British Troops Regret Burning Washington; Madison’s Cabinet Slow to React

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Article from The Washington Times on August 23, 1914 – the day before the century anniversary of the Burning of Washington – source Library of Congress

We’re coming up on the 200th anniversary of the Burning of Washington. On the 100th anniversary, the Washington Times wrote a long retrospect on what happened, along with reactions from some of the players.

The Times writes on August 23, 1914, of British Major General Ross, that he:

“was loath to march on the Capital and to burn the public buildings after he occupied the city. Indeed his manner while here was apologetic and the resident at whose house he staid said that he did not smile while in the city.”

Capture and burning of Washington by the British, in 1814 Source Library of Congress
Capture and burning of Washington by the British, in 1814
Source Library of Congress

Apparently, many British citizens also thought the Burning of Washington went overboard.

The attitude of many prominent Englishmen on the matter of the burning of Washington is shown by the query which appeared in the London Statesman tat the time:

‘Is it quite true that the expedition to Washington will meet with universal approbation? The Cossacks spared Paris, but we spared not the Capitol at Washington.’

The Madison administration found blame in the article, too, as they simply did not believe DC had value to the British:

For more than two months there were persistent rumors that the British would attach Washington, but the President and his Cabinet refused to regard the warning seriously. On one occasion, President Madison asked ‘What the devil would the British do in Washington?’ adding that Baltimore was their objective point.

It is interesting to read this account, especially since in 1914, World War I was just getting under way. This edition of the newspaper has coverage of the happenings in Europe adjacent to this article.

About Sam E.

Sam is a new contributor to Ghosts of DC and Ghosts of Baltimore. He has been a long time fan of the website. As someone who can lose hours looking at old pictures and reading about DC history, the blog is a perfect outlet for him to explore the history of the District.