When Washington Burned: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812, Arnold Blumberg

When Washington Burned: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812, Arnold Blumberg

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When Washington Burned: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812, Arnold Blumberg

When Washington Burned: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812, Arnold Blumberg

The War of 1812, the last open war between the United States and the United Kingdom, is hardly known at all in Britain, although it is a little more familiar in the US and Canada. The war was effectively a draw, ending with the pre-war situation restored (this could be seen as a British victory, as it had been the Americans who originally declared war and who thus failed to achieve their war aims, but that would be something of a stretch). Most of the land battles took place on the US-Canadian border, where a series of American invasions of Canada were repulsed, and British expeditions south of the border did no better. Perhaps the most dramatic American successes came at sea, where their large and well manned frigates inflicted a series of embarrassing defeats on the Royal Navy. The two major British attempts to attack along the American coast had very different results - at the book's title suggests the attack on Washington was a success, but the attempt to take New Orleans ended in a defeat in a battle fought after the war had officially come to an end.

The War of 1812 was a fairly disjointed affair, often with several quite small-scale campaigns going on at the same time, at quite a distance from each other, and with little or no impact on each other. Blumberg has done a good job of producing a clear narrative out of this, organising his material well. Each chapter covers a single topic, generally limited to a particular geographic front, avoiding the danger of losing focus by attempting to cover all of the events of a particular period. Naval topics get their own chapters, including the naval conflicts on the Great Lakes.

The vast majority of the illustrations are contemporary artworks - engravings and paintings being most common. There are also some useful modern maps that illustrate the more complex campaigns. This is a good single volume history of the War of 1812, providing a clear idea of what happened and why, well balanced with material from both sides.

1 - The Road to War
2 - Amateurs to Arms
3 - Disaster at Detroit, Debacle at Queenston
4 - American Success at Sea
5 - Battle for the Lakes
6 - The Battles of 1813
7 - Warships and Privateers
8 - The Niagara Front Ablaze
9 - Britain Invades America
10 - War in the South and the Battle of New Orleans

Author: Arnold Blumberg
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 208
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2012

A vivid account of the often forgotten 1812 conflict between a young United States and an imperial Britain, including maps and illustrations.

Scarcely three decades after the United States won its independence, the massive strength of its mother country returned, seeking to enforce its will on its wayward offspring. The combats were various in scale and ferocity, stretching from the wilds of the Canadian border to the swamps of New Orleans, while on the high seas, the fledgling American navy slugged it out bravely with fearsome Britannia—and achieved shocking success.

On land, the Americans initially had less luck and witnessed the burning of their new capital at Washington, DC, by British redcoats, even as a gallant bastion off Baltimore continued to hold its flag high beneath the “rockets’ red glare.” Though unnecessary for geopolitical purposes, as the war had already ended, Gen. Andrew Jackson punctuated the conflict profoundly with a disastrous defeat of Wellington’s veterans near the Crescent City.

Lavishly illustrated with dozens of images of the fighting and the soldiers, this book illuminates an exciting, even if frequently forgotten, episode in our history—one of America’s first great crises.

The Rockets' Red Glare : An Illustrated History of the War of 1812

This engagingly told and richly illustrated history invites readers to travel back in time and imagine what it would have been like to live through the War of 1812, America’s forgotten conflict.

Offering readers an impressive array of images—some rarely before seen—and a crisp narrative, the book recounts the war’s main battles and campaigns, from William Hull’s ignominious surrender at Detroit in 1812 to Andrew Jackson’s spectacular victory at New Orleans in 1815. Learn about Oliver H. Perry’s remarkable victory on Lake Erie and the ensuing death of the great Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Witness the devastation on the Niagara Front as the balance of power shifted back and forth. Watch as Thomas Macdonough executes a masterstroke on Lake Champlain, winning a great naval battle and saving upper New York from occupation. Experience the demoralizing British raids in the Chesapeake that culminated in the burning of Washington, D.C., and the successful defense of Baltimore that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Rockets' Red Glare recaptures in vivid detail not only the military history of the war but also its domestic and diplomatic history. Authors Donald R. Hickey and Connie D. Clark show why the fragile young republic, which was still a second-rate power, declared war against Great Britain, an established global power. They also explain why Americans remember the conflict as an unalloyed success, even though by the war’s end, the United States faced military uncertainty, financial stress, a punishing British naval blockade, and the intractable opposition of Federalists in New England.

The thrilling stories and stunning illustrations of The Rockets' Red Glare are sure to capture the imagination of anyone interested in the fascinating history of the War of 1812.

A Tornado Saves Washington during the War of 1812

This story is one of those curiosities, a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction kind of anecdote. I highlight it for that reason only…I see no greater symbolism here nor any type of divine intervention. Just a remarkable stroke of luck for the beleaguered United States.

The War of 1812 was a bizarre episode in U.S. History. Both nations went into the war with few clear objectives. Neither were prepared. The campaigns are a litany of tragic, botched efforts resulting in pointless bloodshed. And in the end, everything returning to status quo ante bellum, that is, as they were prior to the war.

It raises the question, “Why did we fight?” That large topic is not the subject of this post. I’ll simply say that the war clearly had more to do with western territory than anything else, setting up a pattern for all U.S. wars in the 19th century. The traditional interpretation which many of us were taught focuses on the issue of sovereignty on the high seas and the notion of the War of 1812 as the “Second War of Independence.” This misses the point. We had our independence. Our independence was not incomplete nor was it in jeopardy. If shipping rights were the issue then why did both nations devote so many resources to land campaigns focusing almost exclusively on our western frontier?

But, I digress. Back to the tornado.

By the summer of 1814, two years into the war, the United States was in trouble. There had been numerous bungled attempts to invade Canada (the objective seemingly to occupy what is now eastern Ontario…though I’m not sure that objective was ever really understood or articulated by American leaders). There had been a successful campaign under Major General William Henry Harrison in Canada, but unfortunately the War Department refused to fully support it. Harrison therefore gave his resignation and his success came to nothing.

Things got worse in April 1814. Great Britain, to our advantage, had been fighting two wars at once. But when Napoleon surrendered to the Russians and was exiled to Elba, the Napoleonic Wars had, for the time being, ended. Now Great Britain could devote tens of thousands of battle-hardened veterans to the war against the United States. Thus far, we had been fighting demoralized British troops stationed in Upper Canada, many of them eager to desert. Now, grizzled men who had served under Wellington and fought against Napoleon would be invading our shores. This was a very different type of soldier. With this influx of veterans, Great Britain would finally go on the offensive.

One of the first targets in August 1814 was primarily a psychological one. Many British officers were pushing for the burning of Washington D.C. There were certainly more important strategic objectives. But there was a desire to avenge the plundering that Americans had committed in York (now Toronto) and strike a massive blow to American morale.

Landing in Benedict, Maryland on August 19, 1814, a British force of roughly 5,000 men marched towards Washington. An American force of roughly 7,000 led by Brigadier General William Winder made a largely pathetic attempt to stop the British at the Battle of Bladensburg, Maryland on August 24. I hesitate to use that word because there was some courageous fighting there on the part of many Americans. But the battle was so poorly planned, the American forces so confused, it turned into an awful rout very quickly. And the road to Washington lay wide open to the British.

Once in Washington, the British burned the White House (after sitting down to eat a large feast that Dolly Madison and her staff had prepared for cabinet members before they were all forced to flee). The War Department, the State Department, the Treasury department and many other government offices were burned. And, of course, the Capitol building, with the original Library of Congress, was destroyed.

The policy was to leave private property alone. However, the conflagration of many public buildings threatened to spread out of control. The city was in jeopardy.

The next day, August 25, as fires still raged, a massive storm hit Washington. The driving rain put out most of the fires threatening the city. Perhaps more important, the invading British were so battered and demoralized, the storm played a large role in the decision to cut short the occupation of Washington.

The storm was so fierce that it tore buildings apart, literally lifting them off their foundations. The winds uprooted trees and knocked men to the ground. A number of houses collapsed, killing the British soldiers taking shelter therein. One British officer reported seeing cannons lifted off the ground and thrown through the air. Redcoats out on the streets of Washington, trying to enforce a curfew, were forced to lie prostrate in the mud.

Based on the first hand accounts, weather historians generally agree that the storm that struck Washington on August 25, 1814 sparked one or more tornadoes. I can’t possibly imagine being one of these soldiers, completely exposed, with no choice but to cling to mother earth in the midst of a tornado.

As the storm began to subside, one of the British officers in command of the invasion emerged from his shelter and said to one of the inhabitants of Washington, “Great God, Madam, is this the kind of storm to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?!”

She responded, “No, sir, this is a special interposition of Providence to drive our enemies from the city.”

The quick-witted officer shot back, “Not so Madam. It is rather to aid your enemies in the destruction of your city.”

I have no opinion on Providence. But there can be no doubt that the tornado that struck Washington that day did more to save the capital than the United States Army ever did. The fires were largely extinguished. And the British limped back to their ships.

The War Years

The War of 1812 continued until 1815. Three figures stood out on the British/Canadian side: Sir Isaac Brock, Tecumseh, and Laura Secord. Their influences were felt particularly in the early stages of the conflict.

Tied down fighting Napoleon’s France, regular British troops were in short supply in Canada. General Sir Isaac Brock was in charge of defending the southwest Part of the British colonies, known as Upper Canada. Greatly outnumbered by American regular forces, Brock enlisted the aid of the Shawnee First Nations chief Tecumseh and Canadian militias.

In one of the first acts of the war, American general William Hull crossed the border into Canada from Detroit. Brock met with and formed a military alliance with Tecumseh. Although still outnumbered by American forces, Brock and Tecumseh attempted to make their respective troop numbers look inflated. Tecumseh crossed the Detroit River for an assault and Brock marched for a direct attack on Detroit. Seeing the two-pronged attack forming, Hull panicked and surrendered Detroit. This victory gave British North America the first sense that an American invasion could be repulsed.

Having secured the border with Detroit, Brock was soon called to Queenston Heights (near Niagara Falls), to stop another American invasion. Despite being outnumbered again, Brock decided to launch a counterattack. While leading his troops, Brock was shot and killed, a great loss to the British. However, with the aid of Mohawk warriors and British reinforcements, the American attack was turned back.

In 1813, the Canadian side lost another great leader when Tecumseh was killed. Tecumseh had spent most of his life fighting American attacks on First Nations territories. His ultimate goal was to unite the many diverse First Nations to prevent further loss of native territories. While he had no special loyalty to the British, Tecumseh decided an alliance with the British might give First Nations greater influence and autonomy following the war.

At the Battle of the Thames in 1813, outnumbered British troops quickly retreated, leaving Tecumseh fighting alone with his warriors. Despite the pressure to retreat, Tecumseh continued to fight, but was shot and killed on the battlefield. The American victory in battle and the loss of Tecumseh left First Nations unity in disarray, as well as fueling distrust with the British, who were so quick to retreat from the battlefront.

Laura Secord was a Loyalist who’s family had come to Canada following the American Revolution. Living near Queenston Heights, Laura’s husband James, a British soldier, was injured during the same battle that Brock was killed. Laura helped James recover at home. In 1813, Americans forces occupied Queenston Heights and some American officers were billeted in the Secord home.

Laura Secord overheard a conversation among the officers that a surprise attack on British forces thirty kilometers away was being planned. One evening Secord left her home and trekked the thirty kilometers, through forests and around American posts, to warn the British command of the impending attack. Her warnings proved successful as a preemptive British ambush foiled the planned attack.

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A vivid account of the often forgotten 1812 conflict between a young United States and an imperial Britain, including maps and illustrations.

Scarcely three decades after the United States won its independence, the massive strength of its mother country returned, seeking to enforce its will on its wayward offspring. The combats were various in scale and ferocity, stretching from the wilds of the Canadian border to the swamps of New Orleans, while on the high seas, the fledgling American navy slugged it out bravely with fearsome Britannia—and achieved shocking success.

On land, the Americans initially had less luck and witnessed the burning of their new capital at Washington, DC, by British redcoats, even as a gallant bastion off Baltimore continued to hold its flag high beneath the “rockets’ red glare.” Though unnecessary for geopolitical purposes, as the war had already ended, Gen. Andrew Jackson punctuated the conflict profoundly with a disastrous defeat of Wellington’s veterans near the Crescent City.

Lavishly illustrated with dozens of images of the fighting and the soldiers, this book illuminates an exciting, even if frequently forgotten, episode in our history—one of America’s first great crises.

Best Books About the War of 1812

Much like the French and Indian War, the War of 1812 is yet another forgotten and overlooked war. As a result, there aren’t as many books on this war as there are on the American Revolution or the Civil War.

The handful of the books that do exist are great but there are also many bad or mediocre books too. This can make it hard to figure out which books to read. To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the best books on the War of 1812.

These books all have great reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, they are best-sellers in their niche and they have great reviews from publications like the Washington Post, the New York Review of Books, the Guardian and etc.

I’ve also used many of these books in my research for this website so I can personally say they are some of the best on the topic.

The following is a list of the best books on the War of 1812:

(Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

1. 1812: The Navy’s War by George C. Daughan

Published in 2011, this book discusses the navy’s role in the War of 1812 and how the many naval battles shaped the war.

Daughan argues that these battles prove the navy played an important role in the fight for America’s independence.

History writer Gordon S. Wood, author of the notable book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, reviewed Daughan’s book for the New York Review of Books and said it had a gripping and exciting narrative:

“Daughan does a good job recounting the battles on land, but he comes into his own in describing the battles that took place on water. His accounts of the single-ship duels in which the Americans prevailed—the Constitution versus the Guerriere, the Wasp versus the Frolic, the United States versus the Macedonian, and so on—are especially exciting.”

Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn reviewed the book for the Washington Times and said it was well written and hard to put down:

“Other authors in the recent past have covered various aspects of the War of 1812, but George C. Daughan has put it all together in one well-written and interesting volume. It’s a book hard to put down and is most highly recommended as a good read. Its coverage of an important time in the history of the United States will make it a worthy reference for years to come.”

The Boston Globe review of the book describes it as a “richly detailed, well-documented, and compelling account” of the war and the San Francisco book review described it as “expertly researched and illustrated.”

George C. Daughan is an award winning naval historian who also wrote another notable book about the navy titled If By Sea. Daughan, who now resides in Portland, Maine, is a former professor who taught at a number of academic institutions including the Air Force Academy, Connecticut College, University of Colorado, University of New Hampshire and Wesleyan University.

Daughan won the 2008 Samuel Eliot Morrison Award for his book If By Sea and the 2012 gold medal in the Independent Publisher book awards and the 2012 George Pendleton Prize for his book 1812: The Navy’s War. Daughan has a PhD in American History from Harvard University where he studied under Henry Kissinger.

2. The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies by Alan Taylor

Published in 2010, this book discusses how the War of 1812 redefined America and renewed the struggle between the Americans and Britain for control over North America.

Taylor argues that the War of 1812 was a civil war that almost split the country and the North American continent in two. The book details how the war almost caused New England to seceded from the United States.

The book also discusses how, in Canada, the war pitted loyalist American immigrants, who had fled to Canada after the Revolutionary War, against recent American immigrants, who held anti-British sentiments and were pro-American independence, as well as against recent Irish immigrants, who already held anti-British sentiments prior to the war.

In addition, it created a tough situation for Native-Americans in the U.S. who found themselves drawn into a war where neither side cared about their rights or well being.

Notable history writer, Gordon S. Wood reviewed the book for the New York Review of Books and declared it a “remarkable and deeply researched book.”

Alan Taylor is an award-winning author who has written numerous books on American history such as American Colonies, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia: 1772-1832 and William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic.

Taylor earned a PhD from Brandeis University and is a professor of history at the University of Virginia. Taylor won the Bancroft Prize, the Beveridge Prize and the Pulitzer-Prize in 1996 for his book William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic. In 2014 he won the Pulitzer-Prize again for his book The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia: 1772-1832.

3. The Naval War of 1812 by Theodore Roosevelt

Published in 1882, when Roosevelt was only 23 years old, this book discusses the naval battles and technology used during the war.

Roosevelt chronicles the events of the war from the very beginning starting with the social climates in both Britain and America before the outbreak of the war and discusses the naval battles of the war as they happened each year. In doing so, Roosevelt discusses both sides strengths and weaknesses and analyzes the performance of the crew and commanders in each battle.

The book was well received when it was published and, in 1886, the navy placed a copy of the book on every U.S. navy ship. The book was so popular in Britain that, in 1901, Roosevelt was asked to write the War of 1812 section of the official history of the Royal Navy. Roosevelt later became the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy and eventually became President of the United States in 1901.

Roosevelt went on to write 35 more books, which were about many different topics such as history, nature, hunting and travel. Some of these books including his autobiography, his memoirs on Cuba and his time leading the Rough Riders, a biography on Oliver Cromwell and a guide book titled New York: Historic Towns.

4. 1812: The War that Forged a Nation by Walter R. Borneman

Published in 2004, the book discusses how the War of 1812 unified the country with a renewed sense of purpose and paved the way for westward expansion. The book documents the major events of the war from the very beginning to the very end at the Battle of New Orleans.

In addition, the book argues that the Americans acted disgracefully during the war because although the American grievances against the British were legitimate, the main reason the “war hawks” in America pushed for the war was to capture Canada from the British and Florida from the Spanish.

Walter R. Borneman is an author and lawyer who has written numerous history books about the 17th and 18th centuries such as The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America and The Admirals Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King – the 5-star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea.

5. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict by Donald R. Hickey.

Published in 1989, the book is a comprehensive look at the War of 1812 and explores all aspects of the war including the military, domestic and diplomatic history.

The bicentennial edition includes additional information on how the war promoted American nationalism and manifest destiny, stimulated defense spending and enhanced America’s reputation abroad as well as sparked conflicts between pro-war Republicans and anti-war Federalists, negatively affected the American Indians and solidified anti-British sentiments in the U.S.

Hickey is a professor of history at Wayne State College in Nebraska. Hickey is an award-winning author who has written a number of books about the War of 1812, including Don’t Give Up the Ship! Myths of the War of 1812, the War of 1812: A Short History, the Rocket’s Red Glare: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812 and 187 Things You Should Know About the War of 1812 and he is also the editor of the John Hopkins Books series on the War of 1812. Hickey won the Samuel Eliot Morison Award from the USS Constitution Museum in 2013.

6. When Britain Burned the White House: The 1812 Invasion of Washington by Peter Snow

Published in 2013, the book tells the story of the War of 1812 from the side of the British. Using firsthand accounts from eyewitnesses, it recounts when the British invaded Washington and set fire to the White House in the summer of 1814.

Although the book focuses on a very specific event and time period during the war, it also discusses how the War of 1812 overall highlighted the weaknesses and strengths of both sides: the British Empire, which was overstretched and arrogant but powerful and experienced, and the young American republic, which was small and struggling with internal conflict but brave, bold and fiercely patriotic.

The book was well received by both American and British critics. BBC History Magazine reviewed the book and declared it insightful:

“Snow builds his account on the voices of those who fought and witnessed the campaign, from nervous U.S. 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.”

The British newspaper the Times said the book was both meticulous and fascinating:

“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 book was also well received by American publications too such as the Washington Post, which declared it one of the best written accounts of the War of 1812:

“[An] excellent account…Snow, an experienced British journalist, has told the story of those engagements with brio and a fine gift for making sense of the complexities of battle… a fine example of serious and literate popular history… It ranks with Anthony S. Pitch’s fine “The Burning of Washington” (2000) as among the best accounts of a war that hardly deserves to be forgotten.”

Peter Snow is a BBC correspondent and author who has written numerous other books about British history such as Treasures of British History, To War with Wellington, Battlefield Britain and Twentieth Century Battlefields.

7. Perilous Fight: America’s Intrepid War with Great Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815 by Stephen Budiansky

Published in 2010, the book discusses the naval battles of the War of 1812 and explores how the tiny American navy took on the all powerful British navy. The book discusses how the Americans used bravery and brilliant strategies to overcome the British.

The book argues that the war taught the British a valuable lesson about the power of the underdog and it forever changed naval warfare and ensured that Britain would never interfere with American trade relations again.

The book was well received by critics, including Publisher’s Weekly who said “Budiansky’s well-researched and skillfully written account extracts a gripping true-life naval saga from an otherwise inglorious conflict.”

The Booklist declared “Conversant in nautical technicalities of the age of sail, Budiansky will absorb the avid naval history audience,” and HistoryNet.com said the book was so well researched that “Veteran historian Budiansky seems to have read every official record, diary, letter and contemporary newspaper. The result is an authoritative, richly entertaining political history of the early republic centered on the Navy and culminating in the war.”

Stephen Budiansky is a journalist and author who has written multiple books about military history including Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II and the Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War.

8. The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814 by Anthony S. Pitch

Published in 1998, the book discusses the British attack on Washington in the summer of 1814, which Pitch says is a forgotten aspect of American history because it was humiliating and embarrassing for the U.S.

During the attack, the British set fire to the White House, the Capitol Building and many other important buildings in the city and forced the President, James Madison, to flee the White House and the city. The book argues that through the various American triumphs in the war, America earned the genuine respect of the British in the end.

The book details how the British landed in Patuxent River in August of 1814 and then marched into Washington, took over the city and began burning public buildings. Pitch explains that the situation was made worse by the Americans lack of defense against the invaders due to the local militia’s inexperience, outdated equipment, and overall lack of preparation for war.

Despite the British triumph in Washington, the book describes how their victory was short lived when their attack on nearby Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, failed, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Start Spangled Banner, and how the attack on New Orleans several months later also failed, which marked the end of the war.

Anthony S. Pitch is a former journalist who now leads walking tours in Washington D.C. and is considered to be a local history icon in the city.

Pitch has written numerous history books including Our Crime Was Being Jewish: Hundreds of Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Stories The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Town They Have Killed Papa Dead!: The Road to Ford’s Theater, Abraham Lincoln’s Murder, and the Rage for Vengeance.

In 2001, Pitch won the Arline Custer Memorial Prize for his book The Burning of Washington and won the prize again in 2009 for his book They Have Killed Papa Dead! Both books also won the Maryland Historical Society’s annual book award as well.

When Washington Burned: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812, Arnold Blumberg - History

On August 18, 1814, British forces marched on Washington. After a brief battle on the road known as the Battle of Bladensburg, the British forces defeated the Americans who withdraw in disarray, thus opening the road to Washington. The British burned the White House and the Capitol, but a strong rainstorm saved the rest of Washington. The British, under orders not to hold any territory, withdrew.

On August 18 a large force of British soldier under the command of Major General Robert Ross landed at the mouth of Pawtuxet River. The British were in a position to move on Washington. Americans had very few troops available to oppose the oncoming threat. There were only 250 regulars available in the newly formed military district. The British marched north without any serious harassment from the Americas. On August 24, at the town of Blandsberg the Americans made a stand. The British were able to overwhelm the first line of defense at the bridge. In short order the British overwhelmed the second line of defense, and finally the order was given to retreat from the third line. The British lost at least 64 soldiers and the Americans lost 24 soldiers. There was now nothing standing between the British and Washington. Back in Washington, Dolly Madison secured her place in history by removing key documents from the White House as well as the famous painting of George Washington thus ensuring their safety. The British arrived in Washington and burned the major government buildings including the President's House (now known as the White House), the Capital Building, the Treasury, the State Department, and the War Department. The British stayed in Washington for only one night, their goal had never been to occupy the city, merely to raid it.

Custer’s Other Regiment

Samuel J. Crawford organized the 19th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry to respond to Indian depravations that escalated in 1868. The volunteers hoped to engage in combat with tribes, like the 7th Cavalry did, shown charging into Black Kettle’s village at daylight on November 27 in this Harper’s Weekly illustration published on December 19. They instead learned another way to win a war.
– Illustration Courtesy Library of Congress all other photos True West Archives –

The 19th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry fought the harsh elements and rough terrain, but never the American Indians.

The Sunflower State found a soldier willing to engage the Indians in Lt. Col. George A. Custer. On November 29, 1868, military leaders learned of Custer and his 7th Cavalry’s victory at the Battle of Washita two days earlier.

So in early March 1869, when Custer requested volunteers to accompany the 7th Cavalry on a new expedition, the Company L unit of the 19th Kansas Volunteers believed they would finally see some action.

Samuel J. Crawford

From the start of the year through the summer of 1868, marauding Indians had murdered 110 whites, raped 13 white women, stolen 1,000 livestock and destroyed private property in Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s Department of the Missouri. Many of the depredations were perpetrated in north-central Kansas and along the Kansas-Colorado border by the Southern Cheyennes.

On August 17, Kansas Gov. Samuel J. Crawford offered to raise state volunteers to curb the Indian violence. Sheridan accepted the offer on October 9 and requested the governor raise one volunteer regiment of cavalry to serve for six months. The federal government would pay the regiment the same pay as soldiers in the Regular Army and furnish the men with rations, equipment and weapons.

Crawford recruited a mounted unit of volunteers from the state militia and designated the new formation the 19th Kansas Cavalry. On October 21, he set up Camp Crawford, in Topeka, to organize the new recruits.

Within weeks, 1,300 men, including former Union Civil War cavalrymen, were mustered into the regiment, while supplies, equipment and horses arrived from Fort Leavenworth. The lieutenant colonel in charge of training was Horace L. Moore, 31, a veteran volunteer cavalry officer who had commanded the Union 4th Arkansas Volunteer Cavalry regiment and, in 1867, served as a major in the 18th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. Crawford, 33, a former major general for the Union Army during the Civil War, resigned his governorship in early November and assumed command of the cavalry.

On November 5, ten of the 12 companies of the regiment left camp to march to Camp Supply, on the south bank of the South Canadian River, 355 miles from Topeka. (The other two companies, D and G, marched to Fort Hays.)

The trip was supposed to take five days, so the 1,100 men carried rations for that length of time. But the journey took longer, leaving the soldiers to purchase sustenance for themselves and their mounts from inhabitants in Emporia. On November 12, when the soldiers reached Fort Beecher on the Little Arkansas River, their hopes for relief were dashed upon learning that the post did not have enough food, forage or wagons for the regiment.

Adding to the distress of inadequate rations, the force was about to enter what was known as “that land across the river whence no traveler had returned.” Not a man in Crawford’s command had ever been south of the Arkansas River.

The soldiers faced a journey through 160 miles of desert. The horses ate the last of the forage on November 16. The men were supplementing their food supply with daily kills of buffalo.

The regiment entered Indian Territory on a rainy November 19 and made camp that night along Salt Fork Creek. The wind increased to hurricane force, with temperatures falling to below zero. The wind prevented fires from being lit that evening, leaving the men suffering greatly from the cold. Only at 3 a.m., when the men burned a log in a pit they dug, did they successfully find warmth from a fire.

The situation became critical on November 22. The soldiers could not find any buffalo to slaughter. Heavy snow falling restricted the men’s vision to 20 yards. They made camp near Sand Creek, with their only shelter from the brutal winds being dog tents—six-foot-long, five-foot-wide affairs made of thin ducking.

That night, with 10 inches of snow on the ground, and more falling, Capt. Allison J. Pliley, commanding Company A, with 50 men, left the regiment to find Camp Supply, which was supposed to be “somewhere near the forks of Beaver creek and the North Canadian.” Pliley had served as a ranker in the 15th Kansas Cavalry during the Civil War and as an Army scout during 1867 to 1868.

The rest of the troopers woke up on the morning of November 23 to find a foot of snow on the ground and more coming down. All sense of direction was lost. Troopers hunkered down, cutting down cottonwood trees for firewood, which the famished horses stripped of every twig and inch of bark.

The next day, the snow stopped and the troopers moved out in a foot and a half of the white stuff, leading their horses. After five tortuous miles, the men came to the Cimarron Hills and went into bivouac. The area abounded with Hackberry trees, providing fruit seeds that the famished men devoured. Their desperate situation was starting to become clear, and the men christened the site “Camp Starvation.”

To ease the supply problem, the leaders decided to divide the column. Colonels Crawford and Moore took nearly 500 of the strongest men and horses to look for Camp Supply, while the remaining 600 or so men stayed with the wagons at Camp Starvation, in the hopes Capt. Pliley had found Camp Supply and relief was on its way.

On November 25, Crawford and Moore began the march, crossing the 200-yard-wide, three-foot-deep Cimarron River, which ran through a gorge 500 feet deep. Private James A. Hadley, Company A, who accompanied Crawford, recalled the temperature dropped to 20 degrees below zero. The next day, Thanksgiving, horses began to die of starvation.

On November 27, the men struggled through deep snow over hilly prairies and reached the North Canadian River. The next day, Crawford’s column entered Camp Supply after 24 days on nine days of subsistence and seven days of forage, having traveled 355 miles from Topeka. They had lost 75 horses, but no men. Pliley had gotten there three days before, and a relief expedition was already on its way to Camp Starvation. The detachment left behind at Camp Starvation reached Camp Supply on December 1.

Custer Enters the Picture

By the time the 19th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry reached Camp Supply, Gen. Sheridan had already feared the worst, having heard no news from them. He enlisted Custer and his 7th Cavalry to join the fight.

This news was a great disappointment to the boys from the Sunflower State, since they had yet to find glory in battle against the Indians. As Pvt. Hadley stated, “…they feared the enterprising Custer would strike so vigorously that the Indians would roar for peace.”

Their suspicion was confirmed on November 29, when they learned of Custer’s victory at the Battle of Washita two days earlier. The volunteers were now on a mission to accompany the 7th Cavalry to secure peace.

Starting on December 7, along with Sheridan, the 1,800 troopers of the 7th and 19th Cavalry regiments journeyed through a series of snow blizzards and below-zero-degree weather over the ice-covered, half-mile-wide, four-foot-deep South Canadian River to inspect the Washita battlefield. After marching through 15 inches of snow, they reached Fort Cobb, located along the Washita River, on December 18 and remained there until January 6, 1869.

Large numbers of troopers were now disabled by frostbite. The 19th Cavalry had lost 150 horses due to the weather and lack of forage.

Sheridan persuaded elements of the Arapahos, Kiowas and Comanches to enter into peace talks with the Army. That the military was threatening to hang prisoners Lone Wolf and Satanta, two principal war chiefs of the Kiowa nation, did much to facilitate negotiations. The ploy was effective. By the time the Army released the prisoners in February, most of the Kiowas had returned to their reservation.

Following the Battle of Washita by Custer’s forces, these Cheyenne captives were at Fort Dodge in Kansas in 1868, while en route to Fort Hays. Standing to the left of the prisoners is John O. Austin, U.S. Army chief of scouts.

Another Shot at Glory?

In early March, Custer wanted to take his command, now at Fort Sill, to the southwest, toward the Red River, in order to seek out bands of Cheyennes. The hard campaigning, however, had reduced his 7th Cavalry by a substantial number of men—about 450—and left only 200 fit horses.

Custer requested volunteers from Lt. Col. Moore, who had taken command of the 19th Kansas after Col. Crawford resigned and left the regiment on February 15. Moore polled his men for volunteers who would be led by the colonel and by Company L Capt. Charles H. Finch.

Getting those volunteers was difficult, not because men did not want to go, but because so many were unfit for duty due to the past four months of hard marching and exposure to the harsh weather. The regiment’s ranks were further reduced because 300 of its members were so unfit for active duty that they, under First Lt. Henry E. Stoddard, were being marched, along with invalids from the 7th Cavalry, back to a base camp on the Washita.

In the end, 450 men and officers of the 19th Kansas elected to go with Custer. On March 2, the volunteers, on foot, and the 7th Cavalry started a mud march from Fort Sill to confront the Cheyennes. Custer, impressed with the Kansas Volunteers’ march discipline, wrote that the “Nineteenth put to the blush the best regular infantry.”

After crossing the Red River, the column traveled through desert country. Rations had been reduced twice by then, and the men were getting hungry. On March 8, the pace of the march was quickened even though rations had been reduced once more. When the mules started to die, the men ate mule meat.

As the blue column moved, a string of exhausted men on foot was left in its wake. They had destroyed their wagons, carrying the men’s gear, since the demise of the mules left the wagons unmovable.

On March 17, after a freezing night, the soldiers spotted an Indian trail that led to the northeast. Word moved down the column that a fight with hostiles would probably occur in a day or two.

The five days of rations lasted for 16 days, and on March 18, the food supply ran out. Two days later, the starving force of more than 1,000 soldiers found a village, containing 250 lodges and about 1,500 Cheyennes, near today’s Wheeler County in Texas.

Fired with anticipation of a battle against Indians, the officers and men of the 19th Kansas were dumbstruck when told of Custer’s order, “Don’t fire on those Indians.”

The men took their stations—the 19th at the head of the valley, and the 7th at the lower end—within easy shooting distance of the village, while Custer entered the camp to negotiate with the Cheyennes. He demanded that they return to their reservations and insisted they release two white female captives.

During the parley, 30 troopers—15 each from the 7th and 19th Cavalries—strolled down to where the talks were being held. Custer ordered them to arrest leaders Dull Knife, Medicine Arrow, Fat Bear and Big Head, stating they would be hanged unless their people complied with his demands.

On March 22, the Cheyennes handed over the ladies, unharmed.

The next day, Custer marched his command back to the Washita battlefield area. The only protections the men had from the biting cold were the worn clothes on their backs and one thin blanket, 19th Kansas Pvt. David L. Spotts recalled.

With no water around in the desolate plain and the men growing weaker by hunger, Custer sent a request for aid to a supply point on the Washita and waited for the relief force. All of the 19th’s men remained with Custer except the redoubtable Pliley, who marched his tired, threadbare and bootless men to the supply encampment about 40 miles distant.

On March 27, the last of the 7th and 19th Cavalries arrived at the supply base. The command had survived nearly a month on five days of rations and achieved all its objectives. The 19th Kansas transferred to Camp Supply, then embarked, on foot, on a 200-mile trek to Fort Hays. A week out from Camp Supply, on April 10, the troopers reached Fort Hays. On April 18, the members of the 19th Kansas Cavalry were mustered out of service.

Out of 50 officers and 1,300 men in the 19th regiment, four died of hunger and cold, another was killed and a fifth met his death due to a gunshot accident. During the course of the regiment’s sufferable existence, only 90 members deserted.

Overshadowed by the fabled 7th Cavalry and its leader, Custer, the Kansas horse soldiers should be given their due. Although they fought no battles during their service, they did endure great physical privation, marched about 950 miles over harsh terrain and in miserable weather, and performed every task expected of them.

Arnold Blumberg is an attorney in Baltimore, Maryland, and the author of When Washington Burned: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812. He is working on a book detailing the decisive American Indian campaigns waged by the frontier U.S. Army.

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