Patrick O’Neill is the author of a new book titled, “To Annoy or Destroy the Enemy, The Battle of the White House after the Burning of Washington.” Containing 78 images and maps, it is the definitive account of a War of 1812 battle that took place south of Alexandria from Sept 1-5, 1814.
The book details the story of how American citizen soldiers and seamen fought the British from their batteries at modern day Fort Belvoir. The reader also learns about 60 enslaved humans that escaped to the Potomac Squadron, and much more.
The book can be purchased as an E-book at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Hard copies are available by contacting the author at email@example.com.
O’Neill answered these questions. Of particular note is the whereabouts of Francis Scott Key in the days leading up to his writing what became the national anthem. I had always assumed the British ship Key was on sailed to Baltimore from the Chesapeake. I also remembered it being the HMS Tonnant.
But as O’Neill explains,
Key remained on board Tonnant until the following morning, September 8th, when he was transferred to HMS Surprize. He then traveled with the main fleet up the Potomac River in search of the Potomac Squadron. The fleet found the squadron at Kettle Bottoms (the 301Bridge area on the Potomac), then turned and sailed non-stop to Baltimore, Key and Skinner in tow.
Other than the 200th anniversary, what prompted you to write this book?
Actually, it had nothing to do with the 200th Anniversary. I did a sign for a historic walking tour at Fort Belvoir in 2001, and became interested in the Battle of the White House. What was to become a short article became a 318 page book! The 200th came along by itself into the research!
The American troops did not exactly cover themselves in glory during the British invasion of Washington. In this battle, however, they did stand and fight. Why then the paradox of history forgetting the Battle of the White House?
Because, history has assumed the Americans lost the battle. Instead, they won, but things at Baltimore so overshadowed the preceding events, even when I now show that the attack on Baltimore was in part caused by the attack on the Potomac Squadron, 2500 to 3000 militia and United States Navy men with muskets and a few field pieces halted the descent of a seasoned war hardened British Navy squadron for five days! I think history has forgotten because even the players at the time didn’t know the whole picture of what happened on the Potomac and they couldn’t put it into the correct context. If they couldn’t, how can history?
You believe that the British were motivated to attack Washington because they despised David Porter. I thought it was because of the American misconduct at York?
No, I think they may have attacked Baltimore in part because Cochrane and others were angry that Porter attacked the Potomac Squadron when he was “paroled” from British service and not supposed to fight against the Crown.
In regards to attacking Washington as retribution for us attacking York. These past two weeks I have heard many scholars talk about the misnomer that Washington was attacked for the attack on York. That it was for others reasons. I think, still it was because people like Rear Admiral Cockburn wanted to attack Washington, and Cochrane wanted to attack Washington and they used Sir George Prevost’s letters asking for retribution against attacks in Canada, including but not limited to York, as a reason to cover their desire to attack Washington. Prevost’s letters were their “calling card!”
William Charles’s satirical cartoon, titled “Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians,” ridiculed the town for surrendering to the British. At a recent Java Jolt talk, you made a point about Porter and Perry. Can you repeat that?
(“Every thing except your Porter and Perry keep them out of my sight, I've had enough of them already.”)
Porter and Perry are obviously Captains David Porter and Oliver Hazzard Perry. However, the author is using their names here as goods or supplies. Porter is a dark or brown beer and Perry is a pear cider drink.
The Battle of the White House was five days long. Was that the longest battle in our region, or of the war?
Part of five days. Started around 5pm September 1st and ended around 230pm September 5th. I say longest of the war. Others say there were longer sieges, but in my non-military historian mind, a siege and battle are different. I asked Christine Hughes from the Navy History and Heritage Command that if I couldn’t call the Battle of the White House the longest battle of the war, could I call it the longest Naval Battle of the war on land!!!! It was definitely the longest battle in the Chesapeake area.
The name – The Battle of the White House - is confusing in that few know it was a white house near present day Fort Belvoir and not the Presidential Mansion. If you could re-name the battle, what would it be?
I wouldn’t rename it, except to maybe say Battle at White House Landing. It is modern historians that confuse the issue. At the time, there was no confusion. All newspaper accounts mention the battle at the White House, batteries at the White House, militia at the White House on the Potomac, on and on. Not once in the newspapers or correspondence is the President’s home called the White House during August and September 1814. So, why am I to be wrong and confusing? Someone told me I was false advertising, so I told them, write a rebuttal book then, on why I am wrong. The Bladensburg Battle was actually fought across the river to the west and not in Bladensburg, but no one seems to want to change it. If it was anything else but the White House, no one would care in the least.
Francis Scott Key. We know he was on a British ship with the fleet that attacked Fort McHenry and Baltimore. Can you give us the route it took before it got there?
Key got on board HMS Tonnant on the afternoon of September 7th north of the Tangier Islands. Key was on board Tonnant when Cochrane sent out orders to rejoin the dispersing fleet. (the fleet had been dispersing since September 4th and was NOT waiting around to attack Baltimore, but was heading towards Bermuda and Rhode Island and would attack Baltimore in November). Key remained on board Tonannt until the following morning, September 8th, when he was transferred to HMS Surprise. He then traveled with the main fleet up the Potomac River in search of the Potomac Squadron. The fleet found the squadron at Kettle Bottoms (the 301Bridge area on the Potomac), then turned and sailed non-stop to Baltimore, Key and Skinner in tow. Key sat on a ship overlooking Fort McHenry and Baltimore for three days, from September 11th to 14th, and then he saw the flag, etc…… Few know the main fleet went up the Potomac looking for the squadron and fewer know that Key was with them on this journey.
You told me you were pleased with book baby. Would you recommend them?
Yes, they made a great E-book for me on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And their printing of my soft cover book was excellent and very inexpensive! I have three orders of books from them now, and they all came within 1 ½ weeks of placing the print order!
I love the fact that your footnotes are placed at the bottom of each page. Why do publishers put them all in the back of a book, where you have to keep flipping back and forth?
Who the heck knows, but it is annoying and I have been getting great praise thanks to readers like you! Maybe I have started a trend!
(Editor’s Note – Hopefully!!)