The Eastern Invasion of 1814
The First British Attack:
By this time, the British had defeated the French in Europe, and this freed them up to fight much harder against America. They decided to try to take New York. They amassed troops in Montreal and moved south, using Lake Champlain to get there. If they could take New York, they could cut off New England and severely hurt the U.S. However, they met with defeat on September 11 at Plattsburg, New York.
The Second British Attack:
Next, the British decided to attack Chesapeake Bay because this was where a great number of privateers were hiding out. The Americans gathered an inexperienced group together very easily at Bladensburg, Maryland, on August 23. In so doing, they left the capital open to attack the next day. Congress, along with the President, was seen fleeing across the Potomac to Virginia. This ruined the British plans to capture the President.
In spite of the imminent danger, the President's wife, Dolley, would not leave until a portrait of George Washington was cut out of its frame so they could take it with them. The painting and two trunks were all the possessions they were able to take with them that day. Today, the portrait of former president Washington hangs in the East Room of the White House.
At six o'clock the same evening, the British marched into Washington, and the men of Admiral Cockburn were asked if they thought the capital should be burned. They all cheered, "Aye! Aye!" They piled furniture and books from the Library of Congress on the floor and set it ablaze.
By 9:00 p.m., Admiral Cockburn was at the president's house. He took some souvenirs before setting the place ablaze also. However, a heavy rain descended upon the scene and put out the fire. Both the Capital and the President's house could be rebuilt, but the president's house was so black from the fire that they had to paint it white. This is how it came to be known as the "White House."
Because it was so easy for the British to take Washington, they decided to go all out and attack by land and sea at Baltimore, Maryland. This was the nation's third largest city at that time. American troops succeeded in keeping the British out. However, the British were not stopped, and then they bombed Fort McHenry, which was a harbor fortress. It did not fall, and this led to the retreat of the British.