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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 three-cornered naval chapeau bras, 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.

The scorch marks of the fire are still visible today on the White House as two areas have been left unpainted.

Erik Kvalsik for the White House Historical Association

The frontispiece to the 1807 travel guide, A Stranger in America by Charles W. Janson, was a rare early view of the White House as it appeared before the 1814 fire.

White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

The North Door surround, embellished by Scottish stonemasons with unquestionably the finest architectural stone carving produced in America at that time, survived the 1814 fire.

Jack Boucher, HABS

Mrs. Madison, with Latrobe's design skills, combined republican simplicity with high federal style to create a setting for political discourse in a cordial environment. The architect custom-designed furniture for the Oval Room in the Grecian mode then popular in England.

Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society

The principal drawing room of the Madison White House—today's oval Blue Room—between 1810 and 1814.

Peter Waddell for the White House Historical Association

Gilbert Stuart's 1797 portrait of George Washington was taken down and reframed to better preserve it in 2004.

Erik Kvalsvik for the White House Historical Association

Dolley Madison through the later years of her life saved and cherished this red velvet ball gown. Curators who have studied the fabric of the gown believe it may have been material from the red velvet curtains that hung in the oval drawing room.

Greensboro Historical Museum

The President's House was left a gutted ruin; the walls still 'white except for great licks of soot that scarred the sockets that had been windows.' President's House by George Munger, ca. 1814-1815.

White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

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