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When They Burned the White House - Andrew Tully The chief value of this book is in acquainting the reader with the events of August 1814, which led to the British capture of Washington DC during the War of 1812.

As we are now in the bicentenary period of that very distant conflict, I thought it would be interesting to read about what really went on between the British and Americans at that time. From the landing of a small number of British units in Benedict, Maryland on August 19, 1814 to their arrival in Washington DC 5 days later, the U.S. Army and supporting state militia units acquitted themselves rather shabbily. The American commanding general, Winder, was better suited to be a politician than a leader of soldiers. When the British came on the field at Bladensburg (just outside Washington), he was at a loss as to how to contain the British advance. Many of the soldiers were ill-trained and ill-clad. (One soldier in the Maryland militia had no choice but to wear his new pair of leather dancing shoes after his boots had been stolen.) Indeed, the entire U.S. command structure was riddled with incompetents. Only a few scattered units, such as the several hundred "land-bound" sailors commanded by Joshua Barney, a Revolutionary War naval hero, gave a good account of themselves in fighting the British at Bladensburg. President Madison barely escaped capture at Bladensburg, and his wife, Dolly, renowned for hosting White House dinners, her good grace, charm, and wit, barely escaped from the White House as the British approached Washington.

The book also provides a good account of what the British did during the 24 hours they spent in Washington, where they torched the White House, the Capitol, and several other government buildings. It's a really fantastic story that reads almost like a Shakespearian play with the weather playing a significant supporting role. What's more: this is a slim book (178 pages) that was quick to read and gave me a good, general view on the War of 1812.