(1814) British set the White House and US Capitol ablaze President James Madison and First Lady Dolley Madison flee Washington, DC, just ahead of a British commander bent on destruction. After dining at a deserted White House, Major General Robert Ross’ soldiers set fire to the Presidential Mansion, the Capitol, and other public buildings.The Burning of Washington was a British attack against Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, during the War of 1812. On August 24, 1814, after defeating the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg, a British force led by Major General Robert Ross occupied Washington and set fire to many public buildings, including the White House, and the Capitol, as well as other facilities of the U.S. government. The attack was in part a retaliation for the recent American destruction of Port Dover in Upper Canada. It marks the only time in U.S. history that Washington, D.C. has been occupied by a foreign force.