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The Attack on Washington
August 24, 1814
Immediately after the battle, Major General Ross sent a party under a flag of truce to Capitol Hill with the British terms for an American surrender, but they were attacked by citizens near Second Street NE. This was to be the only resistance the British met within the city.
The interiors of the buildings housing the Senate and House of Representatives were destroyed, which included the Library of Congress, and the buildings were set ablaze. Only a torrential rainfall the next day preserved the exteriors. Thomas Jefferson later sold his personal library of more than 6,000 volumes to the government to restock the Library of Congress.
Ross' troops headed towards the White House. US government officials, including the President, had fled the city, however, First Lady Dolley Madison remained behind long enough to save the portrait of George Washington which hung in the White House parlor and some other valuables. This act increased her popularity with the American public, even though her courage was somewhat embellished by the newspapers.
When Major General Ross and Admiral Cockburn arrived at the White House they helped themselves to the dinner which had been laid out for the President's own party. Then they ordered the White House burned.
The next day, Rear Admiral Cockburn destroyed the building housing the DC newspaper, the National Intelligencer, and ruined all of the "C" type, "so that the rascals can have no further means of abusing my name."
The British also burned the United States Treasury and other public buildings. Much of the Washington Navy Yard had already been burned by the Americans to prevent its capture of stores and ammunition.
Less than a day after the attack began, a sudden heavy thunderstorm put out most of the fires. It also spun off a tornado that passed through part of the city, killing both British troops and American civilians.
The occupation of Washington DC lasted only about 26 hours. The Royal Navy reported that in the attack, it lost one man and six others were wounded, of whom the fatality and three of the wounded were from the Corps of Colonial Marines.
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