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The Burning Of Washington Dc: The High Price Of Retrubatory Justice

3123 words - 12 pages

In late August 1814, after two hard years of fighting America's Second War for Independence with the British, the United States scrambled to establish defenses to protect important military installations in Northern Virginia and Maryland, then under threat of the intimidating British invasion force ominously lurking in Chesapeake Bay. President Madison and his administration had difficulty determining the over-all British military and political objectives and were slow to realize Washington, D.C.'s symbolic importance to the British. Consequently they made little preparation to defend the city. As for the British force commander, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, he did not yet have his eyes set on other valuable American military targets, such as the nearby port city of Baltimore. Instead, goaded on by a letter urging him to avenge the earlier brutal American raid on the Canadian Port Dover, he focused his forces towards the destruction Washington, D.C.. Just after sunset on August 24, 1814, to the shock and horror of the remaining inhabitants of the city, British forces descended on the U.S. Capitol with one purpose in mind: to raze it to the ground. , , Brushing aside token resistance from the few American regulars and militia stationed in the District, the British proceeded to burn the White House, Treasury Building, State Department, War Office and Naval Yard. In this primal act of wanton destruction, the British humiliated the United States, avenged the indignation of the Dover raids, dispersed key members of the U.S. Government and exercised complete domination over the capitol of their bitter enemy. In gaining a political victory in burning the U.S. Capitol, the British lost the more important strategic initiative. However, in choosing this political target over the more threatening military one - the port city of Baltimore - the British were critically delayed and gave the American's essential time to prepare Baltimore's defenses for an anticipated British attack.
Leading up to the infamous British assault on Washington, D.C., the British Navy enforced an effective naval blockade along the East Coast of the United States. By April 1813, the blockade extended from the southern states all of the way up to New England. In addition to the blockade, the combined British naval and land forces had committed a series of demoralizing raids on various small ports, burned merchant ships and destroyed numerous other private small craft with relative impunity. While certainly strangling the American economy, these unpredictable but effective "hit-and-run" operations also kept the United States Government guessing as to what the next British move would be. The grand architect of these British operations was Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Forester Inglis Cochrane. Vice Admiral Cochrane was motivated beyond military necessity in his harsh dealings with the Americans during these raids. Spurred on by an earlier letter from Sir...

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