they saw this. they had created a colossus of formidable beauty. it could compare with any of its counterparts in europe. there were no sculptors of note in america. so you went to the land of michelangelo and da vinci.
when he found two worthy tuscans, he hired them. they began to sculpt the columns. he was so exasperated with the slow pace that when he finished the first one, he called it an artist of first-rate excellence. the sculptor began modeling a stoppedle until he was for fear he did not resemble a bird of prey. latrobe did not want any criticism from congressman in the western states who knew what the bird looked like. he wrote a letter to the imminent artist charles wilson peale asking for a drawing of a bald eagle. with a stagecoach arrived with mail from philadelphia, latrobe was surprised. he opened his package to fund the purpose -- perfect representation of a bald eagle.
the cover letter said he shot the bird of prey to look at its feathers. detail.d in meticulous he would not live a year beyond the departure of the british. but he poured all of his creative energy into this. if you ever created anything, quilting, gardening, a book, anything, you know what i am talking about. when he finished, latrobe marveled. he called it the finest eagle in the history of sculpture. it had a wingspan of over 12 feet and was hoisted high above the speaker's chair in the awesome hall of the house of representatives. but now sadly, it had been destroyed along with all of the other works of art over the objections of junior officers in the british army who said we don't mind the storing ammunition and weapons and everything like that. but why artwork?
well, they followed orders. the british bonfires were furniture. when they could not find enough, they hacked doors and window frames. the flames were so great that night that i had correspondence that you could see it in baltimore. you could even see it in a warshipsgs the british on the potomac river 50 miles east. that is extraordinary. that is what they did in the u.s. capital. soldiers and sailors, that is all. the rest remained at headquarters. 100 soldiers and sailors in orderly columns tracked down the broad quiet of pennsylvania on the way to burn the white house. w of treesside were rose
planted by toughests -- thomas jefferson. ahead wantingd the remaining residents to flee the city because the british were on their way to bring the white house. excuse me while i have a sip. when they got to the southeast owner of pennsylvania avenue and 15th strength -- street where the visitors center stands today, there was a low brick building run as a boarding house. major general robert ross commanding land forces entered under the low door and began to tease the woman saying we have come to sup with you. the terrified woman tried to house.ommend another
he said he wanted her boarding house. the frightened woman went in the back to scald chickens for unwelcome guests who would return after midnight after they burned the white house. the british were exhausted. the day began with a seven-mile forced march to bladensburg. when they fought an hour-long battle in the heat so intense that 18 men dropped dead from heat exhaustion. they marched six miles southwest to the capital, burned the capital, and tramped almost a mile down pennsylvania avenue to where they were now. they were famished and thursday. but when they entered the white house, they found a table laid dolley wasuse expecting the cabinet and military leaders for dinner. admiral cockburn was the driving force behind the assault on washington. major general
robert ross, had second thirds and wanted to return. -- coburnorced him forced him to proceed. he said we have come so far we have to continue. he had been recognized by none other than admiral horatio nelson because coburn had been a sailor from his preteen years and nelson acknowledged his ability and courage and zeal. he was thought of so highly by the british admiralty that he was chosen to take the great napoleon into exile on the island of st. helena. i got hold of his diary. he said this man, napoleon, sometimes wants to play the sovereign. i won't allow it. who is the fiber of the man
grabbed an american who was innocent. he grabbed him and took him into the white house as a british bandit. he wanted him to represent america. and then he selected was roger wightman -- the man he selected was roger wightman, a bookseller, recently married, and he had become the mayor of washington. he grabbed him. coburn was in a freewheeling moon. he taunted him in the manner of a common sailor. of wightmanhe arm with relish. he said, take a souvenir. wightman looked for something valuable. he said no, that is being delivered to the flames. take something of useless value. he took something that had no value at all. then coburn said i will take a souvenir for myself. he selected a hat probably
belonging to the president. the british drink. they poured the wine into cut glass. they drank to the success of his majesty's forces. when one of the men found a ceremonial hat belonging to the president, he raised by the tip of his bayonet and said if they could not capture the little president, madison was only 5'4", they would paredes had in england. that night, they burned the white house and treasury. the following morning, the war department. there were clouds of choking black smoke over the city. the rooms were a telling commentary on the scale of the city's degradation. as they leftcene the capital.
they came ones, wednesday night. on thursday at 2:00 p.m., there was a two-hour storm that may have been a hurricane. it was so fierce it lifted things liked is and feathers and drop them at random. it spreadeagled horses. britons were terrified. locals had never seen anything like it. it is mythological to say that storm may have it stay most -- may have extinguished the flames. i have correspondence from a number of sources that say the flames burned for several days after the storm. now you have this terrible site. but that is not the end of america's humiliation because washingtonians in this moment of catastrophe were the ones who did most of the looting.
many waited for the streets to be empty, houses deserted, and the military out of sight. now they were free to steal and run. no one was around to protect private property and enforce law and order. sor jennings, madison's lave, had been told to go to 40th street to get his carriage. his slave would later recollect a rabbi taking advantage of the confusion ran through the presidents house, that is what they called a white house, and still lots of silver and whatever he could run off with. the british limited their anding to souvenir hunting isolated cases of robbery for which thieves paid dearly at the hands of their own. time and again, vendors -- commanders reassured the residents they would be safe as long as they did not take up arms against the occupying
forces. these were not empty forces. to patroled soldiers the streets to protect private property. they performed so honorably that americans would remember them respectfully or years afterwards. extraordinary an occupying force behaving like that. excuse me while i take one more sip. that is what happened while washington was being occupied. it was only three weeks later that the british forces, the same british forces, descended on baltimore. this was a city now bulging with more than 15,000, many who had come in from surrounding counties and pennsylvania and virginia.
taking aas a way of humiliating moment like that and turning it into glory. this is what happened. it was raining hard. even though the men were wet, tired, and hungry, they were itching for payback for what happened in washington. the general in charge of the british, major general robert ross, road far ahead of the bulk of his troops. at breakfast, he rashly indicted, tonight i will sup baltimore or help. he never made it to baltimore. we don't know whether you made it to heaven or hell, but a sniper's bullet tore through his arm and lodged in his chest. his body was taken over a bumpy road to the ships. by the time he got there,
demoralizing everybody along the route, he was dead. they took his corpse aboard hms royal oak and immersed him in ru m where he would swish and sway in the dark spirit until his internment in nova scotia. arthur brooke took about an hour to overwhelm an inferior force of mostly militiamen. meanwhile, british warships had was shellst mchenry weighing over 200 pounds. could bludgeon it into submission, baltimore was theirs and philadelphia was probably next. no covergh there was and the pounding went on for a day and night, nobody ran. nobody flinched. that is the extraordinary heroism of fort mchenry. the british had planned a
combined naval and land attack in the dead of night. drugaval force would create offenders away from the fortified eastern hills so the british infantry would be able to charge through an capture the city. towards midnight, the naval commander sent a message to his land commander that he would not be able to help. he said his force could not penetrate the channel between fort mchenry and eliza read up -- the lazareto where americans had scuttled ships. the land commander was devastated. into his diary he later groaned, in a moment, all my hopes were blasted. if i took the place, i should have been the greatest men in england. but if i failed, my military
character was gone forever. the stakes were terribly high, incredibly high. there was a lady called phoebe philadelphia, which was next on the list probably. she wrote to her father, the american minister to spain. she said we may have to swear allegiance to the british crown in three months. that is how high the stakes were. there was a hostage on board called francis scott key. he went to hostage this way. when the british withdrew from washington, they only remained 24 or 26 hours because they were afraid of dean cut off and attacked on their way back to the ships could they need not have cheered, but that was the feared. quickly and burned logs on capitol hill to make it appear they were still there.
this is what they did to deceive the americans. were cap -- captured stragglers. one escape and brought british troops back. they captured a friend of francis scott key. his name was dr. william beanes. they took him away on board a ship as hostage. key got madison's permission to board the ship and plead for his friends release. when he boarded the ship, the british commander said both of you know our targets and the strength of our forces. once we have captured baltimore, we will release you. that was how francis scott key came to witness what happened next. he had seen this gigantic flag flying over fort mchenry.
what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming. it was 42 by 32 feet and had been raised over the fort are the commander -- by the commander, major general george armistead. it was an act of defiance. he was saying if you want baltimore, you first have to lower this flag. that is how key got to see what was happening. he paced the deck of the ship in the darkness hoping the explosions would continue because if there was silence, it might mean the fort had capitulated. . in the darkness before dawn, there was a lowland the firing. key did not know whether it was a signal of submission or whether the british proposed a cease-fire. gradually, the morning mist began to clear. o say can you see by the dawns early light. once more, he made out the stars and stripes still flying above the fort.
never before had he looked with such reverence upon the symbol of his country. never before had the flag had such a sheen to its glory. in his ecstasy, there's no other word, in his ecstasy, he took a letter out of his pocket. on the back of it, jotted down words, phrases, anything that tumbled through his mind while the intensity of the moment lasted. three days later, the british withdrew. they could not take it. the americans fired a parting shot as a cheeky rebuke from the improbable survivors. key was allowed to land. oemh minor revisions, his p was published and set to the tune of a popular song in those days. i've days later, -- five days later, congress met in the undamaged patent office in washington. they put the congressmen's
chairs and desks up to the window sills but could not accommodate everybody. but there was one advantage. they did not have to shout like they had to do in the previous assembly where the acoustics were so bad. the motion that would move the capital to philadelphia or elsewhere to save the cost of rebuilding the ruined city. imagine. the northerners wanted it at least 100 miles north, closer to the canadian warfront and to satisfy creditors. southerners dug in their heels. they said no. the original language establishing washington as the asion's capital described it the permanent seat of government. to do anything else would be to a front the dignity of george
washington who himself had selected the site. it was approved. but when it was put into legislative form, it was narrowly defeated after long debate in which one of the congressman from north carolina warned once you set the seat of government on wheels, there is no saying where it will stop. ghent,stmas eve 1814, in now belgium, commissions from both countries met at the castle to sign the treaty that ended the costly war between two exhausted nations. john quincy adams, leader of the american delegation, went to bed that night having prayed this would be the last great war between the two great english speaking countries. time for wordlong to cross the atlantic in those days. too late for armies squaring off
at new orleans. andrew jackson had assembled a rack pack army of frontiersmen, ruffians, pirates, and militiamen. he put them behind a makeshift rampart of wood and mud. facing him was the mighty british army forged through centuries of warfare. later that year, it would include the downfall of napoleon. the british were impatient. they were led by the brother-in-law of none other than the man who had defeated napoleon at waterloo, the great duke of wellington. .hey should have waited but instead they charged in a frontal assault over a flat feel of sugarcane stubble. they had no cover and were picked off one after the other iv sharpshooters from tennessee.
-- by the sharpshooters from tennessee. as the day wore on, the ditch in front of the american ramparts became a pool of uniformed british dead. the battlefield was sticky with blood and heavy with corpses. when it was all over, there were more than 2000 british casualties. there were six american dead and seven american wounded. had neverd -- britain suffered such a lopsided defeat in its military history. i think, i did not speculate in the book but i will now, i think had that battle been fought in advance of the peace treaty, we might be running canada today. [laughter] from that moment, you could rightfully say america have regained its prideful dignity and won the blood respect and
admiration -- won worldwide respect and admiration. the war was over and so is my speech. [applause] i finished earlier than i thought. far earlier. that means much more time for questions. you, limit them becausextent of my talk my expertise has to do with washington, baltimore, and new orleans. ar.is a long w i am not at liberty to speak with any authority on the rest of the war. so, may we have some questions? yes, the lady. >> [indiscernible]
>> would you mind, rebecca? my hearing aid has gone off. would you mind repeating that question? in the battle of bladensburg, why did the u.s. troops withdraw their ammunition from the top of the hill? that is a very good question. i will tell you something. there was a poem written after the battle of bladensburg. it was fought at lunchtime on the same day the british arrived at sunset in washington. the british rolled all over the americans. of them made fun americans running. it was called "the bladensburg races," and it denigrated those who had fought at it --
bladensburg, the americans. it is not fair. most of the people who ran and broke ranks at bladensburg were militiamen. they were not so well trained like regulars, of which the british army were the finest. they were seasoned in the peninsula wars with napoleon. the americans who had been marines, they fought as well as they got. they fought so gallantly. they took 10% casualties, 114 of them. they engage in hand-to-hand combat when they ran out of ammunition. it is not fair to say the americans broke ranks. they were terrified at the beginning of the british. they had been trained so well.
they crossed a narrow bridge. they would go forward in lines. the at line fell, would proceed. -- the next line would proceed. the americans in baltimore were so impressed, but that is how they had been trained. so it was inevitable the british would succeed. in fact, before the battle began, the secretary of war and the general commanding american forces pointed out the routes of escape for the americans. a new it was going to be a walkover, and it was. the british were so anxious to engage the enemy that they rush forward -- rushed forward without the approval of the british commander. he said, if we only had this man -- i forgot his name now.
he would teach these people who are so anxious to crossover and engage the enemy, he would teach them the value of patience. they were horrified to see this. by then, it was too late. the british were storming through. so it is very unfair to blame the americans. those who fought, fought as we would expect. there is a myth going around that the commandant's home at the marine barracks was saved. i did not find any documentary evidence to support the theory that the british were so enamored of the bravery of the marines that they spared that house. i did not find any documentary evidence to support that. but that is a lasting myth that has come into the modern age. i don't know whether that is true or not. >> [indiscernible]
>> thank you for your presentation, anthony. i was wondering if you could give us some details about the burning of the washington navy yard. >> the naval yard, yes. about theon was burning of the navy yard. this was a terrible story. none of us would want to go through what commandant, stingy -- thomas tingey went through that night. britisheen told it the succeeded at the battle of play this and seem to be within the boundaries of washington, he was to take preemptive action and burn the supplies and everything else at the navy yard. this was a terrible decision to make.
and so he waited until the last minute to read he sent his scout out. they came back with the news that the british had succeeded and were pouring into washington. he had no alternative. laid gunpowder into the buildings. i set it alight. alight.set it people couldn't believe what they were doing but they had to hurry out reporters. preemptive action. that is what they did. beenwatched -- they had billed with the finest labor and had taken so long.
everything was like a burning, there was a woman on pennsylvania avenue in her home. her husband had left her and her children had gone to safety. she was amazed at the flames coming over the debris yard -- navy yard. she wrote a letter to her sister. the sister was in princeton. she said, nobody slept that night he of the awful site. she was talking about the enemy on capitol hill. it must have been a terrible moment. >> thank you for your talk. you alluded to the taking about andrea, -- alexandria, which was
a second attachment of the reddish fleet -- british fleet. can you comment on that? what happened in alexandria? >> good question. this follows up on archbold kane. the british had hoped that a ifcer movement would succeed they had the land forces coming from benedict, from the east. a squadron would come up the potomac and arrive at washington. that would be it. the naval force coming up the potomac had not been there before. they did not realize there were
bottoms, large clusters. it released the shipping. ships soto lighten the it would float on the way. a lot of the ships got caught on them. they came up the river. they were at the white house, which was then a gun in placement place on the shores. they were about three miles from the sport. -- this fort. fort washington. it was commanded by a young man. he held a conference with some of his people. they said, i think we had better surrender. leave the fort.
shotthe other -- without a team fired, they retreated from the fort. they left it to the british. the british could not believe their good luck. they could not understand this. they thought it was a trick. they destroy the fort. when the flag should have been -- he was convicted and kicked out of the military. they didn't want anybody of that caliber. he said, what's the point of flying the flag if we are going to be overtaken anyway? the british took the fort. there was nothing between them and alexandria. they sailed upstream.
they laid siege to alexandria. just about everybody from alexandria had been called up and onto britain's berg -- bradensburg. they were old and infirm. they were in no position to defend the city. a delegation from owns andrea -- out andrea went to see the british. ndriadelegation from alexa went to see the british. he spoke to them as if they were underlings. he said they would be attacked and ransacked if they took action. he said they would raid the warehouses. ed sunken ships be
raised by the americans. they did raid the warehouses. they did terrible damage. americans brought some people from baltimore to harass the reddish -- british. theyran out of ammunition, literally ran out of ammunition. they were castigated in the press for this folly. the critics of the americans. away this vast agricultural produce from alexandria. one or two americans went into horseback and captured a british
sailor. that was the only action that was taken. they were too terrified. dolly madison was terrified of this. she was horrified. she said they should have blown up the city rather than surrender. those that said, in a situation like that, you don't like the white flag. you defend the place or left it to be destroyed. you don't do give it away. which is exactly what happened. the british sailed away. apart from the harassment, they got away. none of the ships were sunk.
>> the british try to pursue president madison after he left the city -- did the british try to pursue president madison after he left the city? that ifmade the remark they captured the little president, they would parade his hat. he escaped across the potomac into virginia. at aing to meet his wife tavern 16 miles northwest of washington near great falls. he was 63 years old to read brilliant, retiring man. he was described as like a schoolmaster who had finished
whipping his schoolboys. now he was crying over the fact. his wife was outgoing and careless. -- garrulous. not knowamericans did where he was. he stayed at a place on route 23. at and inn recommended by thomas jefferson in falls church. he met his wife at the tavern. montgomeryover into courthouse, now called rockville. find the american army there. they had gone to baltimore to defend it. that was friday night. he rode over, east to
brooksville. a quicker village. -- quaker village. there are interesting scenes. infantrycavalry and lit fires by the mill. residents try to get a glance of the president in their village. home of quicker friends of dolly -- quaker friends of dolly. that building still stands. supreme executive authority resided in brookville at that moment because washington was in captivity. residents of brookville
described their village as the capital america for one day. they never caught him, his wife dolly, who was also roaming around. the did come back. -- they did come back. the british retreated on thursday night. back on saturday morning after he had been told madisony had left -- came back on saturday morning after he had been told that they had left. he didn't leave any written commentary of what he felt. i wanted to know what the president thought. thatiptions of melancholy, is a word that appears time and again to read shame, and garrison -- time and again. shame and embarrassment. but not for madison.
dolly came back later. she was described in the clothing -- disguised in the clothing of another person. she had lost her bodyguards, who had decided to get drunk rather than defend her. she arrived with one bodyguard. she had to it knowledge her tontity -- she had acknowledge her identity to cross the potomac river. she was described by people who saw her as a person who was totally broken in spirit. a woman who was normally ebullient and well-liked. she was now distraught. she was fiery. he said, if only had weapons to use, she would have used them against the enemy.
they hadsh had -- wanted to get washington. they said, if you can strike at the heart of the enemy, the capital city, you will destroy their more row. -- that is -- morale. it didn't have-- anything to offer strategically. it did have the capital building and president's house. it was the capital. that is why they did it. it was a lightning occupation that did a lot of damage. nearly all the government buildings destroyed except for the patent office. -- theas saved because superintendent and learned the british were going to destroy it. he said, this is not private property. -- this is not public property.
these are private inventions. the british bought it. but they never caught the medicines. -- madisons. took we know how long it to rebuild the capitol and white house? >> the white house, because it did not have any major additions, took three years. the person who had won the medal for designing it to redesign it. they redesign the capital, which took five years. -- many people think it was destroyed. that is not true. british,s, set by the they came back toward the british. which were ceilings,
pioneered as an architectural feature, they managed to act as fire breaks. the protected a lot of the capitol. if you want see the parts that in near thego old supreme court where the senate used to meet. see columnse:'s -- c topped with corncob features by -- the by -- card carved by giovanni. there are husks of corn. the corn shows. vegetable.in the
-- best of all -- vestibule. in the rotunda, there are places that survived. there is a room occupied by the house majority leader which doubled as a room at that time, a committee for the district of columbia and in office for the president when he went to the capital. the admiral wanted a souvenir. he went into the office, which book stands, and found a on the table belonging to medicine -- madison. it was written, president's copy. it was expenditures for the u.s. government, 1810. admiral, taken by the
on the destruction of the capital during the occupation of washington. in given by him to his brother, governor of bermuda through the book disappeared. it resurfaced in philadelphia in 1940. a rare book dealer authenticated the writing and give it to the rear division of the library of congress. it was in the main reading room of the library of congress. i said bringed, the book down. he they gave me the white gloves to handle it. i was trembling. this is the proof of the past. if you didn't react with a heightened sensation, you needed a heart transplant.
[laughter] i didn'tarvelous -- i -- when i decided to write the story. really deep,ep, and go for the original documents, not other people's books -- go for the original documents. things like that. reports back to the british. which i founded the national archives. much that makes it a living testimony of what happened at the time. it was not a forgotten war as it is cold today. it was a war that should be remembered by everybody. speech at fort a
mchenry. i would go there and give a speech every year on why and how he wrote the national anthem. people would come up to me and say, thank you, i didn't realize the story. i couldn't really believe it. this is one of the fundamental beliefs of this country. this is such a momentous occasion, writing the national anthem. they didn't know the story. i think it is a thrilling moment. i go to fort mchenry, i feel this every time. when you could the anthem next and now know the story, i am sure you will listen to it with a different kind of feeling. it is something that resonates down the centuries and is meaningful.
[applause] >thank you very much. next week, special primetime programming. glasgow, a debate over scottish independence. tuesday, issue spotlight on targeting of conservative groups. wednesday, a magnet school. thursday, the house budget committee hearing on federal, state, and local antipoverty programs. friday, it of american history. book tv in prime time next week. monday, a discussion about school choice. how the poor can save capitalism.