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

Peter Snow

7 Reviews

Rated 0

District of Columbia (Washington, DC), Prose: non-fiction, Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900, Military history

The 1814 invasion of Washington.

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.

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

  • Peter Snow's account of this extraordinary event in British-American relations reads like a military thriller, each chapter raising the tension with a mass of detail and a kaleidoscope of characters who transform this book from what could have been a dry, chronological accounts into a riveting romp . . . Snow adds an extra ingredient - a boyish enthusiasm for his subject . . . a meticulous and fascinating account - The Times

  • A stirring tale - Max Hastings, The Spectator

  • The result is superb. When Britain Burned the White House is an exemplary work of history - lucid, witty and humane, with terrific pace, and so even-handed that it will surely be received as well in America as here - The Spectator

  • Peter Snow's account of this extraordinary event in British-American relations reads like a military thriller, each chapter raising the tension with a mass of detail and a kaleidoscope of characters who transform this book from what could have been a dry, chronological account into a riveting romp . . . Snow adds an extra ingredient - a boyish enthusiasm for his subject . . . a meticulous and fascinating account - The Times

  • A stirring tale - Max Hastings, The Spectator

  • The result is superb. When Britain Burned the White House is an exemplary work of history - lucid, witty and humane, with terrific pace, and so even-handed that it will surely be received as well in America as here - The Spectator

  • Snow builds his account on the voices of those who fought and witnessed the campaign, from nervous US militiamen to Ross, Cockburn and Dolley Madison, the president's resourceful wife. Written with verve and insight, this is a fitting reminder of a remarkable interlude in a war that deserves to be better known - BBC History Magazine

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Peter Snow

Peter Snow is a highly respected journalist, author and broadcaster. He was ITN's Diplomatic and Defence Correspondent from 1966 to 1979 and presented BBC's Newsnight from 1980 to 1997. An indispensable part of election nights, he has also covered military matters on and off the world's battlefields for forty years. He presented the BBC documentaries Battlefield Britain and The World's Greatest Twentieth Century Battlefields with his son Dan. He is the author of several books including To War with Wellington and When Britain Burned the White House.

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