The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814

Anthony Pitch, Author US Naval Institute Press $36.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-55750-692-4
Americans have grown so accustomed to being citizens of a superpower that our collective memory of the burning of Washington during the War of 1812 has been submerged. Pitch, with a solid reputation as a tour leader and local D.C. historian, offers an archivally based, definitive account of the British raid into Chesapeake Bay in 1814, and the successful march on Washington that was a function of American ineffectiveness as much as British competence. After two decades of war with France, British forces had grown adept at ""descents"": small-scale incursions into hostile territory with the objective of inflicting damage and creating despondency. The decision to burn public buildings and destroy public property was as much political as military, aimed at sending the message that nowhere was there safety from the long arm of the British crown. The British withdrew once the capital lay in ruins, sailing on to the more economically promising targets of Alexandria and Baltimore. The latter city's successful resistance demonstrated that the British were not invincible. Even militia, given competent commanders and sufficient numbers, could blunt the edge of a raiding force unable to replace its own losses. At least as significant, according to Pitch, was the decision not to relocate the capital even temporarily, but to continue governing from the ruins, which conveyed the message that, like its predecessor, this second war of independence would be fought to a finish. In a Britain weary of conflict, that was a powerful incentive to initiate negotiations that within four months produced the Treaty of Ghent and confirmed America's identity as a nation. 14 illustrations. History Book Club selection. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
Hardcover - 978-1-55750-690-0
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