In the first two years of the War of 1812, the young American nation suffered setbacks at the hands of its British foe, but the most humiliating defeat occurred in August 1814, when the British navy sailed up the Potomac and landed troops near the city of Washington. The British routed the Americans at the battle of Bladensburg on the city’s outskirts and then proceeded to sack Washington, burning the White House and Capitol building, and forcing President Madison and other politicians to flee. The town of Alexandria fell next, but the reeling Americans finally made a stand outside Baltimore, led by the spirited resistance at Ft. McHenry.
The war ended with the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814, restoring the relationship between the U.S. and Britain to prewar conditions. This was the first severe test of the new American nation and confirmed that the country would retain the independence won a quarter-century earlier.
In “The Darkest Day,” Charles G. Muller (1897-1987) tells the story of the Washington debacle of 1814. Using official documents and eyewitness reports from both sides, the author explains the political crisis that precipitated America’s “second war of independence” and then provides an accurate and colorful account of the campaign’s land and naval engagements.
“The Darkest Day” is the latest addition to a series of important military histories of the past that Penn Press is republishing. This book joins “The Battle of Huertgen Forest” by Charles G. MacDonald, “The Battle of Koniggratz” by Gordon A. Craig, and “The Cowpens-Guilford Courthouse Campaign” by Burke Davis.
—University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on January 30, 2003