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ravine. The result is thus told by the gallant Commodore in his report:
On seeing us [he] made a halt. I reserved our fire. In a few moments the enemy again advanced, when I ordered an eighteen-pounder to be fired, which completely cleared the road : shortly after, a second and a third attempt was made by the enemy to come forward, but all were destroyed. They then crossed over into an open field, and attempted to flank our right; he was there met by three twelve-pounders, the marines under Captain Miller, and my men acting as infantry, and again was totally cut up. By this time not a vestige of the American army remained, except a body of 500 or 600, posted on a height on my right, from whom I expected much support from their fine situation. The enemy from this moment never appeared in force in front of us. They pushed forward their sharpshooters, one of whom shot my horse under me, which fell dead between two of my guns. The enemy, who had been kept in check by our fire for nearly half an hour, now began to outflank us on the right ; our guns were turned that way. He pushed up the hill about 200 or 300 men toward the corps of Americans stationed as above described,* who to my great mortification made no resistance, giving a fire or two and retired. In this situation we had the whole army to contend with. Our ammunition was expended, and unfortunately the drivers of our ammunition wagons had gone off in the general panic.”
At this crisis the seamen and marines retreated, leaving the Commodore severely wounded and
* Magruder's regiment.
stretched upon the ground. Ross and Cockburn came up while he lay there, and treated him with the utmost respect and attention, ordering a surgeon to be brought at once to dress his wound.
In this report Commodore Barney gives no credit to troops of the second line other than his own. Yet, when the enemy was engaged in the ravine, Peters' battery, which had been planted on an eminence a short distance northwest of Barney's position, opened upon him with good effect, and the British 85th, when thrown into the fields to carry Barney's left, was forced quickly back by Magruder's regiment stationed there. An English officer, who wrote under the nom de plume of a “ Subaltern in America," admits that this attack on Barney's position entailed greater loss in proportion to the numbers under fire than any battle in which the British had ever been engaged
The second line was now in orderly retreat toward the Capitol. Of its subsequent fortunes a very interesting account is given by General Smith, the officer commanding it: * The first and second regiments,” he says,
halted and formed after retreating five or six hundred paces, but were again ordered by General Winder to retire. At this moment I fell in with General Winder, and after a short conference with him was directed to move on, collect the troops, and prepare to make a stand on the heights westward of the turnpike gate. This was done as fast as the troops came up. A front was again presented toward the enemy, consisting principally of the troops of this District, a part of those who had been attached to them in the action, and a Virginia regiment of about 400 men, under Colonel Miner, which met us at this place. While the line was yet forming I received orders from General Winder to fall back to the Capitol, and there form for battle. I took the liberty of suggesting my impression of the preferable situation we then occupied ; but, expecting that he might be joined there by some of his dispersed troops of the front line, he chose to make the stand there. Approaching the Capitol I halted the troops, and requested his orders as to the formation of the line. We found no auxiliaries there. He then conferred for a few moments with General Armstrong, who was a short distance from us, and then gave orders that the whole should retreat through Washington and Georgetown. It is impossible," he adds, " to do justice to the anguish evinced by the troops of Washington and Georgetown on receiving this order. The idea of leaving their families, their homes, and their houses at the mercy of an enraged enemy was insupportable. To preserve that order,” he adds significantly,
which had been maintained during the retreat, was now no longer practicable.”
The broken army fled by twos and threes through the city, and sought refuge among the hills and crags of Virginia. The British were two miles behind them.
All day the city had been a scene of the wildest confusion : militia companies marching in and then out upon the pike; long trains of wagons laden with government records, household effects, women and children, hastening over the bridge toward the Virginia wilds; a mob of the lower orders on foot, swift couriers dashing in from the front, thunder of guns and roll of musketry, little troops of gentlemen sight-seers dashing in from the field, and then the disorderly swarm of fugitives. These were the sights and sounds of the city on this fatal 24th of August, 1814.
President Madison, with Mr. Jones his Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Rush his Attorney-General, General Mason, and Daniel Carroll of Duddington, also betook themselves to the Virginia shore. Heroic Mrs. Madison remained until the British entered the city, when she too escaped into Virginia, as will be narrated later.
The British reached the east Capitol grounds about six in the evening. The two wings of the Capitol had been finished in 1811, and offered a fine target to the soldiery. For a while they amused themselves by firing volleys into the windows. At length a party, among which were General Ross and Admiral Cockburn, forced their way into the hall of the House of Representatives. A mock session was organized. Cockburn was escorted to the Speaker's chair, and after a brief introduction put the question: “ Shall this harbor of Yankee democracy be burned ? All for it say. Aye.'” A hearty “Aye" with cheers rang through the building, and the motion was declared carried unanimously. The soldiers also clamored to fire the building, and after briefly consulting with his officers, General Ross gave the order.
Abundant combustibles were found in the books and papers of the Congressional Library, and in the desks and other furniture, and
in half an hour the beautiful edifice that had been twenty-one years in building was in ruins. Only the bare walls were left. The column then pressed on to the White House, in the hope of capturing the President and his wife, whom, they declared, they wished to exhibit in England. Its doors were locked, but they forced them in, and searched the house from attic to cellar. Finding no one, the torch was applied, and the mansion, with its library, furniture, and family stores, was consumed. Only the bare walls were left standing.