BREAKING: British Burn Washington ... 2 Centuries Ago

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Two hundred years ago this week, during the War of 1812, invading British troops destroyed two of the nation's most important buildings โ€” the White House and the Capitol. The war had started over issues of tariffs and the taking of American sailors on the high seas; by the summer of 1814, British fighters were in middle of a campaign burning and looting along the coast.

Unfortunately, there was no recorded sound from that time, so for help in our storytelling we imagined how NPR might have covered the burning of Washington, D.C., had we been on the scene two centuries ago. This is definitely one of the stories that you'll want to listen to โ€” click the play button above to hear it.

This re-enactment of the siege is based on Steve Vogel's book Through the Perilous Fight: From the Burning of Washington to the Star-Spangled Banner, the Six Weeks That Saved the Nation.

Our cast of characters:

  • "War Department" Correspondent Tom Bowman, embedded with the invading British forces
  • "President's House" Correspondent Tamara Keith, reporting from the White House under siege
  • Congressional Correspondent Ailsa Chang, reporting from the soon-to-be burned U.S. Capitol
  • WAMU's Armando Trull, embedded with the District of Columbia militia
  • E.J. Dionne and David Brooks with their regular weekly analysis of the 1814 news
Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit

Source: NPR


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Comments [4]

Sally from CT

When we read about historical events, we tend to forget their immediacy at the time they were happening. I heard this via the internet, so I was not caught off guard (like so many did when War of the Worlds was broadcast so long ago) like the first commenter. I found it fascinating that I was so engaged in the event when it was portrayed as "contemporary." Kudos for experimenting with this medium.

Aug. 28 2014 07:10 PM
Howard from New York

Considering the news of late, I thought it was completely irresponsible to air this. I walked into a room with the radio on listening to 2 of my most trusted radio hosts commenting "congress burning" and "the destruction of Washington". Both my wife and I sat in horror and disbelief until finally they said that it was a reenactment. In very poor taste. I expect a lot better from you.

Aug. 21 2014 04:49 PM
Caroline from NYC

I see why they thought this was a good/cute idea to get listeners engaged in historic events, but I find this absurd and really out of line right now. Not that the world is ever so peaceful that it's news-free, but right now some really, truly monumental news events are happening and I am turning to NPR and ATC to address them.. only to find some B-grade acting.

Aug. 21 2014 04:46 PM

Reporters seem remarkably calm and collected for covering an invasion of our country.

All Things Considered is deservedly shut out of acting awards on Monday.

Aug. 21 2014 04:39 PM

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