10American Militiamen Are Terrified Of Fireworks And Washington Burns Down
It seems a little silly today, considering that the reckless detonation of colorful explosives has become an American tradition, but it’s true. What we now use to celebrate our independence once scared away all the soldiers defending Washington, and the nation’s capital was burned to the ground.
Following the burning of York (present-day Toronto) by American soldiers in the War of 1812, the British launched a surprise attack on America’s political heart. The battle outside Washington, dubbed the Bladensburg Races, was won by the British thanks to their new weapon: the Congreve rocket. Ironically, the rockets weren’t actually very effective, being notoriously erratic and difficult to aim. Of 7,270 American soldiers, only 26 actually died during the entire battle.
Nevertheless, the untrained militiamen fled from the sheer spectacle of the rockets (“And the rockets red glare . . .”), and nobody stood between the Brits and Washington. They burned the Capitol, White House, and Treasury Building.
So, could any good have come of all this? Well, the destruction had to be repaired. The old ruins were torn down, and construction began immediately on a new home for the President. Thus, like a phoenix, the iconic image of today’s White House rose from the ashes. ...more