The Man Who Captured Washington

The Man Who Captured Washington

Major General Robert Ross and the War of 1812

John McCavitt and Christopher T. George

University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 2016, 312 pages

Book Review published on: March 24, 2017

The creation of a biography is different than any other genre of writing for a number of reasons. The first obvious difference is the author’s focus on one individual or a small circle of individuals. Another major difference, which is in all truth the most important aspect of biographical writing is the striving of the authors to remain objective in their discussion of the subject. The Man Who Captured Washington: Major General Robert Ross and the War of 1812 by authors and historians John McCavitt and Christopher T. George is a superb example of an objectively written biography. The two authors combined, have spent a number of years conducting research on both sides of the Atlantic, looking into events surrounding the life and times of Maj. Gen. Robert Ross.

Even though it happened over two hundred years ago, the burning of Washington, D.C., was a monumental catastrophe in the annals of American history. The man responsible for this destruction, Ross was a character as complex in nature as was the cause of the war itself. McCavitt and George set the scene for their work by first exploring the background of Ross.

The bulk of the first part of the book describes Ross’s rise to power within the British Army. This sets the scene for the majority of the book that delves in the actual “sacking” of Washington, D.C. It also helps readers who are not necessarily familiar with the War of 1812 understand that Washington was attacked and conquered by a master of warfare.

Ross, a member of the middle–upper class of Ireland was anything but underprivileged. The door of opportunity in the military was at most times continuously opened for him. When it was shut, he dug in his heels and pushed ahead. Let it be said that Ross was not an incompetent commander. Through the research of McCavitt and George, it becomes quite obvious that Washington’s defense, even with President James Madison as the present commander-in-chief on the battlefield, had little hope of stopping the British advance.

Following a lengthy discussion on the defense and final destruction of Washington, the authors turn to the events that took place afterward that led to the death of Ross. Eye witness accounts and recorded history of the general’s death are few in number, but McCavitt and George do an exquisite job at painting a believable picture for the audience. The final part of the book focuses on the shockwave created by Ross’s death and its long-term effect throughout the British Empire.

This book is seriously for anyone who is interested in one of the greatest tragedies to befall the United States in its early years. The objective manner in which it was written makes it an extremely credible and enjoyable read. After finishing the book, the reader will be guaranteed to have a new-found respect for Ross and a clearer picture of the early United States.

Book Review written by: Capt. Eugene M. Harding, U.S. Army National Guard, Auburn, Indiana