The capture and burning of Washington DC by British forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert Ross and Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn was part of a larger campaign which the British waged during the War of 1812, in some measure a response to American depredations in Canada.
On the afternoon of August 24, 1814, the British regulars defeated an American militia opposing them at Bladensburg. The Americans proved no match for the seasoned and well-equipped British and retreated at the end of the day, leaving the city of Washington undefended. The British reached Washington by the end of the day and began a campaign of arson. Briefly interrupted by a thunderstorm, they continued the following day.
When Ross and Cockburn`s forces had completed their mission, they had destroyed the White House, the Capitol, and the departments of State, War, and the Treasury, along with private residences and some commercial buildings.
Dolley Madison`s actions in organizing the preservation of as much of the contents of the White House as possible earned her lasting fame.