August 25, 1814
British soldier describes the day after the burning of Washington:
“Our troops were this day kept as much together as possible upon the Capital Hill….a powerful army of Americans already began to show themselves upon some heights, at the distance of two or three miles from the city; as they sent out detachments of horse even to the very suburbs…it would have been unsafe to permit more straggling than was absolutely necessary. The army which we had overthrown the day before, though defeated, was far from annihilated; it had by this time recovered its panic….and presented quite as formidable an appearance as ever. We learnt, also, that it was joined by a considerable force from the back settlements, ….both combined amounted to nearly twelve thousand men……..Before noon the sky grew suddenly dark, and the most tremendous hurricane ever remembered by the oldest inhabitant in the place came on. Of the prodigious force of the wind it is impossible for one who was not an eye-witness to its effects to form a conception. Roofs of houses were torn off…and whirled into the air like sheets of paper; whilst the rain …resembled the rushing of a mighty cataract rather than the dropping of a shower….The darkness was as great as if the sun had long set….vivid lightning….together with the noise of the wind and the thunder, the crash of falling buildings, and the tearing of roofs as they were stript from the walls, produced the most appalling effect I ever have, and probably ever shall, witness. …lasted for ...two hours…many of the homes spared by us were blown down, and thirty of our men….buried beneath their ruins…two pieces of light cannon…were fairly lifted from the ground and borne several yards to the rear.
When the hurricane had blown over, the camp of the Americans appeared to be in as great a state of confusion as our own; nor could either party recover themselves sufficiently during the rest of the day to try the fortune of a battle. Of this General Ross did not fail to take advantage. He had already attained all that he could hope, and perhaps more than he originally expected to attain; consequently to risk another action would only be to spill blood for no purpose….a retreat was resolved upon and we now only waited for night, to put the resolution into practice.
There was, however, one difficulty to be surmounted….Of the wounded, many were so ill as to preclude all possibility of their removal, and to leave them in the hands of an enemy whom we had beaten was rather a mortifying anticipation. But for this there was no help; and it now only remained to make the best arrangements for their comfort, and to secure for them, as far as could be done, civil treatment from the Americans.
It chanced that, among other prisoners taken at Bladensburg, was Commodore Barney, an American officer of much gallantry and high sense of honour. …to him, as well as to the other prisoners, was given his parole, and to his care were our wounded, in a peculiar manner, intrusted – a trust which he received with the utmost willingness, and discharged with the most praiseworthy exactness. Among other stipulations, it was agreed that such of our people as were left behind should be considered as prisoners of war and should be restored to us as soon as they were able to travel; and that, as soon s they reached the ships, the Commodore and his countrymen would, in exchange, be released from their engagements.
As soon as these arrangements were completed, and darkness had come on, the third brigade…began to withdraw…
....When we reached the ground (Bladensburg) where yesterday’s battle had been fought, the moon rose, and exhibited a spectacle by no means enlivening. – The dead were still unburied, and lay about in every direction completely naked. They had been stripped even of their shirts and having been exposed in this state to the violent rain in the morning, they appeared to be bleached….The heat and rain together had likewise affected them...and the smell which rose upon the night air was horrible…
In Bladensburg the brigade halted for an hour…During this interval I strolled up to a house which had been converted into a hospital, and paid a hasty visit to the wounded. I found them in great pain, and some of them deeply affected at the thought of being abandoned by their comrades, and left to the mercy of their enemies. Yet, in their apprehension of evil treatment from the Americans, the event proved that they had done injustice to that people; who were found to possess at least one generous trait in their character, namely, that of behaving kindly and attentively to their prisoners.”