After the British routed American defenses at Bladensburg, Maryland, Washington was left completely unattended, vulnerable to British attack or invasion. U.S. President James Madison, his wife, and his cabinet, all fled Washington to nearby Brookeville, Maryland. It said that Dolley Madison managed to save a copy of the Declaration of Independence and a famous portrait of George Washington, just before the British set fire to the White House. Although Washington was not considered a strategic port or place of capture, British forces sought revenge on the Americans for their raid on Port Dover in May of 1814.
Under the command of Robert Ross, who would be killed at the Battle of Baltimore, British soldiers entered Washington in the area now known as Capitol Hill on August 25, 1814. The British quickly overran the city and burned the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Senate, House of Representatives, and U.S. Treasury. Amazingly, an incredible storm hit Washington the following day, extinguishing fires throughout the city, and spawning a tornado that resulted in the deaths of British soldiers and American civilians. The tornado was one of eight recorded in the history of the District of Columbia.
The British would next turn their attention to the port city of Baltimore to the north. If the British could take Baltimore, their Chesapeake Bay campaign would have been a complete success. Thousands of Americans quickly volunteered for the defense of Baltimore.