Featured Records

  • Bicentennial of the Burning of Washington and the Battle of Baltimore
  • Bicentennial of the Burning of Washington and the Battle of Baltimore
  • Bicentennial of the Burning of Washington and the Battle of Baltimore
  • Bicentennial of the Burning of Washington and the Battle of Baltimore
  • Bicentennial of the Burning of Washington and the Battle of Baltimore
Bicentennial of the Burning of Washington and the Battle of Baltimore

The summer of 1814 saw military actions in Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland, with dramatically different outcomes. The British capture of the nation’s capital and the destruction of public buildings stand as one of the lowest points in U.S. history.  The American victory at Baltimore, however, brought new hope and determination to the country, and inspired what became the national anthem.

On August 19, 1814, British forces landed in Benedict, Maryland, and began marching toward Washington, DC. The generals and military leaders in DC were convinced that the British would have no reason to make the march to the capital, as it had only about 8,000 residents and a few half-completed federal buildings. However, the Redcoats’ intention soon became clear and the small, inexperienced, and untrained militia that remained to defend the city quickly marched up to meet the hostile forces at Bladensburg.

After defeating American troops at the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, the British seized the undefended capital and burned government buildings, most famously the White House (then known as the Executive Mansion). Most private property was spared, and the patent building, one of the few federal buildings to be saved, survived thanks to Superintendent of Patents William Thornton who convinced the British that, while the building may be federally owned, patents were private property and shouldn’t be burned.

A few weeks later, beginning on September 12, the British attacked Baltimore by land and sea for three days. During the battle, American forces at Fort McHenry endured a 25-hour bombardment from British ships, while American militiamen stopped British advances on the city.  On the morning of September 14, as the British retreated, the American flag still flew over Fort McHenry, signaling that the fort had not been taken.  Inspired by the sight of the flag, Francis Scott Key, who was detained aboard a British ship, penned a poem in which he coined the phrase “Star Spangled Banner.” His poem “The Defence of Fort McHenry” was set to music and eventually became the National Anthem—with the same title as the flag that inspired it.

Records on display:

Letter from Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith to James Monroe about the bombardment of Fort McHenry, September 24, 1814
National Archives, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War

List of killed and wounded from Fort McHenry, September 24, 1814
National Archives, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War

Burned piece of the 1814 Executive Mansion (today known as the White House). The wood was removed during a renovation of the White House under the Truman administration from 1949-1952.
National Archives, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

These records are on display in the “Featured Documents” exhibit in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC, September 11 through November 3, 2014.

The National Archives Museum’s “Featured Documents” exhibit is made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives through the generous support of Toyota.

Past Featured Records
  • Senate Revisions to House Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
    Senate Revisions to House Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

    On June 8, 1789, Representative James Madison of Virginia introduced a series of proposed amendments to the newly ratified U.S. Constitution. Though initially against the idea of an enumerated list of individual rights, fearing that they would be redundant and possibly limit... Read more

  • Richard Nixon’s Resignation Letter and Gerald Ford’s Pardon
    Richard Nixon’s Resignation Letter and Gerald Ford’s Pardon

    During the night of June 17, 1972, five burglars broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC. Investigation into the break-in exposed a trail of abuses that led to the highest levels of the Nixon administration and... Read more

  • Tonkin Gulf Resolution
    Tonkin Gulf Resolution

    By 1964, Vietnam had been torn by international and civil war for decades. U.S. military support for South Vietnam had grown to some 15,000 military advisers, while the North received military and financial aid from China and the Soviet Union.

    In a late-night televised address on August... Read more

  • G.I. Bill of Rights
    G.I. Bill of Rights

    Originally established to provide services and benefits to the veterans of World War II, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, after it had passed the House... Read more

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
    Civil Rights Act of 1964

    The Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. This document was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since... Read more

  • Whitman’s Report on Cemeteries: Shiloh Illustration
    Whitman’s Report on Cemeteries: Shiloh Illustration

    Fought April 6-7, 1862, the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee was one of the first major battles in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. 54,000 Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant and Don Carlos Buell battled 44,000 Confederates under Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard as part of the Union’s effort to cut off Confederate rail communications along... Read more

  • Letter from Mrs. Neil Williams to Julia Lathrop of the Children’s Bureau, 1920
    Letter from Mrs. Neil Williams to Julia Lathrop of the Children’s Bureau, 1920

    On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the second Sunday in May a holiday for the “public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” To commemorate the centennial of the first national observance of Mother’s Day,... Read more

  • The Smith-Lever Act of 1914
    The Smith-Lever Act of 1914

    The Smith-Lever Act established a national Cooperative Extension Service that extended outreach programs through land-grant universities to educate rural Americans about advances in agricultural practices and technology. These advances helped increase American agricultural productivity dramatically throughout the 20th century.

    Today, cooperative extension continues to serve the educational... Read more

  • Senate Journal of the First Congress
    Senate Journal of the First Congress

    2014 marks the 225th anniversary of the First Congress of the United States.  What was arguably the most important Congress in U.S. history met for the first time in the spring of 1789. To this new legislature fell the responsibility of passing laws needed to implement a brand... Read more

  • Executive Order 9981: Ending Segregation in the Armed Forces
    Executive Order 9981: Ending Segregation in the Armed Forces

    On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed this executive order establishing the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, committing the government to integrating the segregated military.

    In 1940, the US population was about 131 million, 12.6 million... Read more