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History's Happenings for August 24

British Sack And Burn Washington
1814

First Lady Dolley Madison removed White House valuables to safety

On August 24, 1814, two years into the unfortunate War of 1812, an American force of about 5,000 militia defending Bladensburg, MD, broke ranks and retreated before the advancing British army under the command of General Robert Ross.

Although about 600 remaining Marines and sailors took a toll on their ranks, the British were able to advance onto Washington essentially unopposed. Upon hearing of the nearby defeat, Congress and other government officials fled into the surrounding countryside. President James Madison and his wife Dolley escaped as the invaders entered the city, Mrs. Madison taking with her many of the executive mansion's valuables, including a portrait of President Washington.

While their officers dined in the now-deserted White House, British troops set the city ablaze, eventually gutting the new capitol, many federal buildings and private homes, the navy yard, and the White House itself. A heavy downpour finally smothered the fires.

Retiring from the sack of Washington, the British moved on Baltimore where, on September 13-14 they failed to subdue Fort McHenry by bombardment and, indirectly, gave us our National Anthem.

Seldom noted is the fact that, at the Battle of Bladensburg that preceded the sack of the capital, President Madison had been present and actually stepped in to command an artillery battery, becoming the only commander-in-chief in the nation's history to exercise that authority on the battlefield.

Mt. Vesuvius Erupts
AD 79

Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano near the Italian city of Naples, erupted on this day in 79AD, burying the towns and the citizens of Herculaneum, Stabiae and Pompeii. About 20,000 people died when the top of the volcano blew off and rained hot ash and mud over the area.

The ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii were first excavated in the 18th century, and found to be in a remarkable state of preservation, inclusive of fallen victims -- or at least their impressions in the hardened ash.

Mount Vesuvius has erupted on numerous occasions since that famous event, the latest having been a minor burp in 1944.

Roman Empire Ends
AD 410

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Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre
1572

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William Penn Acquires Delaware
1682

William Penn

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Mexico Gains Independence
1821

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Financial Panic!
1857

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Communist Control Act Takes Effect
1954

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France Detonates Nuke
1968

Thermonuclear (H-bomb) explosion

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