Why Americans Celebrate the Burning of Washington

TIME

This Sunday marks the 200th anniversary of one of the low points in early U.S. history. On August 24, 1814, at 1:00 p.m., with the temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, a British army headed by Major General Robert Ross, an accomplished field commander who had served with distinction as one of the Duke of Wellington’s lieutenants in the Peninsular War, attacked an American force at Bladensburg, Maryland, a few miles northwest of Washington. Although a detachment of U.S. Navy seamen and Marines under Commodore Joshua Barney took a heavy toll on the advancing British with artillery, the rest of the American force, mostly militia, was either overrun or outflanked and responded by fleeing—an episode remembered in wit and song as the “Bladensburg Races.”

With the road to Washington now open, the British rested for several hours in the stifling heat and then marched into the city around 8:00 p.m…

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