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Oh Dolley! Washington is Burning!

To say that the British are bitter over this little war with America is an understatement. President Madison has lifted the embargo on British goods, but the British don't care. They have blockaded the East Coast so that American exports are down 90% from their pre-war numbers and imports are down 75%. The British won't risk damage from the shore batteries of major ports, so they are pummeling smaller ports into rubble. On August 18th they bottle up American gun boats near the mouth of the Patuxent River (pay-TUX-ent), and make their way over land to Washington DC. It is a punishing march in the 100 degree heat of summer. The troops are dropping like flies. They march through the night to make up for lost time. The American forces have had weeks to prepare, but they fail in their most important task. They have not burned the bridges. President Madison almost blunders into the British troops as they come over the Bladensburg Bridge. Meanwhile, Washington residents are leaving in a panic. The First Lady, Dolley Madison, has the presence of mind to save priceless historical treasures including that famous portrait of George Washington. The British advance under a flag of truce, but there is no one left in Washington to negotiate with, so they set fire to the city. Washington D.C. is burning. [1] [2] [3]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The gunboats gave the British a good fight and they held as long as any man could expect, but it is clear that the American forces didn't believe they would actually have to defend Washington DC. President Madison was riding with the troops, but he was in his 60s, and he had been ill all summer. The defense failed at the Bladensburg Bridge. It was a rout. It is probably unfair to say that the American troops ran screaming like little girls, but one witness wrote, "The young ladies were very merry relating their attempt to fly on the supposed approach of the enemy to their residence and that they were out run by the militia." The rout at the bridge soon became known as the Bladensburg Races. The British said that they set fire to the city in retaliation for the American's deliberate and outrageous burning of Port Dover (Canada) a few months prior. The burning of Port Dover was due to an out-of-control lieutenant, and as bad as that was, the burning of Washington seems all out of proportion. [4] [5]

The Sun, the Universe and Everything

It may not seem like much, but without this discovery, one could not measure the Universe. Joseph von Fraunhofer has invented the spectroscope. This device allows him to view the spectrum of various substances when they are made hot enough to give off light. He notices a bright line within the spectrum of one substance. Then he uses his spectroscope to view the light from the Sun and discovers 574 darkened lines. (There are actually millions of these lines, but hey. He's just getting started.) He wonders if there is a correspondence between the bright line of his burning substances and the darkened lines in the Sun's spectrum. As a matter of fact, there is. When a particular substance is heated to the point of incandescence, the light it gives off has a distinctive signature. Combinations of substances will give off a more complicated signature but they can be untangled to the point where one can determine what substances made that particular light. One can determine the chemical makeup of a light across the room, or from the Sun, or from the light of a star in the next galaxy. [6]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
So what? Well... when astronomers used this tool to analyze the light of stars they noticed that some stars had completely unknown absorption lines. Their signatures didn't match with any known substance. Then someone noticed that the hydrogen line was out of place. It was shifted toward the red part of the spectrum if a star was moving away, or it was shifted toward the blue if it was coming toward us. This is known as red-shifting and blue-shifting. How far the lines were shifted determined how fast the star was moving. Some lines were shifted so far that it was unbelievable! For a better analogy think of a train blowing it's horn. As the train is coming toward you, the horn has a high pitch, but as it goes by, the pitch drops and becomes lower. Something similar happens to light. These absorption signatures allow scientists to measure the speed of the expansion of the Universe and that is simply amazing. [7]

In Other News

  • Emperor Napoleon abdicates and is banished to the island of Elba. The forces of the 6th Coalition have pushed Napoleon all the way back to France. He is forced to surrender his throne to King Louis the 18th. Napoleon will face his Waterloo, next year. [2] [8]
  • Francis Scott Key publishes the Star-Spangled Banner. Actually it is a poem entitled, "The Defense of Fort McHenry". It is about what he saw when he was held prisoner on a British ship as it attacked the fort. The poem will become the lyrics of America's National Anthem. [2]
  • The 80-Hour work week is established. A company town schedule is considered humane: a 6-day work week, wake-up at 4:40 AM, 30-minute break for breakfast, 45-minute break for lunch. Much better than slavery. Right? [9] [2]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1814, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Dolley Madison - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 386-387. 
  3. Borneman, Walter R.. 1812: The War That Forged a Nation. Harper Perennial. ISBN 9780060531133. “In April 1814 the British blockade of the East Coast was extended from the southern and mid-Atlantic states to cover the coast of New England as well. [...] The consequence was that in 1814 American exports plummeted to one-tenth of what they had been in 1811 and imports shrunk to a quarter of their prewar total.” 
  4. Battle of Bladensburg - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 June 2016. “Although the British had suffered heavier casualties than the Americans (many inflicted by Barney's guns), they had completely routed the defenders. British casualties were 64 dead and 185 wounded. Some of the British dead 'died without sustaining a scratch. They collapsed from heat exhaustion and the strain of punishing forced marches over the five days since landing at Benedict'”
  5. Raid on Port Dover - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 June 2016. “At the instigation of Lieutenant Colonel John B. Campbell and without sanction from his superiors or the government of the United States, they also destroyed private houses and other property, prompting British commanders to demand reprisals in other theatres of the war. To some degree, the burning of Washington by the British later in the year was influenced by the American actions at Port Dover.”
  6. Joseph von Fraunhofer - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 13 May 2016. “Thus in 1814, Fraunhofer invented the spectroscope. In the course of his experiments he discovered the bright fixed line which appears in the orange color of the spectrum when it is produced by the light of fire. This line enabled him afterward to determine the absolute power of refraction in different substances. Experiments to ascertain whether the solar spectrum contained the same bright line in the orange as that produced by the light of fire led him to the discovery of 574 dark fixed lines in the solar spectrum; millions of such fixed absorption lines are now known.”
  7. Alex Shrugged notes: I've been reading about this since I was a teenager, so most of this analysis comes from my reading over the years.
  8. Louis XVIII of France - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 June 2016. “Louis XVIII (Louis Stanislas Xavier; 17 November 1755 – 16 September 1824), known as 'the Desired' (le Désiré),[1][2] was a monarch of the House of Bourbon who ruled as King of France from 1814 to 1824 except for a period in 1815 known as the Hundred Days. Louis XVIII spent twenty-three years in exile, from 1791 to 1814, during the French Revolution and the First French Empire, and again in 1815, during the period of the Hundred Days, upon the return of Napoleon I from Elba.”
  9. Waltham-Lowell system - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 25 April 2016. “The mill girls lived in company boarding houses and were subject to strict codes of conduct and supervised by older women. They worked about 80 hours per week. Six days per week, they woke to the factory bell at 4:40am and reported to work at 5am and had a half-hour breakfast break at 7am They worked until a lunch break of 30 to 45 minutes around noon. The workers returned to their company houses at 7pm when the factory closed. This system became known as the Waltham System.”

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