When Britain Burned the White House : The 1814 Invasion of Washington, Hardback

When Britain Burned the White House : The 1814 Invasion of Washington Hardback

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


As heard on BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week. Shortlisted for the Paddy Power Political History Book of the Year Award 2014.

In August 1814 the United States' army is defeated in battle by an invading force just outside Washington DC.

The US president and his wife have just enough time to pack their belongings and escape from the White House before the enemy enters.

The invaders tuck into the dinner they find still sitting on the dining-room table and then set fire to the place. 9/11 was not the first time the heartland of the United States was struck a devastating blow by outsiders.

Two centuries earlier, Britain - now America's close friend, then its bitterest enemy - set Washington ablaze before turning its sights to Baltimore.

In his compelling narrative style, Peter Snow recounts the fast-changing fortunes of both sides of this extraordinary confrontation, the outcome of which inspired the writing of the 'Star-Spangled Banner', America's national anthem. Using a wealth of material including eyewitness accounts, he also describes the colourful personalities on both sides of these spectacular events: Britain's fiery Admiral Cockburn, the cautious but immensely popular army commander Robert Ross, and sharp-eyed diarists James Scott and George Gleig.

On the American side: beleaguered President James Madison, whose young nation is fighting the world's foremost military power, his wife Dolley, a model of courage and determination, military heroes such as Joshua Barney and Sam Smith, and flawed incompetents like Army Chief William Winder and War Secretary John Armstrong.

When Britain Burned the White House highlights this unparalleled moment in American history, its far-reaching consequences for both sides and Britain's and America's decision never again to fight each other.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 320 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray General Publishing Division
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: History of the Americas
  • ISBN: 9781848546110



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autumn-2013, published-2013, nonfiction, history, north-americas, britain-england, washingtonRecommended for: BBC radio listenersRead from September 01 to 06, 2013BOTWBBC BLURB: Nearly 200 years ago, Britain attacked the heartland of the United States. The President and his wife had just enough time to pack their belongings and flee the White House before the British army entered and set fire to the building. From here, the British army turned its sights to Baltimore.Peter Snow tells the story of this extraordinary confrontation between Britain and the United States, the outcome of which inspired America's national anthem. Using eyewitness accounts, Peter describes the colourful personalities on both sides of this astonishing battle - from Britain's fiery Admiral Cockburn, to the cautious but widely popular army commander Robert Ross and the beleaguered President James Madison whose nation was besieged by a greater military force.In the first episode, the American watchman at Chesapeake Bay wakes one August morning to find fifty ships of the Royal Navy at anchor. The British have arrived to end, decisively, the war of 1812. In Washington, President Madison waits nervously to see where they will attack first.Read by Jamie ParkerProducer: David Roper A Heavy Entertainment production for BBC Radio 4.Wow, what a juicy bit of history that I hadn't come across before, and the comments lodged on status updates leans towards the British being uncouth. Got to laugh on this point, however in the bigger picture, it was a fine win in the end. What a fab inclusion to the history genre!Dolly Madison12 likes