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After torching the Capitol about 100 British soldiers and sailors headed west down Pennsylvania Avenue with four officers, including Ross and Cockburn in ceremonial bicorne hats, riding behind them. At the deserted White House, the hot and exhausted invaders found the table set for 40-50 dinner guests and they took to the food and drink with a will.

The president, first lady and Secretary of War Armstrong were the subjects of ribald mockery, and the British began assembling wooden tools, tables and sofa and bedding for a bonfire. Lieutenant George Pratt, a veteran of the Duke of Wellington's campaign against Napoleon in Spain, and "an expert in pyrotechnics," ordered 50 men to surround the Executive Mansion and hurl poles with fiery oil-soaked rags at the end like javelins through the broken windows. Before long the heaps of furniture, bedding, and curtains were on fire. The interior collapsed within the shell, a burning mass of wood flooring, lath, and everything else that was combustible.

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