This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
Fortunately, the storm which had been threatening during the approach of the English, aided by a few patriotic hands, finally extinguished the flames. But too late ! It is recorded as having had a velocity so great as to destroy many buildings and trees in the city, and as portending to the superstitious such dire calamity as the upheavals in Rome when Caesar fell.
Rev. G. R. Gleig, who, with a detachment of the British troops, had spent the night in the storm outside the city, and whose ardor was, no doubt, dampened thereby, says: " As soon as dawn appeared, the brigade moved from its bivouac on the common, and marched into the town. Proceeding along a narrow street, which was crossed at right angles by two or three of a similar description, we arrived at a large open space, surrounded on three sides by the rudiments of a square, and having its fourth imperfectly occupied by the ruins of the Senate-House. It is slightly raised above the level of the rest of the city, and is crossed by a paltry stream, called in true Yankee grandiloquence, the Tiber, as the hill itself is called the Capitol. Here the brigade halted, and piling their arms in two close columns, the men were permitted to lie down".
By this invasion of the English, the last volumes of the manuscript records of the Committees of Ways and Means, Claims and Pensions, and Revolutionary Claims, which were then being prepared for Congress, were destroyed, in spite of the fact that after the battle of Bladensburg they were removed by Mr. Frost to the " house commonly called George Washington's, which house being unexpectedly consumed by fire, these records were unfortunately lost." The Congressional Library, and the secret journal of Congress, which was kept in a private drawer and in the hurry forgotten, were consumed in the building itself, together with many private papers, petitions, valuable effects and the private accounts and vouchers of Patrick Magruder, Clerk of the House of Representatives, among which were unfortunately the accounts and receipts for the expenditure of the contingent moneys of the House. These last were locked in a private drawer to which Magruder only had the key, and the clerks, delaying breaking it open, finally forgot them. The Executive Departments of the government, however, removed their effects in time to a place of safety under the direction of their Secretaries, a fact which served to heighten the criticism heaped upon the authorities at the Capitol for the irreparable loss sustained there.
Considerable light is thrown upon the subject by the letter of the Clerk to the House, September 20, 1814, and by the enclosed report addressed to him by his assistants, S. Burch and J. T. Frost, from which it seems Magruder in July had gone to the Springs for his health, so that he was absent from the city, when unexpectedly, on August 19th, " the whole body of the militia of the District of Columbia was called out, under which call every clerk of the office was taken into the field, except Mr. Frost, and marched to meet the enemy." On the 21st, Burch was furloughed at the request of Colonel George Magruder, in order that he might return to the Capitol and save such papers as was possible " in case the enemy should get possession of the place." He arrived the same night. His instructions were, however, not to begin packing up until " the clerks at the War Office were engaged in that business," which he did not ascertain to be the case until noon of the 22d. At that late hour, Burch found that the few conveyances which had not already **een impressed into the service of the United States for the transportation of the baggage of the army," were loaded with private effects, and these he could not hire; nor had he the power to impress them. As a last resort, he dispatched three messengers into the country, one of whom obtained from John Wilson, whose residence was six miles from the city, a cart and four oxen, which did not arrive until after dark. With this primitive conveyance, that very night, they transported some of the papers to a secret spot nine miles from Washington, and continued to remove such books and records as they were able with the one cart until the morning of the battle. Strange to say, a goodly part of the papers so removed turned out to be valuable.
Popular feeling at the time in America regarding the whole affair naturally was bitter, and was voiced by Jefferson in a letter of February 14, 1815, from Monticello to his friend, the Marquis de Lafayette: " The force designated by the president was double what was necessary, but failed, as is the general opinion, through the insubordination of Armstrong, who would never believe the attack intended until it was actually made, and the sluggishness of Winder before the occasion, and his indecision during it. Still, in the end, the transaction has helped rather than hurt us, by arousing the general indignation of our country, and marking to the world of Europe the vandalism and brutal character of the English Government. It has merely served to immortalise their infamy".
Even many Englishmen bitterly condemned the acts perpetrated by their countrymen in the American capital, as unworthy of civilized warfare. The letter of Grenville to John Trumbull of November 23, 1814, though couched in most diplomatic language, does not wholly conceal his true feelings : " I was prepared and resolved to pursue the subject further, nor did I desist from that intention, until I received public and solemn assurances, that orders had already been sent out to America for the discontinuance of such measures, and for a return of the practice of modern and civilized war, provided the same course shall in future be adhered to by those whom I lament to call our enemies." The London Statesman went so far as to say : " Willingly would we throw a veil of oblivion over our transactions at Washington. The Cossacks spared Paris, but we spared not the Capitol of America".