As part of Great Britain’s plan to wipe out America’s Chesapeake Bay forts, and to gain revenge on the Americans for torching the city of York in Canada, British generals Robert Ross and George Cockburn split their forces, who separately traveled up the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers in an attempt to attack different parts of Washington. American forces under William Winder concentrated his forces in Bladensburg where they planned to meet the British head on.
Despite outnumbering British forces, the Americans were doomed by a lack of leadership and logistics support, miscommunications, and last-second changes to positions and formations. Winder was completely ineffective in commanding the troops and was provided virtually no support or staff from the Secretary of War John Armstrong. As a result, British forces overwhelmed the confused Americans, prompting a disorganized retreat. Many American soldiers, unsure of what direction to flee, escaped through the streetsWashington, while others just ran with no destination in mind. The loss of Bladensburg left the path to Washington wide open. The government quickly evacuated the capital city and escaped to Brookeville, Maryland.
The American defeat at Bladensburg is often called "the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms."