| American History Stories, Volume III|
|by Mara L. Pratt|
|Anecdotes from the time Washington became president through the War of 1812, the rise of Andrew Jackson, and the sectional differences leading to the Civil War. Numerous black and white illustrations complement the text. Ages 8-12 |
OUR CAPITAL TAKEN BY THE ENGLISH
For some time the British ships had been blockading our
coasts, and the name of their commander had come to be
a word of terror in every home along the Atlantic
shore. Here, there, and everywhere, his fleet had
drawn up, and landed soldiers who would march up into
the quiet, harmless little villages, set them on fire,
and then march coolly away.
There was in England at this time a great general, the
Duke of Wellington. He had just defeated the wonderful
Napoleon Bonaparte in a great battle; and, as this
Napoleon had been looked upon as a most wonderful
being, never to be overcome by any army living, you can
imagine with what respect and awe Wellington and his
army were now looked upon. A general who had conquered
 Bonaparte! Why, Franklin conquering the lightning was
nothing compared with it!
And now it was reported that Wellington's army had
joined the British fleet and was planning to lay waste
the whole Atlantic coast. Indeed, the ships were
already sailing up the Potomac. Think of it! the army
that had defeated Napoleon! now marching straight to
attack the capitol at Washington!
There were forty-five hundred men in all; but before
they had reached the city, report said there were six,
then seven, even eight thousand of them. Gen. Winder
hastily got together a force of seven thousand men and
some cavalry. They took their station outside the city
and awaited the approach of this dreaded foe.
Three days later, the English marched up, tired and
hot, ready to drop from the intensity of the heat. O,
if the Americans could only have known this, if they
could have known, too, that their own number was nearly
twice that of the advancing foe!
But they knew only what report had told them; and so
entered into the battle with little courage or hope of
The English army came up to them, drawn up in line just
above a bridge, over which ran the road to the Capital.
One charge from these Wellington troops across the
bridge, and back they fell before the volley poured
forth from the American lines! Another charge,
quicker, fiercer, more
 determined! but this time the English won the bridge.
Another and another charge, and in less than four
hours, the American lines were broken, and the men fled
into the forests to escape the pursuit of the enemy.
By evening, the English had entered our national
capital. President Madison had been all day upon the
battlefield; and when he saw that the defeat of the
American army was sure, he rushed back to the city to
warn the people of the advancing enemy. Mrs. Madison
had already gathered together all that could be easily
carried away, and was herself ready to leave the city.
At night, the army came into the deserted city. I
suppose they expected to find much wealth and grandeur
in this capital of the nation; but when you think that
only fourteen years before the city had been but dense
forests, you can easily understand that the seizing of
this city wasn't, after all, so very great a gain to
the English, nor yet so very great a loss to the
When the English officers entered the White House, it
is said that they found the tables spread for a dinner,
just as it had been prepared for the president and his
party. These Englishmen sat down with a very good
appetite, probably, after their hard day's work, and
ate heartily. It is said that men are apt to be much
better natured after having eaten a good dinner; but I
am afraid it made very little
 difference with these officers, for they went at once
to their soldiers, and ordered them to set fire to the
city; then, fearing lest the Americans might return in
numbers too strong for them, they marched back to their
ships and sailed away.
Their next move was to attack Baltimore; but by the
time they had reached that city, the people had learned
how small a number they had, and so had lost their fear
for them. They received here a strong repulse, and
retired quite crestfallen.
There is a little incident connected with this attack
upon Baltimore that is of interest to you all. While the
soldiers were attacking the city, the English vessels
lying in the bay were bombarding Fort McHenry. Just
before the firing began, Francis Scott Key, an American
soldier, had gone on board an English vessel to ask the
commander to release certain prisoners that had been
taken at Washington.
Key was kept on board during the entire bombardment.
At midnight the firing ceased. What does the silence
Have the forts surrendered, or are the English driven
back? Hour after hour the brave soldier peered through
the darkness, longing to catch one glimpse of the stars
and stripes, which the day before had floated so
proudly over the fort. Of course, if the English had
taken the fort, they would at once have torn down the
flag. It was during this night of anxious watching
that he composed the good old song which
 very likely you and your schoolmates can sing. It is
not so common perhaps as "Yankee Doodle," but it has
become one of our national songs; and sometime when you
hear the bands playing it on our national holidays, you
will be glad to remember how it came to be written.
"Oh say, can you see, by the dawns' early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming;—
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say, does the star spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?"
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