Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail
White House Ablaze
For Americans, August 24, 1814, was one of the darkest days of the War of 1812. After a victory at nearby Bladensburg, Maryland, British soldiers marched on Washington, destroying the US Capitol and many other public buildings.
President James Madison sent word to his wife, Dolley, to flee the President's House. As the British approached the city, the first lady, with the help of her aides and enslaved workers, escaped with as many treasures as they could.
The British arrived at the White House about 11pm. After nearly an hour of eating and taking souvenirs, they torched the structure, leaving only a roofless stone shell.
"In the [President's House] not an inch, but its crack'd and blacken'd walls remain'd. That scene... which when I last visited it was so splendid... was now nothing but ashes."
-- Margaret Bayard Smith letter, August 30, 1814
The iconic portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart was among the treasures saved from the British attack on the White House.
Scorch marks from the White House fire are still visible at two locations.