tv Politics Public Policy Today CSPAN September 3, 2014 11:00am-1:01pm EDT
now, in some ways, this was a disappointment, because gordon and the sailors were hoping to, you know, put the torches to the city themselves. but they really had a couple of different missions here. this squadron, by coming up the potomac, was going to be a safety valve for the army forces in washington. if the army came under counter attack, then having the royal navy squadron coming up the potomac would relieve pressure on them and perhaps they could carry out some of the army forces down the potomac if they were to get trapped at washington. beyond that, there were some important targets still up river from where they stood. primarily, this included the city of alexandria, which was then -- although in virginia, in the state of virginia, it was
then part of the land making up the district of columbia. this was a very wealthy port on the potomac. and they also could pose a threat to other targets in washington that hadn't been taken by the british army. though they don't know this at this point. georgetown had been left alone by the british and there's an important foundry that makes weapons for the u.s. navy that is still sitting untouched. in any event, they were proceeding up river when they're hit by the huge storm. the remarkable storm that comes through washington on august 25th sweeps down river and severely damages several of the ships in gordon's squadron. and they have to stop to make repairs. they almost considered turning back at that point.
but they keep coming up river. they sailed past mt. vernon, which was just down river from here. and finally on august 27th, they come in sight of ft. washington, which is the last fortress guarding the potomac river as they -- on the approach to alexandria in washington. this was the fort that george washington, who lived across the river, had built. it's at the convergence of the creek and the potomac river. it's built here in the early 1800s, the fort isn't that impressive. one newspaper describes it as little more than a pig pen. it's basically just some earth
works, gun platforms up there on the high ground. because of the channel coming so close to the shoreline here, those guns from that height would have, you know, enormous effect on any ships trying to sail by. it could have been a much stronger position if the u.s. government had done more to fortify it. recommendations had been made, you know, the previous year that the fort be rebuilt into a stronger, more effective position and that hadn't been done. even so, it's an obstacle that the british officers estimated would have probably cost them at least 50 men to try to take. it would have caused quite a bit of damage to some of these valuable british ships, had there been a real fight here.
and the british, gordon and his men, were expecting to have a real fight on their hands to get by this fort. they had just lobed the first of their shells toward the fort on the evening of august 27th when gordon, watching from the deck of his ship, seahorse, could see what looked like the garrison retreating from the fort. and then there's a terrific explosion. and the entire fort just goes sky high. and gordon and his men aren't quite sure what's happened. they don't know whether one of their shells has been a lucky shot that hit the fort's magazine and the whole thing has gone up or whether the americans have destroyed the fort themselves. it's not till the next morning on august 28th that they send a landing party onshore and they
discover, really to their amazement, that this fort, which is in position to do quite a bit of harm to the british had been blown up by the americans themselves and the american garrison had retreated. what had happened was captain samuel dyson, commander of the garrison was u.s. artillery officer. he didn't have a whole lot of faith or confidence in his -- in the equipment that he had. he had instructions not to let the place fall into british hands. and he decided, based on his position -- he could see the smoke still rising over washington. he has the royal navy squadron approaching him. and he thinks that perhaps he's
going to be attacked by land at the same time by british army troops. and he has decided to abandon the fort without a shot being fired. and he would soon be court-martialed for that decision. and with the destruction of ft. washington, the british now have an open path to alexandria as well as again to washington. >> we're right off alexandria, virginia, about where captain gordon positioned his royal navy squadron on august 29th, 1814,
ft. washington is destroyed. everybody in alexandria knew that there was really no way to defend the city now. they had been left completely defenseless really by the federal government. alexandria's militia had been taken by the general and squandered, positioned off near ft. washington for a while and now that washington had been burned, they had been marched away. so the city fathers essentially had no defenses. all the weapons in town. most of the canons, save for a couple, had been taken away as well. and, you know, the mayor and others had gone to madison the previous year and said, you know, we don't have any defenses. if the british make it past the kettle bottoms in ft. washington, we're defenseless and madison had pretty much said, well, we can't defend
every turnip patch. the city had basically been left on its own. the city didn't hesitate in wanting to quickly surrender to captain gordon. in fact, they wrote out a delegation the day before and captain gordon had said wait till i position myself off alexandria. then you can go ahead and surrender. so by august 29th, he had positioned off the alexandria. bomb ships, including the ship's devastation meteor and aetna. these ships were capable, few well directed shells and all of the city, brick structures --
this was where he had worshipped. one of the largest ports in america. beyond that heyday now but still a very wealthy city with plenty of warehouses stocked full of goods, tobacco, flour, cotton. and the city essentially, once again city fathers rode out on the morning of august 29th and offered their surrender. this time, captain gordon took it, but he offered pretty harsh terms. pretty much the city had to surrender all valuable taerls held in these warehouses would be turned over to the british. all the ships in the city that hadn't been sunk were taken away, turned over to the british
and, in fact, all the cities, all the vessels that had been sunk were to be raised and handed over to the british. and these were not exactly easy terms. but the city didn't hesitate to accept them. as word of this spreads, you know, across the river to washington, there's great outrage that the city has surrendered so easily. there was some thought that alexander should have put up a defense before surrendering like this. you have so many beautiful old colonial brick homes in alexandria, they decided it would be foolhearty to offer resistance without any real means to protect the city against very powerful british ships. so the british, with their bomb ships anchored out here, ready to fire, they anchored up at the
foot of king street right across from us here where a lot of the warehouses were situated. over the course of the next four days, it took that long to basically empty all the warehouses and raise the ships that had been sunk. and the british ported themselves quite well. any time that any sort of hint of resistance was offered, he quickly tried to squelch it. at one point captain david porter of the u.s. navy came to scout out the situation and he was situated up on suitor's hill, the high point overlooking the city. he and another navy officer came down, trying to gather some
intelligence. and they tried to essentially kidnap a young british midshipman to try to get some information. and they ran down -- they came down on horseback, grabbed him and tried to pull him away, but the lad managed to escape. at that point, alexandria was almost put into flames. all the war ships raised their flags and got ready to fire. mayor sims was able to persuade captain gordon that no offense had been meant by the city. so the british continued to empty the city. they weren't able to fit everything on board, even with the 21 captive ships that they were taking away as prizes of war. they had to leave some stuff back here on the docks, to their dismay.
but by september 1st, the british were ready to leave. at this point, captain gordon has received word that the americans are trying to set up an ambush for him. and, in fact, david porter and oliver hazard perry, another well-known u.s. navy officer have set up batteries down the potomac river, porters down at bellvoir, not that far from mt. vernon, along with virginia militia. and captain perry is on the maryland side at indian head. and the idea is when these ships, laden with booty, try to sail by, they'll get pummeled with fire and also captain jn rogers of the u.s. navy, the most senior officer in the u.s. navy has working out of the navy yard in washington coming down river with fire boats, boats
that have been laden with flammable material and they'll be set afire and they'll try to set the british ships on fire as they depart alexandria. fwornd realizes it's time for him to leave. one of his ships goes aground. just beyond where the wilson bridge sits today. and captain rogers tried to set it afire with one of his fire boats. the british managed to fend it off. and then as the british continued to make their way town river past ft. washington, they run into captain quarters battery at the shore. porter set up there at bellvoir on high ground and for five days exchanged fire. this is a pretty serious back and forth, and there are
casualties on both sides. eventually the win changes and allows gordon to blast his way past the gordon position and blast his way past perry as well, who runs out of ammunition pretty quickly. but the net result is the -- this squadron is delayed getting down river. and this will ultimately delay the attack on baltimore, which has some consequences for the british. so when madison, after three days as a refugee, comes back to washingt washington, he immediately realizes the importance of not surrendering the city again and he fights off efforts to move the capita way. he directs that congress -- he insists that congress reconvene
in the city and that the news of this, he realized, needed to get on the same ships carrying the news of washington's capture back to europe. and the same newspapers that will carry the news of washington's capture around the country. so he wants toset send out a message as quickly as possible that despite the british capture of washington, the united states had not surrendered and the government was going to stay in washington and the united states was going to fight on. madison has to fight to get the capital restored and rebuilt. there's a big debate in congress. and the vote for rebuilding washington as the capital is very close. but it passes, ultimately. and one of the reasons is that the british actually, by leaving
one federal building untouched in washington left the place for congress to reconvene while the city is restored. the decision to restore washington is made early in 1815, almost simultaneously, news comes of two great developments. one is the american victory at new orleans, where andrew jackson defeats the same british force that has attacked washington and baltimore and then continues down to new orleans. and then word comes from europe that a treaty has been signed between american negotiators and british negotiators in gent. and the war still continues, though, until madison and congress agree to ratify the treaty. that happens very quickly. but the combination of all these
events, the victory at new orleans, word of peace, the great sense of unity that emerges from the victory of baltimore allows madison and the country to escape from this war with a sense of victory. this war tends to be overlooked and this moment in history tends to be forgotten. i think it's important for people to understand what a precarious moment this was in american history, how close the united states came to disaster. this period right after the burning of washington. it was certainly quite possible that the united states would have ceased to exist certainly as we know it today. to me, anybody who listens to the star spangled banner or sings it has to understand that
this first verse that we all sing at baseball games you listen to during the super bowl. you always have to remember that that verse ends in a question mark because key really didn't know what the future was going to hold for the united states at that moment. anybody who was alive at that time understood what a turning point this was for the united state states. >> 200 years ago, british sls invaded washington, d.c. and burned down the white house and u.s. capitol while president james madison and first lady
dolly madison fled the city. two-day symposium marking the anniversary of the burning of washington and the war of 1812, hosted by the white house historical association and u.s. capitol historical society. our coverage begins at 1:00 pm eastern on c-span 3. here are some highlights for this coming weekend. friday, live at 10:00 am eastern on c-span, nebraska supreme court will hear oral argument on the keystone xl pipeline. saturday, at 6:30 pm, on the communicators, michael kopps and robert goodell. watch the latest debates c-span, sunday at noon, incumbent senator kay hagan and tom tillis and from the governor race, jerry brown and republican nominee neil kashkari. on c-span 2 friday night at 8:00, john yoo discusses law and
the effect on powerful nations. mike gonzalez and how he thinks that hispanics can make a difference in the vote. your phone calls with the former chair on the u.s. commission of civil rights, francis berry. the burning of washington during the war of 1812. saturday on real america, the building of the hoover dam and the anniversary of gerald ford's pardoning of richard nixon. let us know what you think about the programs you're watching. 202-626-3400. send us a tweet at #c123. join the c-span conversation, like us on facebook, follow us on twitter. on august 24th, 1814,
british soldiers american troops outside washington, d.c. the victory allowed british forces to march into the city and burn down the white house and u.s. capitol building. historians recently discussed the battle in bladensburg, maryland, introduced by prince county executive baker. this is an hour. thi first of all, i want to welcome everyone to this round table discussion on the war of 1812.
we're certainly happy to have you in bladensburg, maryland, in the county of prince george's county. i a you know, i am the county panel executive of prince george's county rushern baker and i get a the pleasure of doing something i love to do and that's talking about history and the role the . state and county place.we wil i want to welcome our c-span audience who may be watching hew today on this 200th anniversary of the battle at bladensburg, which i think is tomorrow, the 200th anniversary.might as i said i majored in history at howard university so this ism going to be a really fun day for me and i'm looking forward to tn hearing from our panel of experts.opher normally you hear elected officials talk a lot, this is the most you'll hear me so we'll get to those who are here who ee are experts and enlighten us all. on our panel, i'm not sure if he's gotten here yet.orn i'll introduce him. that way we won't have to re-introduce him, christopher l, george a medical editor by profession and independent historian. he was born in liverpool, england. he lives in baltimore.ded he has a b.a. in history from loyola university and mla from johns hopkins university. he is now a u.s. citizen, but he readily admits to divided loyalties over the war of 1812. chris is the founding editor of
the journal of the war of 1812 and original coordinator of the war of 1812 symposium series. he's written numerous articles . and given lectures on the conflict.esapea his book, "terror on the chesapeake: the war of 1812 on the bay" was published in 2001. the "baltimore sun" wrote about his book. it must be considered that topic, the war of 1812's best single volume treatment yet. and chris, along with john mccavitt, have a book coming ou next year, "robert ross: the mae who burned the white house and inspired the national anthem." when chris gets up here, we'll have him join us. we have with us peter snow, very glad to have peter here. he was born in dublin. he did his national service in , the somerset light infantry which sounds really gallant and then went on to, he'll have
to pronounce -- correct me on y this. ballyhoo college of oxford. in 1960 he joined british independent television network where he served as diplomatic and defense correspondent. he later joined the bbc where he did political reporting along ps with a wide range of other programming. for example, he and his son dan presented programs on bbc 2 on the battle of alamean, eight british battles from butaka to the battle of britain. thank you. i love the accent. the world's great 20th century battlefield. this is going to be so much fun. in 2010 peter's biography "to war with wellington" was
published. his book, "when britain burned , the white house" was published last year. "the washington post" called it a fine example of serious and literary popular history. so welcome, peter. we also have steve vogel who i had a chance of actually sitting at a roundtable before, a ary, a veteran journalist. ged he's a graduate of the college s of william & mary which is a great college and received his masters degree in internationalh public policy from johns hopkint university, advanced school of international study.li steve previously wrote for "the washington post," local little t paper. about military affairs and the i treatment of veterans. his reporting about the war in afghanistan was part of a s forh package of the "the washington post" stories that were selected as finalists for the 2002
pulitzer prize.le of he covered the war in iraq and the first gulf war as well as u.s. military operations in rwanda, somalia and the balkans. steve's book, which is very, very good, die read this one about the battle of bladensburg, "through the perilous fight" wa published last year. "the washington post" reviewed it and said steve did a superb job of bringing this woeful tale to life.ely vign his fast pace narrative with tia lively vignettes of principal is participants. steve is with us. finally, dr. ralph eshelman whoa i had the pleasure of hearing ae couple of days ago and is terrific, so you're going to s enjoy him. has over 35 years of experience as the cultural management experience specific to the war u of 1812.ed
he's the co-director of the putuxon river survey and authore of "in full glory reflected: discovering the war of 1812 in the chesapeake."ultant he conducted a survey of maryland's 1812 sites for the fb national park service of american battlefield protectio'' program, served as historian and consultant for the planning teal for the star spangled banner see trails. he has written and co-authored several books on the war of 1812, and having personally visited and photographed nearlya every war of 1812 site in the dg chesapeake bay region. he's considered the leading expert on this resource.
his book "about the war of 18 -- "1812 and the chesapeake t-hand reference guide" verge yain magazine wrote, readers will wil enjoy the year text and[appla engaging style peppered with us numerous firsthand accounts. and now to start us off, ralph will start us off and talk about bladensburg. ralph?it i can we give them all a round of applause please? [ applause ]s a grea >> a very good afternoon, t everyone.. it's wonderful to see such a th great turnout. standing room only.ame up so this is a great turnout. t thank you all for showing up.me the big question is why bladensburg? why was there this big battle ai bladensburg? if you understand that when the british came up the chesapeake bay in the summer of 1814, they then came up the river and landed at a little hamlet known as benedict, which is in charlet county and that's over 35 milesh
from washington, d.c. and it th took them four days to march here. that means that the british are, coming from the south to try to reach washington. bladensburg is to the northeast of washington, d.c. now that means that british hadd to go further than a direct southern route. now why would they do?g? why would they come all the way this extra distance to come to i the bladensburg?tiree br the answer is very simple.we ca the british knew that there werv three bridges that were built across what we call the rned tho anacostia river and they realized if the americans burnt those bridges it would be very difficult for them to get blass. so, by going up to bladensburg they knew that the water was shallow enough that even if thei americans burnt that bridge, dgs which interestingly enough the americans did not burn, they would still be able to get across that fort.e we and so that's why the battle of bladensburg took place where we are right now.
it was further for them to go b but afforded the british a clear opportunity without being inhibited by the burning of these bridges. now before we get to some more questions, i want to make it clear to everybody that it personally believe it's a misnomer to call this the battln of bladensburg.nor and i say that because, number m one, the battle did not really . take place in bladensburg.t the british occupied bladensburg. there was minor, minor resistance from maybe a couple of guys that fired a couple of guns. but other than that, they came right into this town and took ia without any defense whatsoever. so the real battle took the west, across the anacostia river, what was then known as y the eastern branch.at is ki if we call it the battle for washington, which truly it was, i think everybody would have a clearer understanding of the significance of this battle. i so that's just kind of my opening remarks. >> peter?so >> i think one of the great things is the way you discuss so
uninhibitedly the subject with such openness and frankness one of the most embarrassing moments in american history. [ laughter ] we're dreading in britain, next year we are dreading the momentd when we celebrate or commemoratf the battle of waterloo, june of 1815, which by the way hugely overshadows the war 1812. the reason why we don't know a damn thing about the war of 1812 is because we were fighting napoleon, at that time which wa, much more serious than the americans were. the battle of waterloo, victoryt in 1815, nine months from now was far more important to us. but we greatly dread the moment when the battle of waterloo is commemorated because the brits t are not likely to turn up and e not likely to come along to things like this and chat away and say things like this. there won't be much of that going on, i'm afraid, battle of
waterloo. so here we are discussing, rather brilliant views, of the battle of bladensburg. now, let me say this. i think one of the reasons, andt you'll start shouting at me, ri you're so happy to discuss the battle of bladensburg you feel it led on to extra reports of triumph, victory of the americans in baltimore. i, again, just want to stir youe up, i don't think -- i don't think baltimore can be described as a victory. i think it's an outrageous thing to say. i'm sorry but it's a factual term that the battle of baltimore, the siege, the r the lifting of the siege of baltimore was a huge victory for americans.it it was certainly a rebuff, v certainly a failure, reverse for the british. but for americans to call it a victory is nonsense. it was a british victory with great respect of northpointe only a couple of days before they pulled out of the whole baltimore operation, the americans were made to withdraw. a much smaller number of americans than british. the british commander had a imoe
bigger army than the baltimore general who was in charge of the americans and pushed them back.d that was a british victory there. but what happened after that is the british decided it simply s wasn't worth the candle.e, they were facing overwhelming odds and said guys we're not going to go on and of course they failed to reduce ft. mchenry. which americans consider it a big success, but to call it a qu victory, i think, is a big mistake. going back to bladensburg, three problems the brits had at bladensburg. they approached bladensburg in an apprehensive way. they were worried about the battle of bladensburg. for ross was 50 miles from the fac ships, very small force, approaching the capital of america. a large army on the west bank of the eastern potomac, the anacostia. heat.
he had to face the three big problems.a -- y one was heat. now you have no idea -- but you have an idea, because you live in -- today is unbelievable. the heat was unbelievable.of the guys in their red woollen ly, th tunics were falling down, even r some of them dying of the heat, british soldiers.across t secondly, the width of the bri bridge, which they started a crossing -- they didn't go to the fort immediately. my understanding is they went across the bridge and then ross started to get the idea of goina to the fort. the bridge that crossed the anacostia was there.mage. so they had to face this extremely impressive canon fire from the american artillery on the front line which did severe damage. that was a big, big problem. and the third problem, of t, you course, was the problem of the guy on that monument, joshua barley. one cannot detract, whatever one
rude things one says about the battle of bladensburg, one cannot detract from the fact wd that a joshua barley, facing th entire victorious british army, which run right through the first two american lines, faced this quite small force who held them up and took severe british casualties with them for an hour or two they battled.he t barney was a serious problem for the brits. ross himself. so there we are.americ three huge problems. i'm sorry to say it was an american disaster.icans. >> thank you. steve? maybe you can rebuff the americans. >> i'll see what i can do. peter did make this claim about baltimore being a defeat last night and my response to him was fairly simple, scoreboard. [ laughter ] >> true.aw.
>> and the point was, the important point is that the british did withdraw and the attack was turned away. as for bladensburg, that cannot be described as an american victory by any means. but i will say i'm very glad i kere doing this today and there's been a dedication of tht monument this morning because ia think we sometimes tend to maked all these jokes about bladensburg, it's known as the bladensburg races, and we laugh and joke about the soldiers who fought here and, you know, how fast they were and all that. but i have to think, you know, r these were primarily citizen nd soldiers. they were militia. they were not particularly well trained.re. they were not well equipped.woul and they certainly were not welg led, yet they showed up. moving they were here. i sometimes wonder how many of us today would show up if an invading army was moving towards
capital and i think we need to give them credit for that and honor their bravery. the other point i want to make here at the start is that bladensburg is also a story of missed opportunities because despite the fact that the very americans were going against a , very veteran troops, well led by general ross with the able back admiral coburn at his side, there were opportunities for the americans to turn this attack back before bladensburg, on the certainly. we missed opportunities where even a modest attack on the british advance could have turned the british back. illery ross was rightfully quite nervous, advancing with this pretty small british force withn very little artillery away from the ships.nly, t he was under strict instructions from london not to do anything that would risk his force. there was certainly risk involved in coming to washington. and even as late as really the
24th, when very belatedly the american commanders, including e general winder realized the british attack would be coming through bladensburg, even though as ralph mentioned really ultimately it was pretty clear v the british would have to come to bladensburg to get to washington because the more southern approach is certainly they couldn't have been able too cross the river down there because had the bridges had been blown they wouldn't be able to get across the river, much wide, there than here at bladensburg. if our forces had been placed a little bit earlier, a little bi, more wisely, and without so much chaos at the last minute, i think that british force could e have been turned back.o on so, i think when we think about bladensburg, we have to think r. about some of the missed opportunities but also honor the sacrifice that was made here. thank you. >> mr. george, welcome. and we're starting off talking d about why the battle of things
bladensburg. >> okay. well, one of the things that i would like to mention is that '' one of the things that the know americans had and the british didn't have was calvary to know what was happening up ahead. and the battle of bladensburg, even though it was a defeat for the americans, directly led to what happened at baltimore where general ross was mortally wounded, again because he didn't have calvary to know what was happening a few miles up the enl road. when general stricker heard down at the peninsula and it was because of key, the word "key," of course, means something else. francis scott key. but because of key officers of
the 85th regiment that led the advance into bladensburg, namely major george brown who was wounded with a musket ball through the pelvis, very painful. colonel thornton, who led the 85th across the bridge. and also major wood, all these key officers were wounded here b and left bladensburg and so they were not available to lead the advance at baltimore. so the disaster that happened to the british at baltimore was because of what happened here at bladensburg. is said so bladensburg and the burning of washington was definitely a disaster and something that should not have happened and i disagree with what is said that. washington was burned because of the burning of york and we could
talk about that a little bit more. that's always been said, that's been said for 200 years but there's absolutely nothing in the british correspondence to h say we went to washington sec because we wanted revenge for the burning of york. in fact, the british admiral ani chief, vice admiral sir mericans alexander cochran wrote to the new secretary of the army, i kn acting secretary monroe a week later and he mentioned the -on-h number of places where the e- americans had burned up in canada, including niagara on thn lake and i know we have an ere o official here from niagara on the lake. but he never mentions york.the they weren't thinking about re york. b general ross may not have had n much knowledge about fact that . government buildings of york were burned in april 1813.not ir
>> let me start off a question h and actually, it's a very -- it's a very good question and maybe to start off with the rest of the panel on why exactly did the british burn the capitol? th and if it was not in response t york, why did that happen? so why don't i lead off with that question and we'll take questions from the audience. >> i don't mind starting off on that one. we hear over and over that the c british burned washington, d.c.t and that's not really correct. if you read good scholarly books they will point out to you the a british burnt select public buildings. their intent was not to come in. and totally destroy the stiff washington. they showed restraint. i think we, as americans, need o tore recognize that. every time we say the british burnt washington we're he bri overstating the situation whichc makes it even more interesting when you consider that before the british even got to the
capital, which was the first building that they burned, when i say capitol, i mean what the an "o" not an "a." the capitol building. before they got to the capitol building, the u.s. navy had already begun to burn the navy r yard. and the twoon other bridges tha were south of bladensburg were also on fire. around 8:20 on the evening of august 24th the bridges were first burnt and then the navy o. yard. fire as the british are coming in to washington, d.c., they are already seeing fire. it's not fire from them. it's fire from the united states military that is trying to keep. potential military targets out of the hands of this invading army.e city so i would just urge everyone to please keep in mind that the british truly did not burn the city of washington. i did an analysis, and at best it might be 4.8% of the city wat
burnt by the british. >> i mean, for heaven's sake, dn massive headline in this story is that the british went into ? washington, burnt the navy yardt and they burnt the white house. they burnt the white house.impl. they burnt down congress.ople, they burnt down the parliament,p the shrine of democracy in the usa. why did they do that? that's key question you asked.. straightforward and dead simple. the british army, the british people were fighting a war of survival against napoleon who occupied the whole of europe except britain and they had to make sure this guy was defeated, wiped off the map and the americans were trading with napoleon and the americans were getting in the way with our war with napoleon. napoleon was a threat to the entire civilized world. you as well. but to america as well in the t long run although we told you lr louisiana wasn't quite useful i must admit.
the british were appalled that t the americans declared war on n britain when britain was fighting napolean.oyal m britain acted arrogantly and ra. despicably. understandably the americans temper rise. america declared war on britain and invaded canada, a massive mistake. they invaded a country, although a tiny population, was able to defend itself. madison's war on canada was a disaster like bladensburg as well. so that was -- that really aroe infuriated the brits.ood when napoleon abdicated in april of 1814 the opportunity arose to give the americans what the british described as a good drubbing, instructions went to
ross and cochburn -- coburn, excuse me. the instructions to ross and coburn to give the americans a good drubing because we want this had war of 1812 to stop. nobody wanted to re-occupy will america. this was nonsense've so they went to washington in order to burn it and what else o could they do? they wiped out the american army at bladensburg.ppen. they went into washington.ey now it is possible and i think steve will argue this they would have accepted the contribution,. money in exchange for not burning washington but there were no americans to discuss it anyway. ite wh didn't happen. they went to washington.departme what did they do?nt. they had to give the americans a good drubbing. that was the instruction from whitehall.american they did. they burnt the white house. they burnt congress and the state department. and the naval labor yard but the americans quite wisely burnt th navy yard.ou it was something, this massive act of destruction which many brits thought was outrageous.gtn one radical mp said what the r.
brits have done in washington iu what even the gods failed to do in rome. it was scandalous to burn the shrine of democracy, but it humiliated america and that's what they were trying to do, to stop them fighting this bonkers war. >> steve, save us. >> very true. visit o i think certainly no matter how well behaved the british troops were in their visit this cannot qualify as a goodwill visit on the part of the british government. [ laughter ] and i utterly dismiss the idea this was an act of revenge for york. i think we can all agree with ck that. the british quite simply what coburn had envisioned from the time he arrived in the chesapeake, in the spring ever 1813, and which ross certainly g agreed with, was to decapitate the government of james madison. they thought that by so even humiliating the president by proving that he could not even
defend his own capital while heu was trying to invade canada, this would so undercut support for the war and possibly for the collapse of the american government.britis this was not symbolic gesture by the british, they wanted this war to end on british terms. and they thought by essentially forcing the collapse of madison's government, burning the white house and the capital, they could force the americans to sign a treaty that would ictn bring an end to the war on british terms, which at times th during this conflict -- in facth the same day that we fight the battle here in bladensburg, the british delegates in gent, whaty today is belgium is presenting the american delegation what are really conquerous demands. they include british control ofo the great lakes, navigation rights on the mississippi, and d at that point they are making demand for a 250,000 square mile
swath of territory in the old northwest, much of ohio, perma illinois, indiana that would become a permanent indian buffer state. these were terms that, frankly, would have neutered america. ne america. so the british in coming to washington were trying to t establish a weaker nights on tht north american continent or eve. possibly force its dissolution.t we declared war on them but they wanted to make sure the united states was not in a position to stab them in the back again. e >> thank you. mr. george,br while we give you the last word on the fact that the british did not come here, was not the burning of the capitol was not revenge on yorku i want to say to the audience we're going to go to questions but if you could please wait until the mike gets to you osin because we do have a tv audience. mr. george, closing thoughts on this? >> yes.ingsed not h my contention is that the publiy
buildings of washington need not have been burned. and that's directly shown by the fact that three days after the british left washington, d.c. alexandria surrendered to a british squadron. another single building was burned, mind you the city of alexandria was put under a flor terrible contribution, prize tobacco, that w, flour, other goods and so on.t e so -- and that was seen as a disgrace. a lot of the republicans criticized thor toys of alexandria for what they did in giving up in such a disgraceful way.gton however, the main point is that washington -- the americans did not surrender the city, which an
mightd have happened in europe might have been what general ross expected. they came in under a white flag, drums sounding, for a parlay to negotiate with the americans. but the american government, itself, and the city government under mayor blake, mayor blake said he would not surrender the city. and insteadnear of there being negotiati negotiations, shots rang out near the capitol at what was then a house owned by albert gallatin who was one of the delegates for the americans in gent. and this is now the belman sewell house that is still there not far from the capitol. and ross' horse was shot out d. from underneath him and several men of the british 4th ridegime were killed. this was seen as an act of
treachery. and john mccavitt and i on our upcoming book on ross draw a parallel of what happened with g mr. beans being arrested because he is a city elder of upper marlboro, part of an agreement with the british not to act in s as hostile manner.nd nothi and nothing would happen to upper marlboro if the americans interacted neutrality.he and yet a few days later when sf the british were going back to their ships, a few british stragglers misbehaved and beansh was involved in arresting theser guys. and that was seen as a upshonorable act by general ross. and that's why beans ended up ih irons in the british flagship ct and why francis scott key ended up going up to baltimore and writing a certain song. b
so there is a parallel between the reason for the burning of washington and what happened with dr. beans. >> thank you very much. all right. let's go to the audience. >> follow-up, john mccavitt has something to say. can we get him in? >> let's go to the question bact here. >> i have a question. i mean, the burning of was washington wasn't the first city on the chesapeake that was burned by the british. >> correct. >> 1813, in may, they burned -- that's right. and admiral colburn out of character, this happened -- you're exactly correct. however, coburn was not in charge of the forces that captured washington. general ross was. and he was a much more mild mannered and firm man and he was respecting private property. r
and the whole of washington could have been respected and dt not burned. again, if the city had been hi surrendered. >> yes. i think it's important to note that actions like the burning on grace were taking place before any of the british forces knew what had happened in york or other actions in the canadian theater. >> but it should beel pointed o that the british believe that is provoked an attack because as the british were up there conducting some raids, that town flew their flag in defiance and. also fired a cannon shot at them. >> one guy. >> no, not one guy.have a there were a burchl nch of milis men up there. >> we have a short window of ad time. we're going to let the panelists answer the question. sat way we can get as many as we can.ay >> i'm fine. i would say that i think the
federalists newspaper brought it to americans did say that even coburn did not burn -- unless hr waivs provoked into it -- priva property. i think coburn deserves a good mark here as well.ough no? yes? >> i would agree completely. he was playing by very tough rules. but ultimately, you know, in his mind he was being fair't he had a certain conduct and i don't think there were ed the atrocities. something likereal hampton inn . virginia, what happened there wasn't really under coburn's command. but, yeah, certainly coburn -- coburn's action in the chesapeake, none the less, regin created. greater reporter th throughout this region including in washington. >> just bear in mind that all these people like coborn and ily cochran, they had friends who were being killed be i the french. thousands who had been killed bi the french.n figh theseti americans, for some reason, were insisting on fighting a war against a country that was fighting the french. they were invading canada which is part of britain. what in the hell were these
americans play at? we had to stop this war.'re we had to stop this war. that's what it was all about. >> i think you're going to bring on a lot of questions. before we go back to the audience because i have a couple myself. mr. hmavccavitt, if you want td somethi something. >>ism working with chris george on the biography of general te ross. and peter snow and i and steve and ralph, we were at the team 12 opera last night. absolutely brilliant. and peter and i come back and we argued about the battle the whole way. anyhow, but we're all great friends and it's wonderful opportunity to share some of oun research with you. chris and i are very firmly of d the belief that. washington wou- not have been burned if a ranso had been anpaid. you have to burn the rules of war at the time. it's very unusual. today it was not unusual at that point. general ross' estate benefited by $4,500,000 at the time for s
attacking washington.ngs an the other other significant you have to bear in mind, as far as i know no public buildings in alexandria. so when cap captain gordon saidp stand aneod deliver, what was h going to do if the people of sm alexandria wasn't going to deliver? to me, he was going to flatten the time. he was operating under same orders as general ross were operating on. if they did not get that ransom they were to take very, very lun severe action. and in my view, ross very, verye reluctantly, completely, reluctantly until the very last minute did not want to burn even any public pibuildings, never me private. ide would argue very strongly h actually disobeyed orders. he should have burned washington. he got in trouble for burning washington. i'll fine anybody with one typal thing.not only admiral cochran was exceptional any greedy and not only did he hope to get a ransom instead of burning washington because washington would have been humiliated by being surrendered.
cochran petitioned the region for ransom in lieu of burning in the public buildings. in other words, you know, we should have -- the money we should have got in washington, to us.'t you giv.e it wisely the british government said no. >> thank you. thank you. question? i think right up here. >> i have a question for peter snow. i know you do alot lot of tact analysis of battlefields in particular. my question is , we've talked about american militia and that failure of the militia but is it really more of a failure of the american command?fi i'm particularly looking at thee final stages here where winder w ordersit that withdrawal of thei third line and without a rallying point. then we have barney, you know, y continuing to hold a and artill against infantry, of course, is usually a massacre.ing, if we hadn't had that left flank breaking, would this not necessarily have been such a defeat that it was? >> i just say two things about that. first thing is that to be fair to winder, you call him winder,
some call him winder. to be fair to winder it was monroe who turned up just before the battle thebegan, i think. it was monroe, the future president of the u.s., who changed the deployment of the american troops, moving the fifth, for example, very n the baltimore regiment back from just behind the guns on the front line to 500 metersa behind wherenge they couldn't possibly support them. the ranger of musket is not mort than 50 or 70 meters. you couldn't do anything from 500 meters away. that was a disaster committed from machine row. monroe did that.t. he turned up on the battlefielda chaos. monroe did that.s second thing i would say is be i we'rer talking about militia. let's bear in mind to be fair th british can side the that went across that bridge and fought their way through campaigns with the french in europe of appalling bloodshed and professional skill on both sides. and thatar the men who marched
across that bridge had to be lo seen to believe, i have no idea what it must have looked like. if you and i were on the front of the american line facing the red coats, tramping right at them and down we go a bloke, they come on. two guys would fall down, three. guy, four guys, five guys fall down. what do yo puen do? you turn around. as the wonderful john pendletonn kennedy said. very enthusiastic, very patriotic american, fighting on what, i think, the second line? fighting i think on the second line. he saw these guys coming. and he said we made a fine scamper of it. i mean, it must have been appallingly frightening to see these professional red coats who have been fighting.ething so you've got? to be reasonable and fair to the americans on this thing. >> thank you. >> steve, do you want to add something before we go to another question? >> peter's important point of james monroe, secretary of st e
state, inserted himselfov into e chain of command right as the battle is about to begin. he moves the fifth maryland and some of the other regiments oplm further back so they couldn't support this front line. another important thing people f might want to know as a they loe at this map is that the first two lines of american defensemaned by maryland militia were never informed a third line was being formed behind them with joshua barney and districtr by lish sh militia. general winder fails to make that clear to even p commandersa front. there are so new orleans the co instructions on wherell they ar supposed to retreat to. this is one of the republicans the collapse of the initialphic lines up front was so catastrophic. if they retreated in a more the orderly fashion they could havey supported the very strong line n that barney had. but instead they just flee in a pell-mell fashion, some up i towards baltimore, some th
georgetown, where the roadat wo. them. i think that goes to the point that this battle was not a phone go -- foregone conclusion. >> general winder made a fatal mistake because he told the guy near the bridge to retreat up the georgetown road. andll much as we've just discussed, they could have or fallen back to join with barney and the d.c. militia near present day fort lincoln. the u and the british might not have - won the battle. in fact, u.s. army sergeant that hanson in his testimony to congress said that this was a battle that the british should not have won because it was fought in 100 degrees heat, you know, and these woollen uniforms with 60 rounds of lead ammunition, all of their m muskets, knapsack, canteen and
everything and they were out of shape from being onboard their ships for weeks if not a couple of months. so if there had been a better we general like,ld for instance, winfield scott who was up in canada or maybe nathan tousen who is of the same family of ti maryland is named for, somebodys camable like that, a capable army leader leading the americans here, need not to have been the bladensburg races. ge b >> i think it's worth mentioning a little bit about the bridge because you get this image whenh you talk about from what peter was about the british coming across that bridge. in fact, this was not your normal bridge. meant e this was a bridge that was e wak really meantin either for horse men or for people who were walking. it didn't even accommodate a wagon, for example. only three men shoulder to a shoulder could stand on the width of that bridge.rd it was a relatively small bridge. the reason, again, is because there was a ford there. if you were in a carriage, you u
went across the ford. not go you didn't go across that bridge. but that's the kind of is brid that we're talking about.ta >> okay. a let's get a question over here. right here. in thank you. >>pe you mentioned criticism inh british newspapers of ross' n a conduct in washington.rican now, the previous december in at snowstorm american forces, i must add aided by canadian churh traitors, had burned the town of niagara, now niagara the lake. civilian home, churches and so folt. in july of 1814 they burned dow another little village, civiliam homes and so on. was there any comment, criticism or anything of that sort in maryland newspapers about that n kind of conduct? >> panel?n govern >> not that i know of. >> don't know. >> the american government did disavow those actions. >> yes.is >> and there's no question -- going back to york again. i know that york is different a but in york, it seems the american soldiers really ran
amok. it wasn't a deliberate act of the american government to burning the parliament in york, toronto. you're talking about the other side. you just burned things in those days. i mean, i think we've got -- ony has got to grow up. sorry. that's very rude. you've got toid, recognize thae of the things you did in those days is you burn the other go guys'op towns. we bombed dresden in the war. we killed millions of people in germany. you and i in cologne and places. in those days, in the early 19th century you burned their towns. there were all dreadful things that happened but that was the n way you fought war in those thg days. >> two questionsg back uphere. the question sitting down and then the gentleman standing up and then i'll come back over here. >> deep in vermont we have closh connection with our canadian friends. our question is, does how much of madison's cabinet had an or e
impact on the decision to -- for the canadian campaign? and was the purpose to eradicate the british north american, gain moreland for the united states,c or a combination of both? and if the canadian campaign hadn't occurred, what would then the impact on my senses are the bladensburg battle or war of 1812? >> if we canry t keep our answea short we're going to trys and t to as many questions as possible. panel. >> the main point is this was the only way that the americans could really fight the british. the u.s. navy was pretty at this point.h the less than about 20 major vessels as against 600 vessels for the royal navy. so the easiest way to nighting e the british was up in canada and that's why secretary of the army
armstrong sent the best american troops up in canada. i felt manifest destiny shows that if the americans could have captured ud canada they would hp have kept w it. but don who is probably the topr war of 1812 historian believes they would have only kept it as a bargaining counter to get att concessions from theof british. so that's a matter of debate. >>. i think there was madison's intent was to get bargaining aa chip, so to speak.ere were but there were many others like henry clay, the war hawk from i kentucky who we'reon certainly t interested in keeping that territory. it was one of those things that they assumed it would be a quic c conquer of canadian territory and then it was moot. >> the americans didn't win it g with great respect. be one could argue they lost it y t because they declared it and ae didn't win it. look we they discovered that america
should look west and that the northern stuff and atlantic ocean fighting these 600 british ships was nonsense. great opportunity in the west. america turned around. d great joy of war in 1812 made america to do what it hugely ldg building in doing and the prosperity and wonderment of this incredible nation by , looking west and building on tht louisiana purchase and so on. >> that began with the louisiana purchase. 1803. so it was already in vogue by the war of 1812. >> all right. let's go to gentleman back here in the back. >> yes, i'm question is ultimately because this name war of bladensburg. i just wanted to refer to that map.the when you look at the river, rive there is a red line where the bridge is, going across the river. and over on the bladensburg sids there is aid dotted line going . it crosses the river with an arrow. i wish somebody there would gra
speak toas me, there's probably paragraph associated with that arrow. i live in camp casey.. i don't know why we never talk a about the war of camp casey. you talk about the war of e figi bladensburg. this shooting, the guns and the. militia, the good spirit, the fighting spirit was in the militia over in cottage city. >> let's see if our -- >> i just want to -- somebody to say something about that arrow pointing across here. >> the answer is that some the i historians. and some accounts indicate that some of the british forded the river. and that i dotted line is meanto show that.e i myself feel that the majority of the british all came over the bridge and they actually ran over their own dead and dying. >> they all flanked the americans in cottage city. i got a gun to prove it.
>> what we're going to do so we can get to -- thank you. so we can get to as many questions as possible. answer and then move to the els? question over here. anybody want to add anything else to the cottage city? okay. all right. let's go tothe question right h. >> you spoke of the men, the whe british officer, i guess, had cavalry officers who were not present at northpoint because they had been wounded.d, wer and at least some of the wounded soldiers, british wounded, were left in houses in bladensburg, t some i think inua upper marlbor. what eventually happened to werl those british soldiers and officers who had been wounded and who were left to con vel less in american homes? >> sorry. >> go on, steve. >> it's a great question because they end up playing a critical role, first of all, in the writing of the star-spangled
banner. because these tofficers, including the very brave colonee thornton who really led the charge both against across the bridge and then against barney's guns, is severely wounded and he is given very good care here in bladensburg by the americans. and when francis scott key goes on his mission to try to negotiate the freedom for dr. beans, he has all these great to arguments that the americans have come up with as to why dr.u beans should be released.are ths but what convinces general ross he these letters that key has brought with him fromim p briti prisoners including colonel thorntoned a bladensburg and tha others attesting to this wonderful care that they're getting from the americans. and on that basis alone, ross decides to free dr. beans. so this plays a keel role in the whole mission leading the "star-spangled banner."
thornton himself, there's an exchange in october and thornton who is nearly killed at bladensburg plays a critical asi role down inn new orleans.hesapk he's released in the chesapeake bay exchange, ends up joining the attack on new orleans and he almost turns around that attack for the british. attack on the b opposite bank of the mississippi that goesbeca pretty well for t british but then is called off because they've suffered too tho much on the other side. so it's remarkable.in thornton decembspite his woundss up playing a big role in new ti orleans. >> next question. thank you.ons anybody? >> right here in front. >> my question relates to president madison.of he's out there. in several weeks people talk about hetil looks like he was i lot through theon entire bat of bladensburg until barney gets th wounded and then he leaves.rn or question is, do we have any evidence that the british, did
coburndiso or ross, know that madison was on the battlefield and do you think that that had o any affect on anything at all? >> no. >> i don't think so, no. no. they must have thought it was damned unlikely that the n' president was there, particularly madison. a little tiny chap like that.. u.s. extraordinary, isn't it? i don't think the british did know. madison himself didn't know the brits were so close.rardinary extraordinary story. whole one of the extraordinary stories about this whole campaign. >> some of the officers of 85th claim they saw madison fleeing . battlefield. i think it was a belated recogniti recognition, oh, the president e was here. go capt we could have captured him. more they were expressing regret they didn't have cavalry there to capture him. i think it was more - disappointment after the fact. >>ap extraordinary thing about d madison is he appointed two men, armstrong, war secretary, and t winder the general in charge, it was his fault these two lunatic, sorry, these two severely failed
characters were in charge of the american defense of their capitol. it was a tragedy, a tragedy for america. and it was largely their for humiliation, except, of course, allow for monroe who turns up at the last moment and changes the deployment of the american troops. but madison asked armstrong and winder at that moment before th? battle when he was on the battlefield, he said, winder, t what do you think about the situation here? probably not very happy about ee what he saw. stuck and winder said, look, it's too late. we're stuck like this. now we've got to fight like werw are. he said to armstrong, the war an secretary, what do you think? h armstrong said, i have no opinion. correct? >> time for one last question.ha this will be the last. yes, sir. >> there's a lot of theories i a read about it being a diversion of -- to take pressure away from what was happening on the north of the canadian border, provost was going to cut off the new ly england states and basically a g either take new england or makee
that a separate country or make that a bargaining chip. the whole thing in the chesapeake wasn't the main story, just a diversion. could you speak to that? >> i wouldn't call it a diversion. when you consider that when the united states declared war on england, it was in february of y 1813 that the british put a blockade at the mouth of the chesapeake bay. that's very early on the war. why would they do that?ar they were trying to bring an ts economic as well as military wae to the seat of american government. after -all, it's that where the politicians were that dare to declare war against them. and that's when they came up th into the bay and they essentially occupied that bay. but part of the reason for doing that was to not justhope to dese the economy, this region, but hopefully to draw some of the american forces that otherwise t might be up on what we could call the northern border. and essentially that did not not happen. they did harm the economy significantly but they did not i really -- were successful in bringing american troops from
the northern border. >> last response to this a question? >> yes, our historian bel counterparts up in canada believe that what happened here in the chesapeake was just a , c sideshow and that the main hey e action happened up in canada which is certainly a point of view and they were fighting for their survival to the canadians. it was the gra it patriotic war. and for the most part they're correct. in 1813 it was just raids arounh the chesapeake bay with the ops intent of trying to get arm stropg strong to move troops for the la defense of the capital.ith i could argue that when ross landed with his 4,000 troops anw disobeyed orders and went ahead and attacked washington and yous capture thet capitol of a foren country, that that's more than just a raid. it's a significant moment in international testry. and so i severely disagree witht
my canadian counterparts that what happened here was a very important moment in both britisy and american history. >> canadians said they bought s, the white house. >> let me do this. so last question but we want to give everyone 30 seconds to thea close out. and -- so some of the war of d. 1812 in 30 seconds.book i don't want the audience to ng. forget they will be around.ss tt there will be book signings. you don't want to miss that opportunity. doctor, start us off. >> 30 second seconds. i did an analysis of raids, squirmishes t and battles. interestingly enough, province and ontario tied on numbers and virginia came in thirdth. hfind that very interesting. so the chesapeake theater had ta more raid squirmishes and badles than any other theater during tt the war of. 1812. so canada needs to start bit of
thinking about that. a i would like to end p on a litti bit of ang positive note., the war according to the treatyi of gant you can say was not wonh by either side. so what's the big deal?i wo why are weul celebrating it?sumz i would just try to summarize il very quickly that historians refer totter a after the war of 1812 as the era of good feeling. people had a new profound sensef of patriotism and confidence in their country theyiv did not ha before. i look at that asownh a pivot p because this country could have gone downhill. after that war,up in fact, the country came uphill. war think about the, icons of our history that came out of the war of 1812, not the least of which is "the star spangl-spangled ba the flag, the song, the ship, et cetera, et cetera. t >> theho british a draw from th war. sid most of them thought was itmpletely futile and boring thing, ridiculous sideshow is that we inspired the american national anthem.
just very briefly. talking about books. h we've got booksav we can sign f you and sell to give you here or we got a tent happening, to discuss and give you a book and so on and so forth. but let me just say how i came to write the book in ten seconds. i did not know we burned the white house five years ago. until i read when i was writingh a book. about willington that hari smith and one of his officers was diverted, he was on his way home and told to go to america. off he goes to america. i said to my publisher, i discovered this guy went to america. he said that's interesting.e amc yes, he went to america and he t went and beat the americans in the battle of bladensburg. what, said the publisher?le. yes. went to the white house and found dinner at the table at the dinner on the table and then burned the place down. my editor said, write the book at once. ing >> ed, please. brief wily.o rememb looking at the legacy of this day we have to remember that after the burning of the white house and the capitol this is k
very precurious moment in d. history. we think everything was foer takened to turn out the way it did. in we were on the brink at that moment. when francis scott key, three weeks later up in baltimore is , writing about whether he's t just seeing the flag w flying over f mchenry, he's not just wondering about the flag, he's wondering more about baltimore, whether baltimore is going to survive. beyond that whether the republis is going the survive. that verse he writes, the first verse, ends with a question mark for a reason. this was a real turning point, i think, in american history. >> thank you, steve.ew, an >> mr. george? >> yeah, well, from my point of view, and i gave a talk a couple years ago at the george washington house, the indian careen tavern. up with of the points that i made was that this was the onlyt timeat that the capitol of the united states has been attacked before 9/11.
so, again, at very significant moment in history. and i think it provides a real lesson on military preparednesss the governments of jefferson ang madison were reluctant to have a big standing army and relied ont the militia.happ and you can see directly here what happened at bladensburg that 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. >> i think that's a good point to end on for the americans. can we give our panel a round of applause? wasn't it great?prince g
madison fled the city. this week a two-day symposium with historians and authors marking the anniversary of the burning of washington and war of 1812 hosted beity white house historical association and u.s. capitol historical society. our leavive coverage begins today at 1:00 p.m. eastern on c-span 3. >> historian anthony pitch is the author of "burning of washington" about the events of august 24th, 1814. when british troops burned the white house, the capitol, and other government buildings during war of 1812. he recently spoke at an event hosted be i the smithsonian associates. this is an hour and 15 minutes. >> good evening. we have coming up on the 200th anniversary of the burning of washington. the actual day is sunday, august 24th, will be the 200th anniversary. when we were talking at how we would mark, if we wanted to comment rate this anniversary
despite the fact that it's a less than glorious moment in our nation's history and when we thought about who best would come to speak to us about it, the unanimous choice was anthony pitch. for those of you who have been smithsonian associates members for a long time he's no stranger to you. he has been giving lectures and tours about the lincoln assassination based on his book "they shot papa dead" and lectures and tours on this topic based on his book aptly named "the burning of washington." you will also notice this evening there are c-span cameras around. they are here broadcasting. those of you who are watching on c-span will be no stranger to anthony pitch. many of his lectures and broadcasts have been taped for them tonight. we're glad to have him tonight. ladies and gentlemen, welcome mr. anthony pitch.
>> thank you very much for coming. i'll just put that down it's raining outside. and so i'm very glad to see a lot of people here tonight. i wanted to say that a few years ago i escorted somebody into the white house. and his name was major ed ross, the same name major general robert ross who burned the white house. he was a descendent and he wanted to see the scorch marks that i told him were there. they are under the front door. and there's a big stone afternoon way where you can see massive scorch marks from the fires set by the british in 1814. and the pastry chef who had his offices close by couldn't stop giggling. he thought, here's a man who's come to finish the job.
i like to write stories that are epic, true, and sad. people ask me, why don't you write something funny? i can't. i really like to write epic stories. vietnam was one. and then i wrote "the burping of washington" which was certainly a roller coaster of a story that president escapes, the city is in flames, the national anthem comes out of it. and you have andrew jackson's victory at new orleans. all in the same campaign. and when my book was reviewed by the times literary supplement in england, the reviewer says, they described what happened here as this amusing little incident. well, he was parading his ignorance because he didn't realize that the british suffered the greatest defeat in long anales of the valiant
history of military conflict. at the hands of americans. had that happened before the peace treaty was signed, i think we might have drawn candor today. but winston churchill described this as not a war of independence, he denied it was a war of npgs. now, who am i to argue with that great man? but fortunately he's not with us today, so i can challenge him. if your ships are bordered on the high seas by an enemy and they forcibly haul off sailors, then if you don't do anything, you are surrendering your sovereignty. it's an of front to the dig nutty and sovereignty of a nation. and that's why i call it, without question, a war of
independence. so now let me tell you what washington was like in 1814. it was a gawky village, a mere embryo of what it inspired to be. there were around 8,000 residents, one-sixth were slaves. and the attorney general described it as a meager village with a few bad houses and extensive swamps. and a british diplomat who posting what he called the hole. when the same diplomat saw the president in torn stockings greeting foreign diplomats he wrote home to his mother, de dearest ma, luckily for me i've been in turkey and i'm quite at home in this primeval simplicity of manners. that was the best quote i got. so why would they want to target this village that had no strategic value at all? they wanted to humiliate and demoralize the americans. and if they could seize the capital during wartime it might lead us to them to the break up
of the united states. the commander of the british commander of forces in north america wanted to give the americans what he called a complete dropping and this was in part payback for american excesses in canada with they burned and plundered some of the public and private buildings, most recently in new york, which is now called toronto, anded in villages on the niagara front. the countries have been at war for years because britain and france had been at were for years with each side targeting the others' trade with neutral america. and this meant all the american ships and banning american ships from each other's ports under certain conditions. in addition, thousands of british troops deserted to the american merchant marine for better pay and positions and many of them took out citizenship. in a six-year period, leading up to 1810, the british hold up about 5,000 sailors from
american ships. about 1300 of these were later found to have been born in america. so for years americans had tolerated this. until 1811, a new breed was elected to congress. men like henry clay of kentucky and john of south carolina, both of whom had been born after the declaration of independence. so what was tolerable for the older generation was insuffer rabble for the new generation, the younger sin generation. war for them was the only answer. and the man who led the crusade against war was from virginia, representative john randolph of roanoke. he argued how can you take up arms against a people who share the same language, the same blood, the same religion, habeas corpus representative of government and even the works of shakespeare and newton.
calhoun was not going to have any of this. he didn't share any of randolph's attachment to the colonial power.5(3 be the reason to go to war if so much bound us to the in the past. in the summer of 1812 a bitterly divided congress, as bitter as britain. for two years it was a distant rumble on the canadian front. if you lived in washington and did not read the newspaper you might not have known there was a war going on. but in 1814 napoleon fell and anxious diplomats in europe warned james madison's government to free up thousands of additional troops for the war against america but the capitol remained undefended and the principle reason none other than the secretary of war, john armstrong, he was one of those characters that history throws
up time and time again. people who believe that their judgment is best for everybody else even when reality to the country stares them in the face. he was one of those. he was a former minister to france. a major general. and it was said of him that nature and habits forbid him to speak well of any man. he was that kind of person. sure, stubborn, self assured. and when a fleet of british warships came up the chesapeake bay in the summer of 1814, a frantic head of the d.c. militia, major general john van necessary, went to see armstrong. he said they would not come with such a fleet without meaning to strike somewhere. but they will certainly not come near. what the devil will they do here? baltimore is the place. and so you see this is a lesson
to be learned from the war of 1812, the attack on washington. if you put intelligence in the hands of one man or a small country of people you are asking for people because it doesn't have the analysis that a greater inspection would have by a greater number of people. that is the lesson to be learned. i don't think it's been learned but that is the greatest lesson. armstrong was a vial man in the country afterwards. and he quit his job when the people tore off them and refused to serve under him. he was dismissed with graffiti on the ruined capitol, describing him as a coward m and he was the wrong person in the right job at the wrong place. and so that was armstrong. now, he dismissed the major
general in those words. he wasn't the kind of person who could see that they were going to attack baltimore -- washington even though their own president speculated that they would attack baltimore, philadelphia, or washington. so the british saimed up the river and disembarked about 9,000 troops on benedict on the 19 oth of august. the capitol itself was like me the tethered prey. it was the hottest summer in memory. rained for three weeks on dry and dusty roads. desperate refugees. position spilling over the side of the carson wts and wagons. more precious than jewelry. other washington toians fled to
virginia preferring the security of the wild to the insecurity of their own homes. that's setting what it was like. and so i dislike books that give a dry recertain tags of facts. there were real emotions with circumstances. that's what i try to portray. what happened to the people involved rather than a dry list of statistics. many of the government agencies remain stark because most of the cloaks were over 45 and therefore exempt from call up into militia. but in the basement of the house of representatives nearly all the offices were empty because most of the cloaks were young people. only j.t. frost, a newcomer,
remayr remained at his desk. he was over 45. in this moment of unparalleled crisis a man of scant experience and weak authority is now burden we'd the need to make rapid decisions of national importance. he was sorely in need of the guiding hand of patrick mcgruder, the clerk of the house. but mcgruder had been ill for months and it finally taken his doctor's advice to leave town at this very moment to try and help restore his minerals bars. that's how history operates around one man. and so nobody was around to advise poor frost on how or when to save the papers of the house from enemy vandals. i use this word vandals with care. it's denigrating the british but there is no other word that would fit what they did later. and so there was a colleague of his called samuel birch.
he tried hard to reason with his superiors and to letting him remain at his desk but he, too, had been marched out of the city to meet the enemy. he stood down three days before the british hoistered on capitol hill but when he went looking for transport the following day it was too late. most of the carts and wagons had been grabbed by the military and the remainder were piled high with the goods of civilians in flight. so in desperation he ordered three messengers to scour the countryside for transport. they came back in 1814 with one cart and four oxen taken from a man who lived six miles out of town. they loaded it up, turned the oxen around, drove nine miles into the countryside with to deposit them in safety. then they returned to the capital only to join the general exodus before the british arrived at sunset on wednesday august 24th, 1814.
frost was frustrated beyond measure. both menu they could have saved all the papers of the house and even the vast contents of the library of congress if only they had been able to seize more transport. now, the library of congress in those days faced the western edge of the wall of them all. western edge of the capitol. over looking them all and it was a large room about 86 feet long with timbered ceilings. so it went up like a tinder box. all 3,000 books were destroyed. ironically, many of them were printed in britain and some of them are in british parliamentary procedure. you know about thomas jefferson offering and it was accepted his private library as a nucleus of a new library of congress, 6,487 books. and he said it will take about
two weeks for the wagons to arrive in washington. they were so great they had a fire in the middle of the 19th century but you can see what remains of them in curved bookcases at the library of congress. and it's incredible. this man, this renaissance man, every subject you can think of is archaeology, history, art, farming. it's all there in different languages. that was thomas jefferson. amazing. well, two days before the british arrived, the commandante ordered his navy cloak to take 124 barrels of gunpowder out of the navy yard into the safety of virginia virm. boost them across of georgetown where he saw a wagon outside the store. he rode up and told the two apparent owners he was bound for the department of navy. but this is wartime. and so some citizens who might normally have buckled down to
bureaucratic pressure, now bristoled with the power possesses chasing government officials for abuse and profanities. this is exactly what happenedi+o booth. in a vivid chronicle written two weeks after the departure of the british he described what happened next. and it's got my fingerprints all over it at the national archives. i dismournted and followed them into the store where they made use of such language as was degrading to gentlemen. so he didn't have any backup power. he didn't get his wagon. but booth was one of the last to free the city before the british arrived. and before he did so, he decided to check at the white house to see if anybody was there and to get reliable information. when he rode up he saw an american colonel on horsebackç near the front door. the colonel dismounted, walked over to the locked front door of the white house, pulled hard on the bell rope and banged on the front door shouting out the name
of french john, the household staff. but booth always was as silent as a church and only then did spawn navy cloak realize, in his words, quote, the metropolis of our country has abandoned to its horrid fate. you can almost hear his howl. he represented america at that moment. then a note arrived at the state department scribbled by secretary of state james monroe who was then on horseback spying on the british advance east of washington. he ordered his stuff to secure as best they could the precious national documents and the departmental records. one of the cloaks remembered that name, stephen with a p-h and pleasonton. this is one of the bravest men i'll talk about tonight. he and others, pleasonton
described himself as chiefly instrumental in this put the originals, believe it or not, of the declaration of independence, the constitution, international treaties, and george washington's correspondence into bags that he had made up into book bags that were linen. while this was being done, none other than the secretary of war passed by, armstrong rebuked him for being alarmist more thinking the british were on their way to washington. pleasanton was not intimidated. that's amazing. imagine he stood up to the secretary of war and said it's more prudent to try and protect the documents of the revolutionary government so aloaded them on to carts across the potomac river and drove too two miles upstream in georgetown where he put them in an
abandoned mill and then he immediately had second thoughts. he was now foundry, the largest manufacturer and certainly targeted by the british. a spy or a turn coat could easily lead the enemy to his nearby hiding place. so he went further into virginia. got some wagon, came back and loaded them up. and he drove 35 miles west to leesburg, virginia, put them in an etmpty house, locked the doo and gave the key to the collector of internal revenue and 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 burning 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.
39 years later, pleasonton thought that he was going to be -- he was going to lose his job because he didn't know anybody and the incoming administration and in those day yos you had to know people, so he wrote a letter to his eminent friend james buchanan who became president just before lincoln. and he outlined everything he had done that memorable 24th of august, 1814, and he said, i could have been rewarded by thousands of pound sterling by the british if i had given them the documents, and i didn't. and the letter is in the paper in the library of congress. now, i was always upset by the condition of president's grave. i've been to congressional cemetery many times about a mile behind the u.s. capitol and it was at an angle and you couldn't read his name too well. so i hold a fund-raising walk to
restore the tombstone and we walked from the capitol to the white house as we passed an national archives. i was telling stories all the time on the war on 1812 and i said, if it were not for stephen pleasonton you probably would not be able to see those documents in the national archives today. and of course i raised the money and we got an expert and he restored the tombstone. it's up right now and the man has got the credit that is so long overdue. now, i want to tell you about a woman who was equally as brave and fearless and disregarded the safety of her own life. her name is dolly madison. she is without a doubt the most beloved first lady ever to live in the white house. jackie kennedy was admired but dolly was beloved. people said that when she wore
her jewelry it was outshun by her personality. she was a marvelous woman. look how she risked her life or captivity to save a painting. none of us would do that. i certainly wouldn't. but she did. and it's not surprising that people pay courtesy calls on her until he death in 1849, new year's day in particular. people used to go pay courtesy calls on her from the presidents on wards down. what she did was this. stewart's full. length portrait of george washington hung in the west wall of the large dining room. it had been acquired by the federal government in 1800 for the white house at the cost of $800. and at that moment two new yorkers, friends of hers, came into the white house and they asked if they could do anything to help. this is jacob barker and robert
dubeister. according to a story she said, save that picture. under no circumstances allow it to fall into the hands of the british. when she saw that her slave paul jennings was taking too long to. unscrew the giant frame from the wall she told them to break the wood and take out the linen canvas. and fortunately at that moment french john came in. now it becomes murky. deep french john tells jennings to stop and with dolly's approval took out his knife and cut the heavyweight english troll fabric from its frame. 95 inches long, 59 3/4 inches wide. or did dolly tell the slave to break it from the wood and take it out? we don't know for sure. but the conservatives -- the conservatives didn't find any cut marks on the canvas. and so we're not quite sure. it's a little bit murky.
whatever happened, 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 paint would crash. barker then put a flat in a wagon and they drove through georgetown into the countryside and to the farmer they lodged with overnight. and a few weeks later they returned it to dolly. now, today it hangs in the east room of the white house. when the president is giving a press conference there in the east room or he is awarding medals, et cetera, you will see it behind his shoulders. and when my book came out it was invited to lunch at the white house. they took me to rooms off limits. we passed through the map room, so-called because there's a map of europe over the man tetel pi and it shows swastika symbols
that plot the nazi's advance during world war ii. roosevelt used to sit there. there's a little medicine chest nearby about so big and it's got holes for vials of medicine and you can pull out in 1939, a canadian wrote to president roosevelt, and his name was archibald canes. and he said, my grandfather was a paymaster aboard the british warship "devastation" which came up the potomac river at that time and laid siege to alexandria and oversaw the raiding of the warehouses of agricultural produce. but i checked it up. thomas canes 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
canes, the canadian, is mistaken as is the white house. well, we then went to see the portrait of george washington. they took away the rope that keeps you about 20 feet away and then for the first of countless times i saw the artist's amazing mistake. in the painting george washington is standing up facing you. there is a table next to his right leg, under the table are some books and the title painted on one of the books reads "laws and constitution of the united states," s-a-t-e-s. can i believe it? gilbert stewart made a spelling mistake. extraordinary. well, when the british arrived on capitol hill, they confronted by the twin buildings of the senate in the north, the south lengthened not by a dome but 100 foot long covered wooden walkway. as they entered, they expected
to find signs of republican simplicity. but instead, they found evidence of monarchial splendor. now, i go to town in this book on what the building was like because it wasn't a normal building. it was like those great cathedrals in medieval europe built with a lot of money and the finest artisans. they want to glorify something and so it was with the u.s. capitol. it represented the hopes and aspirations of the young republic. and when it was restored, it would represent resilience and unity. now, of course, it's a beacon of democracy. but they saw this now created a closial beauty. he was an architect, latrobe. compare to any of his counter-parts in europe. there were no sculptors of note
in america so latrobe looked to to the land of michelangelo, do not tell okay, da vinci. when he found two tuss cans, he hired them. they began to sculpt the columns and he exasperated latrobe with the slow pace and finishing the first one, latrobe exalted, called him an artist of first-race excellence and the other, began modeling a bald eagle until he was stopped by latrobe for fear it didn't resemble the bird of prey and latrobe didn't want any criticism, least of all from congressmen from the western states who knew what the bird looked like. he wrote a letter to the imminent philadelphia artist peelle asking for a drawing of the head and clause of a bald eagle. when the stagecoach arrived with mail from philadelphia, latrobe was in for a surprise. he opened the package to find the perfect head and neck of a bald eagle. and a drawing and a cover letter
followed saying shoot the bird of prey to look at the arrangement of the feathers. fransoni now with obsessive passion, working in meticulous detail, a sick man, wouldn't live a year beyond the departure of the british. he pulled all the creative energy into this. if you have ever created anything, quilting, gardening, a book, anything, you know what i'm talking about. and when he had finished, latrobe marveled. he called it the finest eagle in the history of sculpture. he had a wing span of 12 feet and was hoisted high above the speaker's chair in the awesome hall of the house of representatives. but now sadly it would be destroyed.
along with all the other works of art over the objections of junior officers in the british army saying we don't mind destroying ordinances and ammunition and weapons and everything like that. but why artwork? well, they followed orders. and the british bonfires with furniture, with the -- where they couldn't find enough furniture, they hacked at the window and door frames and spread the wood with the combustible content of the rockets. the flames were so great that night that i have correspondence that you could see it in baltimore. you could even see it in the ships logs of british warships on the river 50 miles east. that's extraordinary. and so, that's what they did in the u.s. capitol. now, 100 soldiers and sailors, that's all, the rest of them remained on capitol hill at the headquarters. 100 soldiers and sailors in 2 orderly columns tramped down the broad, quiet of pennsylvania on their way to burn the white house.
on either side of them were double rows of stately poplar trees planted by thomas jefferson. when one of the men started to talk, an officer shouted, silence. i'll shoot the first man who speaks. slaves scurried ahead warning the remaining residents to flee the city because the british had just -- were on the way to burn the white house. excuse me while i just have a sip. when they got to the southeast corner of pennsylvania avenue and 15th street where the white house visitor center stands today in the department of commerce building, they ringed what was then a long low brick building, run as a boardinghouse by a widow. major general robert ross commanding the land forces entered under the low door and began to tease the woman saying, madam, we have come to sup with you. the terrified woman tried to
steer them across to the hotel, but ross wouldn't have it. he said that he preferred the view of the government buildings from her boardinghouse and the frightened woman went into the back house to slaughter chickens for unwelcomed guests who returned around midnight after burning the white house. now, the british were exhausted. the day begun with a seven-hour forced march from upper marlboro through woods and dense thickets and brush to bladensburg and fought an hour-long battle and the heat so intense that 18 of their men dropped dead from heat exhaustion. then they marched 6 miles southwest to the capitol. burned the capitol and tramped almost a mile down pennsylvania avenue to where they were now. they were famished and thirsty but when they entered the white house, they found a table laid before 40 because dolly expecting the captains of the military leaders for dinner. admiral george coburn was the driving force behind the assault on washington.
his superior major general robert ross had second thoughts and wanted to return and coburn forced him by the influence of his arguments to proceed. he said we have militia men ahead of us. that's nothing. we have come so far. we have to continue. coburn had been recognized by none other than admiral who ratio national. coburn had been a sailor from the preteen years and nelson acknowledged coburn's ability and courage and zeal. and he was thought of so highly by the british admiralty that he was chosen to take the great napoleon into exile on the island and i got a hold of the diary and he said, this man napoleon sometimes wants to play the sovereign. i won't allow it.
that is the fiber of the man who grabbed an american, who was innocent, he grabbed him and took him into the white house as a british burned it. he wanted him to represent america. >> you can watch the regs of this program, the war of 1812 on c-span.org. we begin live coverage of a two-day forum historians and authors marking the burning of washington and war of 1812. this afternoon's session beginning with andrew lambert, challenge, naval war of 1812. >> my name is stewart mclauren, and i'm the president of the white house historical association where we are privileged to convene today for this significant event. we're honored to have with us today two members of the board of directors of the white house historical association, the
honorable stock and kiplinger. we're also honored to have with us today mr. william almond, who is the curator of the white house. this program commemorates bicentennial of one of america's most critical but overlooked conflicts. with the gathering of extraordinary scholars and experts in history field, next two days sure to educate and inspire, enhance our understanding of the war of 1812. the white house historical mission echos symposium goal, echos public on history of white house. we're so pleased to host this d day, the study of white house history. this event could not be possible without the partnering and support of our co-sponsors