9.10.2014

Letter of Chief Clerk Mordecai Booth at the Wash. Navy Yard re: burning of the Navy Yard & the city of Washington


September 10, 1814

Extract from report of Mordecai Booth, chief clerk at the Navy Yard describing his actions on 24 August, when Washington was captured and burned. Booth described impressing wagons around the city of Washington to get gunpowder moved out before the British arrived, assessing where the British troops were, his observations on the American troops, the White House, the Capital, and finally his escape from Washington after helping set the fires to burn down the Washington Navy yard so its provisions wouldn’t fall into British hands.

CAPTAIN'S CLERK MORDECAI BOOTH TO COMMODORE THOMAS TINGEY
[Extract]
Wednesday 24th.—Desireous of having the powder delivered and under a guard, I was on my horse at the dawn of day, and ordered the wagons to gear up, and follow me; on getting to the Farm, I found Seventy five barrels of Powder had been deposited….

I went to the House of Mr. Dosier Bennett a respectable Citizen, recommended by Colo. Minor, in whom I might confide, for its care; he Agreed to have my orders attended to, and to have collected, a competent guard; on my stipulating to Allow him, two dollars Pr. day for his services, and one & a half dollars, for each person employed to aid him; until I could relieve them, by sending a guard over; which Colonel Wharton had promised me should be done.

… I went on to the bridge; on reaching it—saw you on it; I dismounted, and in approaching you, Met Commodore Barney and Captain Creighton…. the four Wagons arrived—And I was giving them orders to proceed direct to the Magazine, when the retreat of our Army was pronounced.—and in the direction to the Potomac Bridge; Wagons and Men; were seen flying in the utmost confusion— those receiving my orders, waited not a moment; but fled with all precipitation— I went to my house locked my doors, and ran to the Yard, where I found you, and tendered my Services— 

What was my astonishment! on being informed by you, that, in the event of a retreat, or defeat, and the Yard could not be defended—You had orders to fire it. — And as you was left without defence—I could remain & assist in the execution of the order— …I proposed going in Search of intelligence…Then Colo. Wharton and Captain Crab were in the Yard— The British Army were momentarily expected—and as I mounted my horse, was told that the whistling of the balls, had been distinctly heard at the Marine Barracks; Which you heard, as well as myself— I passed the commons, and to the turn-pike Gate; commanding a View of the Hills beyond the Gate, I saw not the Appearance of an Englishman— 

But Oh! My Country—And I blush Sir! to tell you—I saw the Commons Covered with the  fugitive Soldiery of our Army—running, hobbling, Creeping, & apparently panic struck—One solitary company Only, (a) that was formed— I was told the Army had rallied at the Capitol— thither I entreated all I passed, that could point a Bayonet, to haste. Finding there was no pursuing Army, I confess, I did believe, and that belief expressed to you, on my return to you—That there had not been a General defeat, but that, some gallant spirits had sustained the Action, and had checked our foe— With this impression—I received your order to go to the Capitol, for intelligence. — I went but found only men who had been dispersed, resting—

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