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When The Brits Burned The White House Way Back When

Now we’re getting closer to July 4th festivities in 2023, we can take a look back when we weren’t sure how things were going to pan out for the Independence of the American Colonies. Let’s take a listen.

200 years ago this month, 4,000 British soldiers lay siege to Washington DC and set fire to the US Capitol and the White House and the burn marks on the White House walls are still there.
We now have evidence of the char marks, the scorching that would’ve happened when flames were drawn out through open windows and doors, and licked up around the tops of the stone. Geez.
So this William Alman is the White House curator. Is this the best evidence of the one time enemy forces were in our nation’s capital
As far as I know,
The burning of Washington was the darkest moment for the United States and President James Madison. In the war of 1812, a sort of second war of American independence, the British had been interfering with American traded sea and kidnapping sailors. American efforts to expand westward and north into Canada were being thwarted by the British. Two years into the war with the Americans in retreat, British forces reached the nation’s capital. What was Washington like in 1814 Miserable,
Tiny, small, strung out.
William Allen is historian emeritus for the architect of the Capitol. It was a construction site.
It was a construction site, and there were Stoney yards and Bricky yards and kilns. And it was just a mishmash.
The Capitol dome hadn’t yet been built, but the original house chamber located on the site of today’s statuary Hall was an architectural masterpiece recreated in these digital images.
Many people described it as the most beautiful room in America. It had this glorious ceiling with the 100 skylights.
Was it a fireproof room
the room was fireproof except for the ceiling, and that, of course, was the achilles heel of the room. The ceiling was wooden, and all they had to do, of course, is to catch the ceiling on fire. When it fell down, the rest of the room would be destroyed. The heat was intense. The glass and the skylights, melted, became molten and fell down in large chunks.
The capitol’s stonewalls survived as well as the Senate vestibule with its distinctive corn cob columns. And what is the significance of the corn cobs Well,
The significance is the American plant, in a classical way, sort of thinking the way classical architects would have thought using this very important staple of the American diet in the American economy,
And fighting with the British that night were former American slaves.
You know, the British brilliantly exposed a real, weak side in American society, and that was slavery in our dependence on slaves. And
Historian Steve Vogel is author of a blow by blow account of Washington’s capture,
And they offered freedom to, slaves in this region. The Chesapeake said, you, you know, come over to our side. You know, we promise you freedom. And if you want to, by the way, you can fight against, your former masters
Moving from the capitol. British Navy rear Admiral George Coburn, army Major General Robert Ross, and 150 red coats marched to the White House. So the British came right through here, right through
Here. Not these steps, but this wall, this door,
Again, white House curator, bill Alman. And they walked in and what do you think their first impression was
I think that it was a pretty good size house, but not a palatial one. Right
No Buckingham Palace. No
Buckingham Palace, no ver sigh. that it was, you know, reasonably, well decorated,
The biggest surprise, a dinner set for 40. So the British feasted in the White House dining room before burning the mansion down here to the walls survived. But little remains of what was once inside. What does is an American icon.
This is the East room, the largest room in the house. This
Is the room where Teddy Roosevelt’s kids used to roller skate, right
Yes. On that floor, that looks much like this one. And
This is the room where Susan Ford had her senior prom, right That’s right. So more importantly, this is the room with,
This is the great full length portrait of George Washington, by Gilbert Stewart. And this is the one that Dolly Madison rather famously saved. She had already packed up state papers, the red velvet drapes that she had put in the Oval Room. So then kind of as a last minute thing, she said, oh, we’ve gotta save General Washington. And she gave the instructions to get it off the wall, and it was bolted on hard to get off. So they had to pretty much cut the frame open and then, you know, lift the canvas out on its stretcher.
And who did that
servants. The, the, the maitre d and one of, the family’s slaves. Well,
She was also busy cramming silverware into her purse, right Right. Yep.
She was trying to save everything she could. She was leading her personal things
As a rule. The British invaders didn’t loot, but one soldier grabbed this,
And this is believed to be Madison’s personal little traveling medicine chest that was taken from the White House by one of the British troops, later passed to a member of, one of the naval forces, and then, descended in his family until it was given to Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, given back, given back. And we’re
Whispering right now because the current president is being interviewed right under us. Correct.
Okay.
After torching the White House, the British burned the buildings housing, the departments of state treasury and war concluding one of the most devastating days in American history.
I mean, can you imagine the scene after the British have departed Washington The Capitol and the the White House are smoldering shells. the American army has abandoned the city. Nobody knows where President Madison or the cabinet are. It’s really impossible to, to think of many more, despondent desperate moments in American history.
A Union shack flew over the capitol. It
Did. A lot of people felt that, you know, the, the young Republic was coming to its end, that the American experiment was dying in its infancy,
Fearing an American counter attack. The British occupation of Washington lasted only a day among its overlooked heroes. State Department clerk Stephen Pleasanton, who hid the Declaration of Independence in a Virginia mansion. Six months later, the war ended in a virtual stalemate and British leader, George Coburn, returned home where his portrait features Washington blazing in the background. And the very last question, you know, I have to ask, if these walls could talk, what would they say You know,
The, the war of 1812 isn’t that well known, but I think if these walls could talk, they’d say, but we’re certainly happy that we’re still standing here, that we’re still occupying this spot, and that the presidents have lived here 200 years since the fire.
You do what I think they’d say. Ouch.