Thursday, August 13, 2009

Uninvited Guests and a Little Fire.

As I said last night I have recently discovered The West Wing. Well today I was watching more in an effort to keep myself occupied. In episode 14 of the third season, the character Leo McGarry, tells an anecdote about the burning of the White House during the War of 1812. In the anecdote a detachment of British troops arrive to find the tables set for dinner, being practical they sat down and ate dinner before following their orders and setting fire to the building.

In August 1814 the War of 1812 had been dragging on for two years. Neither the British nor the Americans had been ready for war and neither had been able to achieve a decisive result. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 the British suddenly found they had the possibility of bringing more troops from Europe to increase pressure on the fledgling USA.

One of the tactics the British chose was to land an expeditionary force in Maryland to threaten Baltimore and Washington. The Secretary of War John Armstrong, misjudged and assumed the British would only attack Baltimore when in fact their plan was to strike at both.

This meant only a scratch force of a few hundred American regular soldiers together with 6,500 militia were mustered to march out to face the approaching column of 4,500 Veteran British soldiers and sailors. The Battle of Bladensburg was fought on the 24th of August 1812. From the start it was a disaster for the American forces, due to poorly coordinated leadership the American forces were quickly routed.

With no effective leadership, the fleeing militia units actually fled through Washington leaving it essentially undefended. The hero of the hour, from the American perspective, was the First Lady Dolley Madison. Deserted as she was, she kept her head and ordered the salvage of such portable treasures as she could before departing just ahead of the arriving British forces.

WARNING! Any American readers who are likely to hold the actions of a distant ancestor against me, should immediately desist in reading this post. Hopefully, if you stop now we can remain friends and you can resume your perusing of my blog at a later date.

Still reading? Well this is the dark secret from my family archive, my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather (in other words my Grandfather’s Great-Grandfather) was present at the battle and afterwards at Washington. This is where it gets difficult, my forebear a junior officer by the name of William Anley was there and he was not on the American side.

Young William was then serving on HMS Tonnant the Royal Navy (RN) flagship of the North American Station. As a junior officer he was part of the RN shore contingent that accompanied the British Army at the Battle of Bladensburg and at the subsequent burning of Washington.

So there it is, one of my ancestors is complicit in the burning of not only the White House, but of the burning of Washington’s public buildings. American readers of my blog do you hold it against me? Hopefully, given the time that has passed since we can just let bygones be bygones.

The bicentenary of the event is coming up on the 24/25 of August 2014. Does anyone think I should attend?
I do like a good celebration – this was my bonfire on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend last year.

Uh, maybe on second thoughts I’d better not.


Kathleen Jones said...

Fascinating detail Al. I've been thinking about my ancestry quite a bit too (the result of birthday week in isolation with swine flu!). You obviously have some great characters in yours. Fuel for a book?

Al said...

Hi Kathleen,
There is probably enough for 2 books just on William's life. I have so many other ancestors who were just as fascinating, if not more so.
It is amazing what is there to find in almost any family with a little digging.

Mary said...

Of course I don't hold your ancestry against you, Al. You are not your relative and he, as a junior officer, was following orders. Not much he, or you, could have done about that.

Also, if I were to hold this against you, then you could hold my relative's actions against me. He was a bank robber and spent time in both Leavenworth and Alcatraz.

Isn't history interesting?

Al said...

Hi Mary thanks for the comment.
I would agree, history is just so much fun.

Anonymous said...

It is time to become reasonable. It is time to come in itself.

Anonymous said...

Hi all. How are you?

Anonymous said...

I need to contact site admin urgently. Can you understand me?