Book Reviews

What I’ve been Reading: Feb 2015

When Britain Burned The White House by Peter Snow

If you’ve ever wondered what the War of 1812 was about

this book will have many of your answers. Written in an easy to read, yet very informative manner, When Britain Burned The White House, tells the story of how the UK invaded and burned Washington DC and set fire to the White House. Peter Snow is superb as he highlights the personal backgrounds of botht the British commanders and the US leaders. He brings to life this interesting episode that allowed the English to give the US a good thumping in a time that still had emperors, frontier wars and exhaustive naval battles.

Some interesting facts to consider:
– at the beginning of the battle near Bladensburg, both the standing US Commander In Chief (Madison) and the future Commander In Chief (Monroe) were on the battlefield…..the last US President to be on the battlefield in time of war would be Lincoln.
-the English had no intention of trying to defeat the US or reclaim the US in the War of 1812….they just wanted to give us a “good thumping’ as Admiral Cockburn put it..
-many of the British who led the invasion of Washington were well seasoned veterans of the highest caliber, having defeated Napolean under the leadership of Wellington in the previous years
-the decision to actually lead an onslaught on to Washington and burn the city was not a unanimous decision by the British leaders and it was one that many later regretted
-Dolly Madison only vacated the White House at the last minute, pausing to ensure that a portrait of George Washington be saved
-the British officers dined on the food and wine left by Madison before torching the magnificent building
-when architech James Hoban rebuilt the White House he was forced to use wood in stead of stone, which led to the White House being re-built during the Truman administration
-the soot marks from the 1814 fire can still be seen on certain areas of the house that remained
-Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that would become the US national anthem while being held captive by the British during their bombardment of Baltimore in the final days of the war

After the War of 1812…James Monroe, who had served in the Revolutionary War and in Madison’s cabinet, became President and is generally accepted as a powerful and intelligent leader, despite the debacle of 1814. Monroe’s lasting legacy was codified in the Monroe Doctrine which called for the entire hemisphere to ‘be free from future European colonization and free from European interference”.

When Britain Burned The White House by Peter Snow is a great book…and will lead you to other areas of US history to enjoy!