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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.

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