On August 24, 1814, British forces occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to public buildings including the White House and the Capitol.
The action was taken partly in retaliation for America’s destruction of private property along the north shores of Lake Eerie, with a request going from the Governor General of The Canadas to Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane and from him to
Rear Admiral George Cockburn, who oversaw British forces in the area along with Major General Robert Ross.
Although they had their reasons, Cockburn appeared to take special pleasure in giving the Americans what he called “a complete drubbing.”
The rear admiral had already led devastating attacks on nearby Frenchtown, Havre de Grace, Georgetown, and Fredericktown and faced accusations of letting sailor loot private property and commit rape in Hampton, Virginia.
On the day after he burned the White House, the then-42-year-old rear admiral took revenge on a newspaper that had written negatively about him and branded him as “The Ruffian.”
Initally, Cockburn wanted to burn the offices of the “National Intelligencer” to the ground. After an appeal by locals, however, he relented and ordered his men to take apart the building brick-by-brick. He also took a special action to prevent them from printing articles about him.
“Make sure that all the C’s are destroyed,” Cockburn reputedly told the soldiers, “so that the rascals can have no further means of abusing my name.”
Cockburn was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath for his actions in the war of 1812. He went on to become Admiral of the Fleet in 1851.
Two hundred years later after the burning of D.C., Britain’s U.S. embassy tweeted a joke about the event and then promptly apologized.
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