Today in History: August 19
The Burning of Washington
On August 19, 1814, during the War of 1812, British troops under the command of Major General Robert Ross and Rear Admiral George Cockburn landed at Benedict, Maryland, on the shores of the Patuxent River. The British fleet, under the command of Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, had chased U.S. Commodore Joshua Barney's flotilla into the Patuxent River, but the true goal was the capture of the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. — only a few days march away. At the same time, Vice Admiral Cochrane ordered Captain James Gordon to sail other British warships up the Potomac River towards Washington which was defended only by Fort Warburton (later renamed Fort Washington) on the east bank of the river, twelve miles south of the nation's capital. News of this British onslaught caused panic in Washington and many of its residents fled.
Commodore Joshua Barney commanded an assortment of small, quick gunboats, galleys, and barges that for weeks prior had outmaneuvered the larger British ships in the shallow Chesapeake waters. However, after being forced up the Patuxent, Barney and his men abandoned and destroyed their flotilla, linked up with a contingent of marines, and marched to Washington. Unsure of where the British would attack, American volunteers and militiamen from Maryland, Virginia, and Washington also scrambled to the capital and its outskirts. When word reached them that the British were marching towards Bladensburg, the American forces moved there to take up defensive positions.
Although the Americans outnumbered the British at Bladensburg, they were poorly trained compared to the well-disciplined professional soldiers under the command of Major General Ross. On August 24, after thousands of American militiamen had retreated, only a small contingent of the flotilla—men and marines under Barney's command—managed a valiant but futile counterattack. The British troops then continued on to Washington.
Before leaving the city, First Lady Dolley Madison ordered that White House possessions be packed and removed from the city — silverware, books, clocks, curtains, and most importantly, Gilbert Stuart's full-length portrait of George Washington. President James Madison escaped only hours before the British entered the city. In order to prevent the British from capturing it, the Americans set fire to the Washington Navy Yard. Upon entering the city, the British set fire to the White House, the Capitol, and many of the other public buildings. The Patent Office, however, was saved from destruction by the Superintendent of Patents, Dr. William Thornton, who convinced the British of the importance of its preservation. The burning of the Capitol destroyed the small library of Congress that was housed in the building. In order to reestablish a library of and for Congress, Thomas Jefferson, offered to sell his private book collection to the government.
A View of the Capitol after the Conflagration of the 24th August 1814,
William Strickland, engraver,
George Munger, artist.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog
The Battle of Bladensburg and the burning of Washington were humiliating defeats for the United States. Within a few days, however, citizens were able to return to the decimated city. The British left Washington as swiftly as they had entered, moving on to capture the city of Alexandria and lay siege to Baltimore.
- Read more about the War of 1812 in these Today in History features:
- Search on Battle of Bladensburg in the collection A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875 to read petitions regarding compensation for wounds and damages received at the Battle of Bladensburg. Also, search on burning of Washington or Fort Warburton for similar petitions.
- Learn more about the city of Bladensburg. Search on Bladensburg in Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American and Engineering Record, 1933-Present. Although some of the photographs have not yet been digitized, the data pages concerning the buildings in Bladensburg provide background information about the city and the people who lived there. Also search this collection for buildings that were burned in Washington, D.C., such as the White House, and buildings that were saved, such as the Patent Office.
- To learn more about the War of 1812, search under the name of the various battles in the "search all collections" box in American Memory.
- View several maps for the period by searching the phrase "War of 1812" in the Map Collections of American Memory.
- Access the Web guides in Primary Documents in American History for additional digital and print resources about the War of 1812 and the Treaty of Ghent.
- The James Madison Papers contain a wealth of documents pertaining to the War of 1812 and the burning of Washington. Search under the name John Armstrong for Madison's correspondence with this secretary of war.
- To learn more about Jefferson's library that reestablished the Library of Congress after the burning of the Capitol, see the Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson; Compiled with Annotations by E. Millicent Sowerby. Washington, D. C., The Library of Congress, 1952-59. (5 volumes).
The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) first aired Saturday morning television shows for children on August 19, 1950. The network introduced two shows: Animal Clinic, which featured live animals, and the variety show, Acrobat Ranch, which had a circus theme. The latter show, hosted by Jack Stillwell ("Uncle Jim"), featured two young acrobats, Tumbling Tim and Flying Flo, and children competing in games and stunts.
The first children's entertainer to perform for television was Burr Tillstrom, who broadcast live from the New York World's Fair in 1939. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) began the first regular television broadcasts in the United States the same year. Initially, the network offered just two hours of programming per week, which were to be received on RCA television sets.
Children's television evolved slowly during the early years. Network executives assumed that families would view programs on their (single) TV set together. Consequently, programming was geared to families while advertising targeted adults. Several children's shows emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s including Bob Emery's The Small Fry Club, Burr Tillstrom's Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and Robert E. "Buffalo Bob" Smith's The Howdy Doody Show. The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) began airing animated cartoons in 1955 under the title Mighty Mouse Playhouse.
Beginning in the early 1960s, networks broadcast cartoons on weekend mornings when few adults were likely to watch. By the end of the decade, watching Saturday morning cartoons—now several hours of programming with advertising aimed at children—was a ritual in many homes.
- The American Memory collection Origins of American Animation presents twenty-one animated films and two fragments spanning the years 1900 to 1921. Clay, puppet, pen drawing, and cut-out animation are represented. Search on keywords such as rabbit or view collection highlights through the special presentation Notes on the Origins of American Animation.
- Today in History pages on authors Louisa May Alcott, Lyman Frank Baum, and Laura Ingalls Wilder will interest fans of Little Women, The Wizard of Oz, and the Little House books.
- Search the following collections on television to locate additional photographs relevant to the early history of television.
- The Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) has a number of related images including a photograph of a circa 1927 demonstration of the new technology: "talking moving pictures" transmitted by radio.
- Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959 contains several photographs of an early television studio.
- Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1923-1955 shows how Americans incorporated early TV sets into home decor. A 1953 photo documents a "television-bar."
- The Leonard Bernstein Collection, ca. 1920-1989 contains 177 scripts from the Young People’s Concerts, broadcast in the U.S. and Canada. These combination lecture-concerts used the medium of television to introduce music to children and instruct them in becoming informed, discerning listeners.
- Take a look at the Library of Congress' Web site for children and families, America's Story from America's Library.