The Attack on Washington 1814


On the morning of the 27th September 1814 Captain Smith, assistant adjutant general to the troops under Major-general Ross, arrived at the Colonial Department in Downing Street with a despatch from that officer, addressed to Lord Bathurst.
Tonnant, in the Patuxent, 30th August, 1814.
MY LORD, I have the honour to communicate to your Lordship, that on the night of the 26th instant, after defeating the army of the United States on that day, the troops under my command entered and took possession of the city of Washington. It was determined between Sir A. Cochrane and myself to to disembark the army at the village of Benedict, on the right bank of the Patuxent, with the intention of co-operating with Rear Adm. Cockburn, in an attack on a flotilla of the enemy's gun-boats, under the command of Commodore Barney. On the 20th inst. the army commence its march, having landed the previous day without opposition; on the 21st it reached Nottingham, and on the 22nd moved on to Upper Marlborough, a few miles distant from Pig Point on the Patuxent, where Ad. Cockburn fell in with and defeated the flotilla, taking and destroying the whole. On the 24th the troops reached Bladensburg, a village on the left bank of a branch of the Potomac, about five miles from Washington.
On the other side the enemy was stronly posted on very commanding heights, formed in two lines, his advance occupying a fortified house, which, with artillery, covered the bridge over the eastern branch, across which the British troops had to pass.
The attack was commenced with much impetuosity by the 85th light infantry and the light brigades of the army, that the fortifed house was shortly carried. A brigade under Col. Brook, with the 44th regiment, attacked the enemy left, the 4th regiment pressing his right, causing him to abandon his guns. The first line was driven on to the second, which, yielding to the irresistable attack of the bayonet, and the well directed discharge of rockets, got into confusion and fled. The enemy army amounted to eight or nine thousand men with three or four hundred cavalry under the command of General Winder.
Washington was entered at eight o'clock that night and the public buildings were set fire to and consumed. The object of the expedition being accomplished, the troops began retiring on the night of the 25th. (slightly abridged)

At the same time Captain Wainwright of his Majesty's ship Tonnant, was delivering to John Croker, the Secretary to the Admiralty, a despatch from Vice Admiral Hon. Sir Alexander Cochrane.
Tonnant, in the Patuxent, 2nd September, 1814.
SIR, I hve the honour to acquaint you, for the information of my Lords commissioners of the Admiralty, of the proceedings of his Majesty's combined sea and land forces since my arrival with the fleet within the capes of Virginia; and I beg leave to offer my congratulations to their Lordships upon the successful termination of an expedition, in which the whole of the enemy's flotilla under commodore Barney has been captured or destroyed; his army. though greatly superior in number, and strongly posted with cannon, defeated at Bladensburg - the city of Washington taken, the capital with all the public buildings, military arsenals, dock-yard, and the rest of their naval establishment, together with a vast quantity of naval and military stores, a frigate of the largest class ready to launch and a sloop of war afloat, either blown up or reduced to ashes.

The occupation was witnessed by Commodore Thomas Tingley of the Washington Navy Yard who made the following report to Mr W. Jones, the Secretary for the Navy.
NAVY YARD, WASHINGTON, August 27th, 1814.
SIR,
After receiving your orders of the 24th, directing the public shipping, stores, &c.; at this establishment, to be destroyed, in case of the success of the enemy over our army, no time was lost in making the necessary arrangements for firing the whole, and preparing boats for departing from the yard, as you had suggested. About 4 P. M. I received a message by an officer, from the Secretary of War, with information that he could "protect me no longer." Soon after this, I was informed that the conflagration of the Eastern Branch bridge had commenced; and, in a few minutes, the explosion announced the blowing up of that part near the "draw," as had been arranged in the morning.
It had been promulgated, as much as in my power, among the inhabitants of the vicinity, the intended fate of the yard, in order that they might take every possible precaution for the safety of themselves, families, and property, immediately several individuals came, in succession, endeavoring to prevail on me to deviate from my instructions, which they were invariably informed was unavailing, unless they could bring me your instructions in writing, countermanding those previously given. A deputation also of the most respectable women came on the same errand, when I found myself painfully necessitated to inform them that any farther importunities would cause the matches to be instantly applied to the trains, with assurance, however, that if left at peace, I would delay the execution of the orders as long as I could feel the least shadow of justification.
Captain Creighton's arrival at the yard, with the men who had been with him at the bridge, (probably about 5 o'clock,) would have justified me in instant operation ; but he also was strenuous in the desire to obviate the intended destruction, and volunteered to ride out and gain me positive information, as to the position of the enemy, under the hope that our army might have rallied and repulsed them. I was myself, desirous of delay, for the reason that the wind was then blowing fresh from the south south west, which would most probably have caused the destruction of all the private property north and east of the yard, in its neighbourhood. I was of opinion, also, that the close of the evening would bring with it a calm, in which happily we were not disappointed. Other gentlemen, well mounted, volunteered, as captain Creighton had done, to go out and bring me positive intelligence of the enemy's situation, if possible to obtain it.
The evening came, and I waited with much anxiety the return of captain Creighton, having almost continual information that the enemy were in the neighbourhood of the marine barracks, - at the capitol hill - and that their " advance" was near Georgetown. I therefore determined to wait ouly until half past 8 o'clock, to commence the execution of my orders, becoming apprehensive that captain Creighton had, from his long stay, fallen into the hands of the enemy. During this de!ay, I ordered a few marines, and other persons who were then near me, to go off in one of the small gallies which was done, and the boat is saved. Colonel Wharton had been furnished with a light boat with which he left the yard, probably between 7 and 8 o'clock. At twenty minutes past 8 captain Creighton returned; he was still extremely averse to the destruction of the property, but having informed him that your orders to me were imperative, the proper disposition of the boats being made, the matches were applied, and in a few moments the whole was in a state of irretrievable conflagration. When about leaving the wharf I observed the fire had also commenced at Greenleaf's point, and in the way out of the branch, we observed the Capitol on fire. It had been my intention not to leave the vicinity of the yard with my boat during the night; but having captain Creighton and other gentlemen with me, she was too much encumbered and overladen to render that determination proper. We therefore proceeded to Alexandria, in the vicinity of which I rested till the morning of the 25th, when, having also refreshed the gig's crew, we left Alexandria at half past 7 o'clock, and proceeded again up to the yard, where I landed, unmolested, about a quarter before nine.
The schooner Lynx had laid alongside the burning wharf, still unhurt; hoping, therefore, to save her, we hauled her to the quarter of the hulk of the New York, which had also escaped the ravages of the flames. The detail issuing store of the navy store keeper had remained safe from the fire during the night, which the enemy, (being in force in the yard) about 8 o'clock set fire to, and it was speedily consumed. It appeared that they had left the yard about half an hour when we arrived. I found my dwelling house, and that of lieutenant Haraden, untouched by fire; but some of the people of the neighbourhood had commenced plundering them; therefore, hastily collecting a few persons known to me, I got some of my most valuable materials moved to neighbours' houses out of the yard, who tendered me their offers to receive them, the enemy's officers having declared private property sacred. Could I have staid another hour, I had probably saved all my furniture and stores; but being advised by some friends, that I was not safe, they believing that the admiral was by that time, or would speedily be informed of my being in the yard, he having expressed an anxious desire to make me captive, but had said that the officers' dwellings in the yard should not be destroyed. I therefore again embarked in the gig, taking along out of the branch one of the new launches, which lay safe, although along side of a floating stage enveloped in flames. I had no sooner gone than such a scene of devastation and plunder took place in the houses (by the people of the neighbourhood,) as is disgraceful to relate ; not a moveablc article, from the cellars to the garrets, has been left us, and even some of the fixtures, and the locks of the doors, have been shamefully pillaged. Some of the perpetrators, however, have been made known to me.
From the number and movements of the enemy, it would have appeared rash temerity to have attempted returning again that day, though my inclination strongly urged it; therefore, reconnoitering their motions, as well as could be effected at a convenient distance in the gig, until evening, I again proceeded to Alexandria for the night. Yesterday morning, the 26th, it was impossible to form (from the various and contradictory reports at Alexandria) any sort of probable conjecture, either of the proceedings and situation of our army, or that of the enemy. Determining, therefore, to have a positive knowledge of some part thereof, from occular demonstration, I again embarked in the gig, proceeding with due caution to the yard, where I learned with chagrin the devastation and pillage before mentioned, and found also, to my surprise, that the old gun boat, which had been loaded with provisions, and had grounded, in endeavouring to get out of the branch, on the evening of the S4th, was nearly discharged of her cargo, by a number of our people, without connexion with each other. Having landed in the Yard, I soon ascertained that the enemy had left the city, excepting only a serjeant's guard, for the security of the sick and wounded. Finding it impracticable to stop the scen´┐Ż of plunder that had commenced, I determined instantly on re-possessing fhe yard, with all the force at my command. Repairing, therefore immediately to Alexandria, lieutenant Haruden, the ordinary men, and the few marines there, were ordered directly up; following myself, I got full possession again at evening.
I am now collecting the scattered purloined provisions, ready for your orders, presuming they will now become very scarce indeed; the quantity saved, you shall be informed when known to me. The Lynx is safe, except her foremast being carried away in the storm of the 25th, about 4 P.M. We have also another of the gun boats, with about 100 barrels of powder, and one of the large yard cutters, nearly full, with the filled cylinders, for our different guns previously mounted; the powder of those, however, is probably much wetted by the storm.
I would most willingly have an interview with you, but deem it improper to leave my station without some justifiable cause, or in pursuance of your instructions, under which I am ready to proceed, wherever my services may bethought useful.
I have the honour to be, &c.;
THOMAS TINGEY.

Hon. W. Jones, Secretary of the Navy.


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