The Year Was 1813

The year was 1813 and the Napoleonic Wars were coming to a violent close. Under Napoleon the French Army had won two victories earlier in the year at Lutzen and Bautzen, but after so many years of battles throughout Europe, the army had been weakened. In the fall of 1813, Napoleon’s army met a coalition of Austrian, Prussian, Russian, and Swedish troops at Leipzig. After three days Napoleon was forced to retreat through the streets. Also known as “The Battle of Nations,” the Battle of Leipzig engaged an estimated 500,000 men and was regarded as the largest battle in history until World War I. It left the city in ruins and a typhus epidemic in its wake. It was also the beginning of the end for Napoleon as he and what was left of his once mighty army retreated back to France.

Further south in Spain and Portugal, things weren’t going well for Napoleon either. In 1808 Napoleon had placed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne, which began the Peninsular War, where Spain and Portugal allied themselves with the British in an effort to rid the region of the French. Sir Arthur Wellesley, who was to become the Duke of Wellington, was in charge of the British troops that were on the offensive and the later battles of 1813 were fought on French soil.

The British were also engaged in the War of 1812 with the United States. After a rough year in 1812, American forces successfully invaded and then burned York (now Toronto), which was the capital of Upper Canada. While the British still had much of the Atlantic coast under blockade, Americans under the leadership of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry won the Battle of Lake Erie. Following the victory, Commodore Perry sent his famous message to William Henry Harrison:

Dear General:
We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop.
Yours with great respect and esteem,
O.H. Perry

The British retreated from Fort Malden and were pursued and defeated by General Harrison at the Battle of the Thames. Lake Erie was now in control of the Americans. Hurricanes hampered naval operations for both sides as storms hit Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Mary’s, Georgia. The year wouldn’t end well for the Americans. In December of 1913, the British burned the city of Buffalo, New York. 

(For a list of War of 1812 battles by state click here.)

In less destructive news, Jane Austen’s literary classic, “Pride and Prejudice” was first published in 1813, some sixteen years after its original completion. The work was originally rejected sight unseen, but following her success with “Sense and Sensibility” in 1811, she revised it for publication in 1813.

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4 thoughts on “The Year Was 1813

  1. You failed to mention a more important incident in the war of 1812 was the burning of Washington D.C.(1814) in retaliation for the Americans burning and looting the city of York(now Toronto)in 1813. Here is part of a detailed report.

    Burning of Washington
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    Burning of Washington
    Part of the War of 1812

    “The Taking of the City of Washington in America,” 1814
    Location Washington, D.C.
    Result Decisive British victory and British razing of Washington, D.C.

    The Burning of Washington is the name given to the burning of Washington, D.C., by British forces in 1814, during the War of 1812. Strict discipline and the British commander’s orders to burn only public buildings are credited with preserving most residences, and as a result the facilities of the U.S. government, including the White House, were largely destroyed. The attack was in retaliation for the U.S. invasion of York, Upper Canada (now Toronto, Ontario, Canada), at the Battle of York in 1813, in which U.S. forces looted and burned the city, including the Parliament Buildings of Upper Canada.

    The White House was burned. Only the exterior walls remained, and they had to be torn down and mostly reconstructed due to weakening from the fire and subsequent exposure to the elements, except for portions of the south wall. A legend emerged that during the rebuilding of the structure white paint was applied to mask the burn damage it had suffered, giving the building its namesake hue. This is unfounded as the building had been painted white since its construction in 1798. Of the many spoils taken from the White House when it was ransacked by British troops, only two have been recovered — a painting of George Washington, rescued by then-first lady Dolley Madison, and a jewelry box returned to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 by a Canadian man who said his grandfather had taken it from Washington. An urban legend in Montreal states that the original doors to the White House are located in the Blackwatch Building on Bleury Street.[citation needed] Some Canadian shipwreck treasure hunters have claimed that some of the spoils from Washington were lost when a convoy of British ships led by HMS Fantôme sank en route to Halifax off Prospect during a storm on the night of November 24, 1814. However Fantome did not take part in the Washington raid and most historians feel the convoy was only carrying goods and customs revenue from British-occupied Castine, Maine.

    On August 24, 1814, the advance guard of British troops marched to Capitol Hill; they were too few in number to occupy the city, so General Robert Ross intended to destroy as much of it as possible. He sent a party under a flag of truce to agree to terms, but they were attacked by partisans from a house at the corner of Maryland Avenue, Constitution Avenue, and Second Street NE. This was to be the only resistance the soldiers met. The house was burned, and the Union Flag was raised above Washington.

    The buildings housing the Senate and House of Representatives — construction on the trademark central rotunda of the Capitol had not yet begun — were set ablaze not long after. The interiors of both buildings, including the Library of Congress, were destroyed, although the thick walls and a torrential rainfall preserved their exteriors. (Thomas Jefferson later sold his library to the government to restock the Library of Congress.) The next day Admiral Cockburn entered the building of the D.C newspaper, National Intelligencer, intending to burn it down; however, a group of neighborhood women persuaded him not to because they were afraid the fire would spread to their neighboring houses. Cockburn wanted to destroy the newspaper because they had written so many negative items about him, branding him as “The Ruffian.” Instead he ordered his troops to tear the building down brick by brick making sure that they destroyed all the “C” type so that no more pieces mentioning his name could be printed.

    The troops then turned north down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House. First Lady Dolley Madison remained there after many of the government officials — and her own bodyguard — had already fled, gathering valuables, documents and other items of importance, notably the Lansdowne Portrait, a full-length painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. She was finally persuaded to leave moments before British soldiers entered the building. Once inside, the soldiers found the dining hall set for a dinner for 40 people. After eating all the food they took souvenirs (example: one of the presidents’ hats) then set the building on fire.

    Fuel was added to the fires that night to ensure they would continue burning into the next day; the flames were reportedly visible as far away as Baltimore and the Patuxent River.

    The British also burned the United States Treasury building and other public buildings. The historic Washington Navy Yard, founded by Thomas Jefferson and the first federal installation in the United States, was burned by the Americans to prevent capture of stores and ammunition, as well as the 44-gun frigate Columbia which was then being built. The United States Patent Office building was saved by the efforts of William Thornton—architect of the Capitol and then superintendent of patents—who convinced the British of the importance of its preservation. Also spared were the Marine Barracks, which some attribute as a gesture of respect for their conduct at Bladensburg. [3]

    Less than a day after the attack began, a hurricane which included a tornado passed through, damaging the invaders and putting out the fires.[4] This forced the British troops to return to their ships, many of which were badly damaged by the storm, and so the actual occupation of Washington lasted about 26 hours. President Madison and the rest of the government quickly returned to the city.

    The thick sandstone walls of the White House survived, although scarred with smoke and scorch marks. Reconstruction of the Capitol did not begin until 1815, and it was completed in 1864.

    Of Britain’s four objectives in its retaliatory invasion of the United States—Lake Champlain, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.—this was the only successful attack. The British had successfully diverted the attention of Washington away from the war and prevented further American incursions into Canada, and had landed a humiliating blow to the Americans. The attack was not as demoralizing as Cockburn intended, but it did contribute to the signing of the Treaty of Ghent next year.

  2. Am I silly, or did anyone else chuckle to read that the British burned down Buffalo, NY in 1913 (rather than 1813)!!! My ancestors from Buffalo had the surname “August”…..when trying to locate further ancestry for Anthony Joseph August and his bride Mary Jane Cater, I often get summertime food ideas (August/Cater).

  3. Clicked your lead to Battles by state and received “Site Not Found”

  4. Oops, thanks Linda. That definitely should have read 1813. (And remind me to email you for recipes for my next picnic!) 😉

    Doris, try again on that link. I just got through. Maybe it was a “busy server” thing.

    And thanks to Kevin for the 1814 update.

    Have a great day!

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