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on 8 October 2013
Peter Snow has with excellent original detailed research, thrown new light on an episode unique in United States History. Little known in the UK, overshadowed in the US by the Battle of New Orleans and often misunderstood in Canada as their own victory, Peter Snow has produced a fine even handed account of who was there and what happened.
Having studied the war (of 1812) and this remarkable campaign in particular for many years I can say without hesitation it is a standout must read reference book.
I like in particular the new revelations on the influence and involvement of two talented officers Harry Smith and even more importantly the young George De Lacy Evans. references and notes are well researched and recorded.
Thank you Peter Snow for a long overdue totally original piece of work.
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on 13 September 2013
I listened to this on BBC R4 and knew I'd have to read it. Peter Snow has caught the wonderful mood and nature of Britain at war, civilised even in the burning of Washington. Its a wonderful read because Peter Snow captures the British indignation of the slightly cowardly declaration of war by the Americans in 1812. The Yankees took shameless, opportunistic advantage of the fact Britain was locked in titanic conflict with Napoleon Bonaparte. The U.S. took umbrage at the pressing of their seamen, and the effect of the blockade and saw a chance to get a few good licks in on Canada while the Lion was occupied.
Its wonderful reflection that with Emperor Napoleon supposedly safely in Elba, that the British had the will to send the modest force necessary to humble the snapping Yankee terrier. As a Canadian, our history was shaped by the various American invading armies of the period, and there is no doubt that this salutary lesson got the attention of our neighbours to the south.
I love the British characters, all larger than life and involved in an amazingly daring 'cutting out' expedition of extraordinary success. Peter Snow has added personalities and foibles and he brings it all to life. His account is a harsh look at the new young nation, quailing in the face of a well trained army and powerful fleet; but he is more than fair and quick to highlight the Yankees' modest successes.
It was a jolly good read.

When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington
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on 18 January 2015
That the capital of the United States was occupied by an invading army, which then proceeded to torch the White House, the Capitol and various other government buildings, is not a fact widely known and certainly not widely celebrated. For the Americans, it is understandably a moment best glossed over; for the country which carried out the raid – Britain – it’s an event that fits neither the narrative of its own moment (when the focus was on concluding the war with Napoleon), nor that of today’s close Anglo-American relationship.

In fact, the whole War of 1812 (misnamed – it didn’t finish until 1815) tends to be rather unjustly overlooked by history, not least because the only lasting outcome it produced was to confirm the status quo in North America – though the significance that shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly for Canada. It did, however, produce several genuinely iconic moments, at least two of which are covered in Peter Snow’s book.

Snow’s story is that of the British campaign in Washington DC and Maryland in 1814. He strips out the wider strategic angles other than to place the campaign in the context of the hit-and-run strategy the British had to engage in, in a war they were not keen to be fighting against an enemy they had neither the desire nor the means to (re-)conquer.

It is a story he tells well. It’s thoroughly researched and he’s particularly strong in bringing the characters involved and their lives vividly to life; not just the soldiers and sailors doing the fighting but also the civilians unfortunate enough to be in the line of the advance. Snow’s background as a journalist shows in his focus on the human aspect but that’s no criticism; the quotes and anecdotes are well-chosen and support the narrative as well as providing colour and if the pen-pictures of the leading characters seem a little stereotypical (the aloof general, the gung-ho British admiral, the interfering, argumentative and irresponsible American politicians, and so on), then that may be simply a feature of an age of big characters.

The military and naval sections are also covered well enough although in truth it was a campaign with much more marching than fighting: both sides missed good opportunities to inflict defeats on the other, not least because both sides were cautious about over-committing themselves (the American militia were of poor quality in the field while the British simply had too few men to be able to afford any significant losses).

In addition, there are a number of lovely vignette moments, such as when the President’s wife – a far tougher individual than her cerebral husband – refuses to evacuate the White House in the face of advancing British troops until a particular painting of George Washington had been saved (both painting and First Lady successfully escaped).

Overall, it’s a very good book that uncovers a moment in history that deserves to be swept back out from under the carpet where it’s been hidden too long.
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on 4 October 2013
I studied American History up to the US Civil War for School Cert, and have toured the 13 Colonies battlefields of the Revolution.
Peter Snow must have done a lot of research and study to be able to be so interesting.
For example, I had always wondered what happened to the archives of the new Republic when the Brits were approaching Washington DC - now I know, and why they still exist.
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on 21 June 2015
I knew that we had burned the White House but that's about it, I did not know when and assumed it was during the War of Independence. However after buying a copy of a book titled 'The Challenge' by Andrew Lambert ( A really good read in itself ) the whole 1812 war with America grabbed my attention when previously it had not. many an American as they do had informed me that they had kicked our butts in that one too ( I would remind them they didn't even do that in the first one, when the European powers joined their side it became a world war for Blighty and unwinnable, until then most battles were won by Blighty and she was doing pretty well ) Looking at unbiased accounts from the 1812 war on can say that if anyone did win it, it was Blighty, it captured the capital, the Americans fled, they even left dinner on the table, it was burned along with the dockyard, treasury and other buildings of note, the US navy was blockaded and the economy bankrupted. With Canada defended. This war was launched by a president hoping to take advantage of Blighty being distracted fighting Napoleon in Europe. A really interesting read. I am developing quite an interest in US history, albeit a short history non the less the development of the states fascinates me and I have visited seven times.
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on 7 November 2013
A well written and deeply researched volume about the War of 1812. Snow has brought the work to life by getting into the perspective of the war's major protagonists. Very exciting to find such an original work.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 November 2013
This is a very interesting and entertaining book, which explains the attack on the young United States by British forces in 1814, which resulted in the burning of the White House and Capitol in Washington, before the British were later rebuffed in Baltimore and defeated in attempting to take New Orleans.

This fascinating account shows how the US national anthem was written during the defence of Baltimore, and how people nearby strained to see the stars and stripes still flying above the fort in the dawn's early light - the clear sign that the British attack had been held off through the night.

This is a wonderfully researched and written work, which is highly readable, and always fair, praising the humanity shown at times by both sides.
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on 20 December 2014
I borrowed this book from the library and wasn’t really expecting to be blown away by it. However, I found I could not put it down. A truly fascinating account of a little known part of British/American history. So, my now purchased copy will definitely be read and no doubt reread. I strongly recommend.
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on 18 October 2014
Rapid action, terrific story, well told, a great read. If you like factual history recounted in an engaging way then this book will charm and beguile, whilst making you ponder the way one great nation behaved to another. The principal characters are simply and wonderfully brought to life. I can't wait to read Harry Smith's life.
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on 26 December 2013
Excellent read. Fast paced and interesting. Recalls the days when the US was the poodle!
Recommended to all history buffs.
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