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Monday Aug 15, 2011

Events that Shaped America...198 Years Ago!

It happened on August 24, 1814 and this was the result:

British forces fled in confusion and rains extinguished the fires.  President Madison

then proclaimed a National Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting & Prayer to Almighty God on

November 16, 1814.  Two weeks after the War ended, Madison proclaimed a National Day

of Thanksgiving & Devout Acknowledgment to Almighty God, on March 4, 1815.

Now, read about the events leading up to this historic climax:

AIR FORCE WEATHER OBSERVER, A tornado that saved a city and defeated the enemy
Posted 2/26/2007   Updated 3/6/2007
by Evelyn Dole, Air Force Reserve Command

2/26/2007 - Robins AFB, Ga. -- The summer of 1814 was one of the hottest on record.
In late August, the afternoon rains and temperatures of over 100 F made the air humid with
beads of moisture and turned the stagnate marshlands surrounding Washington D.C. into
disease-carrying mosquito hatcheries.  The 8,000 heat-weary townspeople were even more
miserable when news came that the invading British Army was marching in from the Chesapeake
Bay.
Although our young country had been at war with the British Empire for over two years, the
majority of indeterminate skirmishes had occurred in the Great Lakes region.  Now that
Wellington had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, the Empire was ready to turn its full attention to
the task of defeating its former colony by sending battle-hardened troops to squash the up-start
Americans.  Washingtonians along with Dolley Madison, the First Lady, were confident the
British Army would attack the strategic thriving port of Baltimore rather their capital city.  However,
the British General Robert Ross and Rear Admiral George Cockburn did have two specific reasons
for an attack on Washington.  The British and Canadians were seeking revenge on the United States
for the destruction by the American Army of the capital of York in Upper Canada (now Toronto,
Canada) and they hoped the destruction of America's new capital city would demoralize the country
enough to obtain its surrender.
On Wednesday morning, August 24, 1814 Dolly Madison looked through her spyglass from one of
the upper floor windows of The White House.  She was watching the surrounding lands, searching
for her husband, President Madison.  All she saw were weary, hunched-over-with-defeat American
troops walking back into the city.  By 3 p.m., she received word from her husband, who was with his
cabinet and many other government officials who had fled to the mountains of Virginia, to evacuate
Washington.  She began the task of loading a wagon with portable articles, documents and other items
of importance, notably the full-length Gilbert Stuart painting of President George Washington.  As the
British troops marched down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Presidential Mansion, she reluctantly
left moments before the soldiers entered the building.
Admiral Cockburn ordered all government buildings burned which included the buildings housing the
Senate and House of Representatives, (the central rotunda of the Capitol not yet constructed).  Also
burned were the Library of Congress, the U.S. Treasury building, and many other public buildings.
Next Cockburn turned his attention on The White House, where the soldiers were dining on food
found in the dining hall.  After they were finished, they set about destroying the building - finally setting
it on fire.
Dawn rose the next morning and the remaining Washingtonians felt the day's warmth not from the sun
but from the heat of the fires.  While the British soldiers continued to set fires and destroy the stores of
ammunition found, they failed to notice the early afternoon sky begin to darken.  Westward beyond the
city, large clouds were forming, beginning to swirl, and soon the sky intensified with lightning and thunder
signaling the approach of a thunderstorm.  The British soldiers familiar with thunderstorms in England
and preoccupied with their orders discounted the Americans watching the sky.
As the storm front neared the city, Washingtonians took cover.  The winds dramatically increased and a
tornado developed over the city that produced a "frightening roar."  The tornado ripped through
Washington and headed straight toward the British occupation.  Structures were torn off their foundations,
other buildings were blown down.  Feather mattresses were sucked out of windows, trees were uprooted,
fences were blown down, chimneys collapsed, the heavy chain bridge across the Potomac River buckled,
and many British cannons were picked up and tossed around.  Panic ensued; many British soldiers did not
have time to take cover and were killed by collapsing buildings and flying debris.
Finally, the winds quieted but the rain fell in torrents for more than two hours quenching most of the flames
and prevented Washington from continuing to burn.  The British Army regrouped near Capitol Hill, a bit
shaken by the harsh weather and decided to depart Washington that evening.  Downed trees across roads
hampered their journey and when they reached their ships, it was discovered two had broken free from their
moorings and were washed ashore.  The British Commander later reported that more of their soldiers were
wounded and killed by this catastrophic disaster than from all the firearms the American troops could muster
in their ineffectual defense of Washington.
President James Madison and his cabinet returned to Washington and started the rebuilding of our Capitol.
Never again, would a foreign army enter our city and only rarely would Washingtonians see a tornado.
Three tornadoes struck near Washington that day.  It was later reported that one landed to the northwest,
another in the high country [which is now called Georgetown], and the one that struck the Capitol Hill area.
Whether there was a single tornado taking a southeasterly course or a tornado swarm, it will never be known.
What can be said for certain is that a powerful tornado with destructive winds did hit downtown Washington
at a crucial time; forcing the British out of the city, and saving what was left of our Capitol.

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