August 24, 1814 — During the dramatic burning of the White House, today British soldiers invaded the iconic seat of the American government in response to an American attack on the city of York in Ontario, Canada.
President James Madison left the White House on August 22 following threats that the British were on their way. First lady Dolley Madison also fled with her staff fled by carriage across the Potomac on August 23, and was gone by the time the solders arrived. Reportedly, the soldiers enjoyed a meal that Dolley had prepared for a group of esteemed American guests.
Before she left, Dolley is said to have broken the frame holding the iconic portrait of George Washington, rolled up the artwork, and carried it to safety.
The Madisons safely returned to Washington, DC three days later to find the White House in ashes. The interior of the building was completely burnt out, and the exterior suffered extensive damage. While the building was torn down and rebuilt, the Monroes lived in the nearby City Octagon House until the new White House was reconstructed in October 1817.
Words of Wisdom
"It is done... the precious portrait placed in the hands of the gentlemen for safe keeping. And now, dear sister, I must leave this house or the retreating army will make me a prisoner in it by filling up the road I am directed to take."