D.C.’s darkest day, a war that no one remembers

tags: Washington fire



The day began like so many days in Washington, with a painfully long meeting marked by confusion, misinformation and indecision.

The British were coming. They were on the march in the general direction of Washington. The precise target of the invaders remained unclear, but their intentions were surely malign.

James Madison, the fourth president of these young United States, had raced to a private home near the Navy Yard for an emergency war council with top generals and members of his Cabinet. The secretary of war, John Armstrong — conspicuously late for the meeting — had argued in recent days that the British would not possibly attack Washington, because it was too unimportant, with just 8,000 inhabitants and a few grandiose government buildings scattered at a great distance from one another.



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