Robert P. WatsonOct 5, 2023
When Washington Burned
The British Invasion of the Capital and a Nation's Rise from the Ashes
Georgetown University Press 2023
Perhaps no other single day in US history was as threatening to the survival of the nation as August 24, 1814, when British forces captured Washington, DC. This unique moment might have significantly altered the nation’s path forward, but the event and the reasons why it happened are little remembered by most Americans.
Robert P. Watson's book When Washington Burned: The British Invasion of the Capital and a Nation's Rise from the Ashes (Georgetown UP, 2023) narrates and examines the British campaign and American missteps that led to the fall of Washington during the War of 1812. Watson analyzes the actions of key figures on both sides, such as President James Madison and General William Winder on the US side and Rear Admiral George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross on the British side. He pinpoints the reasons the campaign was such a disaster for the United States but also tells the redeeming stories of the courageous young clerks and the bold first lady, Dolley Madison, who risked their lives to save priceless artifacts and documents from the flames, including the Constitution. The British invasion was repulsed over the coming weeks and months, and the United States ultimately emerged stronger. General readers interested in the history of Washington, US history, and military history will be fascinated by this book.