One of the more humiliating events in American history, the burning of Washington was the low point in American fortunes during the War of 1812.
After the British landed an army to attack Washington, Captain Johsua Barney, a Catholic and Revolutionary War hero, go here to read about him, and 500 of his sailors and marines, joined the American army seeking to stop the invaders. At the battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814, Barney and his men put up a spirited defense, with cutlasses and bayonets against the advancing British, and throughout it all Barney rallying his men with cries of “Board ‘em! Board ‘em!” Ultimately the Americans retreated, and Barney, seriously wounded, was captured one last time in his career by the British. After being paroled by his captors, he spent the rest of the War recuperating at his farm in Maryland. The heroic stand of Barney and his men had given enough time for Washington to be evacuated, and after the war the grateful citizens of Washington presented a sword to the old sailor for the land fight which ended his naval career.
The Brits occupied Washington, plundered it, and burned the public buildings. President James Madison was with the army and First Lady Dolley Madison took charge at the White House, organizing the evacutation of valuables from the White House just prior to the arrival of the Brits, escaping herself in a carriage, clutching an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. The British occupation of Washington lasted only twenty-six hours, a huge storm striking Washington, with a tornado going through the center of the capital, killing both British troops and American civilians. The Brits retreated to their ships, many of which were damaged by the storm. The heavy rains that accompanied the storm extinguished the fires that had been set by the Brits.