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If the twelve years in which this place has been considered as the future seat of government had been improved, as they would have been in New England, very many of the present inconveniences would have been removed. It is a beautiful spot, capable of any improvement, and the more I view it the more I am delighted with it.
Many amusing jokes were cracked at the expense of the city, in its infancy, by the wags of Philadelphia, New York, and other cities jealous of the location of the seat of government. It was styled the “ city of magnificent distances," and the Capitol the “palace in the wilderness.” Indeed, the heart of the present city was at that time but waste, swamp, and thicket, and snipe-shooting was common on the borders of Pennsylvania avenue. The Indian name of the place was Conococheague, meaning Roaring Brook, from a stream of that name which falls into the Potomac above Georgetown. The elevated plateau on the east side of the city, known as Capitol Hill, was formerly called Rome by its proprietor, whose name was Pope, and who fancied the title of Pope of Rome. From this circumstance, the inlet from the Potomac was at that time called the Tiber, but the name has since been applied to the small stream emptying into the canal, although General Washington denominated it Goose Creek, in defining the boundary of the city.
Washington was incorporated as a city by act of Congress passed May 3, 1802. Under the auspices of President Jefferson, Pennsylvania avenue was planted with Lombardy poplars, one row on each side and two in the middle, to imitate the beautiful walk and drive in Berlin, known as Unter den Linden. The poplars, however, did not Aourish, and were removed when the avenue was
graded and paved, by acts of Congress passed May 25, 1832, and February 19, 1833. The city was planned on a grand, national scale, too extensive for municipal improvement alone, and Congress originally proposed to make liberal expenditures in adorning the squares, grading streets and avenues, and decorating public buildings and grounds in a manner becoming the court city of a nation. Congress has not displayed a proper spirit under the circumstances, and has never appropriated funds equal to a tax upon the government property in the city.
Frequent attempts have been made to remove the seat of government, but public sentiment has been uniformly opposed to it, although the constitutionality of a removal is conceded.
In the Spring of the year 1814 some apprehensions were felt, by the administration at Washington, of an attack upon the seat of government, by British forces from Admiral Cockburn's fleet, then ravaging the coasts of Maryland and Virginia, and the shores of the Chesapeake. Apprisals of the danger were sent to this government from our ministers abroad, and, in view of this, President Madison immediately ordered a militia organization sufficient for such an emergency. In order to check the inroads of Cockburn's fleet, a flotilla of barges, carrying heavy guns, was fitted out and put under the command of Captain Joshua Barney, an experienced privateersman, who succeeded in eluding the pursuit of the British fleet, while he did the enemy much injury, and kept them from making further spoliations. The alarm of intended invasion was treated with contempt by John Armstrong, the
Secretary of War, and the National Intelligencer, then the leading journal. General Armstrong sneered at the probability of an attempt to plunder the Sheep-Walk, as he styled the federal city, of eight thousand inhabitants, with streets scarcely defined by foot-paths.
Admiral Cochrane sailed from Bermuda, on the 3d of August, with three thousand troops, under Major-General Robert Ross, and arrived in the Chesapeake on the 14th, where he joined Cockburn's fleet, making in all twenty sail. This fleet sailed up the bay and debarked four thousand troops, under General Ross and Admiral Cockburn, at Benedict, on the left bank of the Patuxent River, on the 20th of August. On the afternoon of the 21st the little army set out on the march for Washington, without artillery or cavalry, and, after a trying march under a broiling sun, which caused many to sink from fatigue, the town of Bladensburgh was reached, on the 24th of August, without the slightest molestation.
By order of William Jones, Secretary of the Navy, the Barney flotilla was blown up at 9 in the morning of the 220,--and the sound of the explosion cheered up the enemy on what their commander considered a desperate undertaking The approach of the British, under Ross and Cockburn, had been ascertained and observed by President Madison in person, and he attended eight thousand undisciplined militia to the heights of Bladensburgh to meet them. Our forces were placed under the command of General Winder, and consisted mainly of raw militia ordered out for the occasion. Captain Barney, with four hundred seamen and some field pieces, joined the army of defence immediately after giving orders for the destruction of his flotilla. The British opened a fire
upon our lines about one o'clock in the afternoon of the 24th, and their advances were promptly checked by a terribly-destructive fire from Barney's artillery, which kept its position until four o'clock, while the militia under the command of General Winder seem to have been kept out of musket range. It is a remarkable fact that the militia met with little or no loss, notwithstanding the engagement continued for three hours, and each of the enemy was supplied with sixty rounds of ball cartridges. The fighting was done entirely by the seamen under Commodore Barney,—for, upon the first charge received by the militia, they broke and fell back, and finally fled altogether, leaving Barney unsupported. He was soon flanked by superior numbers, and fell, wounded, among eleven of his marines, who were killed by his side. Captain Barney ordered his men to retreat, and surrendered himself to a British officer. The conduct of the militia was extremely disgraceful, and any attempt to exonerate the retreat would be to stigmatize the American character and arms with cowardice. Our raw recruits never behaved so badly before or since. General Winder was loth to expose the citizens of Washington and Baltimore, who composed the ranks, to destruction by British regulars,—and the militia-men, partaking naturally of the same spirit, took to their heels and fled into the woods without waiting for their prudent General to sound a retreat. The seamen under Barney received the highest commendation from the British, on the field. The facts in the case are stated by Gleig, an officer of the 85th Royal regiment, on duty on this occasion :
This battle, by which the fate of the American Capitol was decided, began about one o'clock in the afternoon,
and lasted till four. The loss on the part of the English was severe, since, out of two-thirds of the army, which were engaged, upwards of five hundred men were killed and wounded; and what rendered it doubly severe was, that among these were numbered several officers of rank and distinction. Colonel Thornton, who commanded the light brigade; Lieutenant-Colonel Wood, commanding the 85th regiment; and Major Brown, who had led the advanced guard, were all severely wounded; and General Ross himself had a horse shot under him. On the side of the Americans the slaughter was not so great. Being in possession of a strong position, they were of course less exposed in defending, than the others in storming it; and had they conducted themselves with coolness and resolution, it is not conceivable how the day could have been won. But the fact is, that, with the exception of a party of sailors from the gun boats, under the command of Commodore Barney, no troops could behave worse than they did. The skirmishers were driven in as soon as attacked, the first line gave way without offering the slightest resistance, and the left of the main body was broken within half an hour after it was seriously engaged. Of the sailors, however, it would be injustice not to speak in the terms which their conduct merits. They were employed as gunners, and not only did they serve their guns with a quickness and precision which astonished their assailants, but they stood till some of them were actually bayoneted with fuses in their hands; nor was it till their leader was wounded and taken, and they saw themselves deserted on all sides by the soldiers, that they quitted the field.
It must be remarked that Gleig's statement of the loss of the British refers to the number of killed, wounded, missing, and deserters, from the morning of the battle until their re-embarkation, including the casualties in Washington. Ross, in his dispatch, dated August 30th, stated the loss in the action at Bladensburgh to be sixty