NEWBERRY COUNTY — On this day in 1814, the final year of the War of 1812, British troops entered Washington, D.C., easily overpowered militiamen guarding the city and burned the White House, along with much of the city.
The attack was in retaliation to the American attack on the city of York, Ontario two months prior, according to www.history.com.
D.C.’s defenses had not been adequately built up or maintained due to Secretary of War John Armstrong’s insistence that the British would not attack the capital.
Upon arriving at the White House, British troops found that President James Madison and his first lady, Dolley, had already evacuated to Maryland.
The soldiers reportedly sat down for a meal of leftovers from the scullery before trashing the place and setting fire to it.
According to the White House Historical Society and Dolley’s personal letters, President Madison had left the White House two days prior to meet with his generals.
Before departing he had asked his wife to gather important state documents in anticipation of the arrival of British soldiers.
On Aug. 23 Dolley and her servants spotted soldiers gathering on the horizon through spyglasses and prepared to flee.
With little time she abandoned her personal belongings instead opting to save a full length portrait of former president George Washington.
The portrait was screwed into the wall so Dolley ordered the frame to be broken and the canvas pulled out and rolled up.
What she didn’t know, however, was that the portrait was actually just a copy of the Gilbert Stuart original.
Three days later the soldiers had moved on and President Madison and Dolley were able to return home, although they would never again live in the White House.
Madison served out the rest of his term living in the the city’s Octagon House and the White House would not again be occupied by a president until 1817 when the recently elected James Monroe moved into the reconstructed mansion.
Just three weeks after the White House burned British naval forces bombarded Baltimore’s Ft. McHenry for 25 hours giving Francis Scott Key inspiration to write a poem entitled “Defense of Fort M’Henry.”
The poem was set to the tune of an old English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven” and thereafter became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner” but wasn’t officially adopted as our country’s national anthem until Congress passed a resolution in 1931.
Reach Carson Lambert at 803-276-0625, ext. 1868, or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.