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man dart through the passage of our house and down the kitchen stairs.”
The ladies were motionless from fright, but after a while peeped out of the back window and saw the cellar door slowly raised, revealing the well-known sandy head of Moriarty, an old Irishman, who kept a little shop in a tenement near by.
“He had been in the act of pumping water next door, and hearing the exclamation, 'Let's have a pop at him!' supposed he was the one they were after, and dropping his stone pitcher, beat a retreat through our passage as the nearest cover.
The horsemen, however, were in pursuit of a man named Lewis, who had insulted them, and whom they shot in the discharge which followed Moriarty's retreat. Lewis, after receiving the shot, galloped as far as F Street, and then fell dead from his horse.
On Thursday afternoon Hinckley went out on the avenue where Admiral Cockburn and other officers were gathered in a group on horseback, and told him that these two houses were occupied by ladies who were entirely alone. The Admiral was very civil, and said he hoped that his character had not been so much maligned as to lead any one to suppose that he would disturb unresisting persons, and that orders had been issued to that effect.”
While the British held possession a terrible explosion shook the city and nearly frightened the people out of their wits. It came from a well at Greenleaf's Point, in which, at the destruction of the Navy Yard, a large quantity of powder in kegs had been secreted in the hope of preserving it from the
enemy. A party of two hundred soldiers, with several officers, had been sent to complete the destruction at that point.
One of the artillerymen,” says the subaltern, “most unfortunately dropped a lighted port-fire into the well, which, with a magazine about twelve yards distant, full of shells charged and primed, blew up with the most tremendous explosion I ever heard. One house was unroofed, and the walls of two others which had been burnt an hour before were shook down. Large pieces of earth, stones, brick, shot, shells, etc., burst into the air, and falling among us (who had nowhere to run, being on a narrow neck of land with the sea on three sides), killed about twelve men and wounded above thirty more, most of them in a dreadful manner. The groans of the people almost buried in the earth, or with legs and arms broken, and the sight of pieces of bodies lying about, was a thousand times more distressing than the loss we met in the field the day before.”
A lady who won laurels in this affair was Mrs. Dolly Madison, wife of the President. It will be interesting by means of her letters to her sister, Mrs. Cutts, and by family papers and traditions, to follow her fortunes through the ordeal.
Mr. Madison left her in the White House on Monday, August 22d, to attend to the disposition of the troops, having first stationed “ Colonel C., with his hundred,” in the enclosure as a guard. The Colonel appears to have deserted his post on Tuesday, the day before the battle. “French John” she wrote on this day,
“ offers to spike the cannon at the gate and lay a train of powder
which would blow up the British should they enter the house. To the last proposition I positively object, without being able to make him understand why all advantages in war may not be taken.”
Her adventures during battle day (August 24th) are thus described in a letter to her sister :
“Twelve o'clock. Since sunrise I have been turning my spy glass in every direction, and watching with unwearied anxiety, hoping to discover the approach of my dear husband and his friends, but alas, I can descry only groups of military wandering in all directions, as if there was a lack of arms or of spirit to fight for their own firesides.”
“ Three o'clock.—Will you believe it, my sister, we have had a battle or skirmish near Bladensburg, and here I am still within sound of the cannon. Mr. Madison comes not. May God protect us! Two messengers covered with dust come to bid me fly, but here I mean to wait for him. ... At this late hour a wagon has been procured and I have had it filled with plate and the most valuable portable articles belonging to the house. Whether it will reach its destination--the Bank of Maryland-or fall into the hands of British soldiery, events must determine. Our kind friend, Mr. Carroll, has come to hasten my departure, and is in a very bad humour with me because I insist on waiting until the large picture of General Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall. This process was found too tedious for these perilous moments; I have ordered the frame to be broken and the canvas taken out. It is done ; and the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen of New York for safe-keeping. And now, dear sister, I must leave this house, or the retreating
army will make me a prisoner in it by filling up the road I am directed to take.”
Her carriage drove first to the residence of Mr. Jones, Secretary of the Navy, where she was joined by his family. Returning toward the White House in search of Mr. Madison, she discovered him with his party near the river, and accompanied them to the shore, where a small boat had been held in readiness to convey them across. Here she bade them farewell, and drove to the residence of a Mr. Love on the Virginia shore, where she spent the night at a window watching the flames circling above the Capitol and the White House.
The next day was full of trials and discomforts for the heroic lady. Before daybreak she started forward to the rendezvous appointed the night before by Mr. Madison. The roads were filled with frightened people, with scouts and militia roaming about, and spreading wildest rumors of the enemy's advance. Stories of an insurrection of the negroes
were also rife, and to these, as the day advanced, were added the horrors of the tornado, before referred to. Toward night, thoroughly drenched, almost fainting with fatigue and exposure, the party reached the appointed place of meeting-a quaint, long-roofed, old-time Virginia tavern. The President had not arrived. The tavern was thronged with women and children, refugees from the city, who declared that the wife of the man who had brought such ruin and misery upon them should not be sheltered under the same roof. But after remaining in the storm for some time the escort forced the unwilling landlord to admit them.
As night fell the Presidential party appeared, hungry and wearied to the point of exhaustion. The President ate what remained of the lunch that had been brought from the White House, and sought needed repose; not to sleep undisturbed, however, for at midnight a courier dashed up with tidings that a party of the enemy were at hand, and he was forced to flee farther into the forest, where he found shelter in the rude hut of a forester.
As day broke, Mrs. Madison, by advice of her husband, disguised herself, and leaving her carriage and four behind, fled farther into the wilderness, attended only by a nephew of Judge Duvall and one soldier; but before going far a courier overtook her with news that the British had evacuated the city, and she at once retraced her steps to the Long Bridge. It was burned from end to end. The officer in charge of the one ferry-boat refused to transport her until she disclosed her identity, when she was allowed to cross. Reaching her home, disguised, and in a strange carriage she found it burned to the ground, and the noble buildings, the pride of the city, only smoking ruins.
Fortunately her sister, Mrs. Cutts, was living in the city, and with her she found an asylum until Mr. Madison's return. He then rented the Octagon, a dwelling owned by Colonel Tayloe, and standing on the northeast corner of New York Avenue and Eighteenth Street, where the family passed the winter, and where he signed the treaty of peace. Later he removed to the northwest corner of Pennsylvania avenue and Nineteenth Street, where he resided until the White House was repaired. Both of these houses were standing in 1881.