Today in History
December



7 December 1941 : TODAY IN HISTORY


PEARL HARBOR BOMBED
At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.

With diplomatic negotiations with Japan breaking down, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers knew that an imminent Japanese attack was probable, but nothing had been done to increase security at the important naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday morning, and many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. At 7:02 a.m., two radio operators spotted large groups of aircraft in flight toward the island from the north, but, with a flight of B-17s expected from the United States at the time, they were told to sound no alarm. Thus, the Japanese air assault came as a devastating surprise to the naval base.

Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless: Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded, many while valiantly attempting to repulse the attack. Japan's losses were some 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men. Fortunately for the United States, all three Pacific fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers. These giant aircraft carriers would have their revenge against Japan six months later at the Battle of Midway, reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy in a spectacular victory.

The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941--a date which will live in infamy--the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." After a brief and forceful speech, he asked Congress to approve a resolution recognizing the state of war between the United States and Japan. The Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the U.S. Government responded in kind.

The American contribution to the successful Allied war effort spanned four long years and cost more than 400,000 American lives



December 9th - TODAY IN HISTORY

1775: Patriots gain control of Virginia
The Virginia and North Carolina militias defeat 800 slaves and 200 redcoats serving John Murray, earl of Dunmore and governor of Virginia, at Great Bridge outside Norfolk, ending British royal control of Virginia. The Tory survivors retreated first to Norfolk then to Dunmore's ship, the Otter, where the majority died of smallpox.

Governor Dunmore had removed to the Tory stronghold of Norfolk after Patriots drove him from the capitol, Williamsburg, in June 1775. On November 7, 1775, he offered emancipation to any slave of a Patriot master willing to join his forces. By November 30, Dunmore's ranks had swelled and he was convinced of his ability to regain control of the colony. George Washington feared Dunmore was correct and wrote to the Continental Congress from New England, warning them that they needed to see to it that Dunmore was "instantly crushed." When Dunmore's forces won a resounding victory at Kemp's Landing, it looked like Dunmore's troops, dubbed the "Ethiopian Regiment," would ensure continued British rule in Virginia, despite a backlash against him among slaveholders on both sides of the conflict who were angry over the precedent Dunmore's move might be setting.

Dunmore was determined to defend Great Bridge, building a stockade, dismantling the main bridge and defending the smaller bridges with cannon. Having taken these precautions, Dunmore then squandered his efforts by underestimating the strength of the Patriot militias. His decision to offer emancipation had incited at least 150 men from across the Carolinas to march north to help drive Dunmore from the state. By contrast, the overconfident Dunmore sent only a few sailors and sixty "townsmen" from Norfolk to meet them. They got within 15 feet of the Patriots before being shot dead. Within thirty minutes, 150 Loyalists fell. There was only one Patriot fatality. Three hundred of the 800 Black Loyalists survived their enlistment in the Ethiopian Regiment only to confront smallpox on the Otter.



1835 : The Texan Army captures San Antonio
Inspired by the spirited leadership of Benjamin Rush Milam, the newly created Texan Army takes possession of the city of San Antonio, an important victory for the Republic of Texas in its war for independence from Mexico.

Milam was born in 1788 in Frankfort, Kentucky. He became a citizen and soldier of Mexico in 1824, when newly independent Mexico was still under a republican constitution. Like many Americans who immigrated to the Mexican state of Texas, Milam found that the government both welcomed and feared the growing numbers of Americans, and treated them with uneven fairness. When Milam heard in 1835 that Santa Ana had overthrown the Mexican republic and established himself as dictator, Milam renounced his Mexican citizenship and joined the rag-tag army of the newly proclaimed independent Republic of Texas.

After helping the Texas Army capture the city of Goliad, Milam went on a reconnaissance mission to the southwest but returned to join the army for its planned attack on San Antonio-only to learn that the generals were postponing the attack on San Antonio for the winter. Aware that Santa Ana's forces were racing toward Texas to suppress the rebellion, Milam worried that any hesitation would spell the end of the revolution. Milam made an impassioned call for volunteers, asking: "Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?" Inspired by Milam's bold challenge, three hundred men did volunteer, and the Texas Army began its attack on San Antonio at dawn on December 5. By December 9, the defending forces of the Mexican army were badly beaten, and the commanding general surrendered the city. Milam, however, was not there to witness the results of his leadership--he was killed instantly by a sniper bullet on December 7. If Milam had survived, he might well have been among the doomed defenders of the Alamo that were wiped out by Santa Ana's troops the following March.


DECEMBER 16 ... TODAY IN HISTORY

1773 : The Boston Tea Party
In Boston Harbor, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships and dump 342 chests of tea into the harbor.

The midnight raid, popularly known as the "Boston Tea Party," was in protest of the British Parliament's Tea Act of 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a virtual monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny.

When three tea ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor, the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England. After Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused, Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the "tea party" with about 60 members of the Sons of Liberty, his underground resistance group. The British tea dumped in Boston Harbor on the night of December 16 was valued at some $18,000.

Parliament, outraged by the blatant destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.


1864 : Battle of Nashville concludes
Union General George Thomas continues his attack on the army of Confederate General John Bell Hood at Nashville. Hood's drastically outnumbered force retreated, and only some heroic rear-guard action prevented the total destruction of the Confederate army



1914 : Germans bombard English ports of Hartlepool and Scarborough
At approximately 8 o'clock in the morning, German battle cruisers from Franz von Hipper's Scouting Squadron catch the British navy by surprise as they begin heavy bombardment of Hartlepool and Scarborough, English port cities on the North Sea.

The bombardment lasted for about one and a half hours, killing more than 130 civilians and wounding another 500. It would unleash a damning response from the British press, which pointed to the incident as yet another example of German brutality. The German navy, however, saw the two port cities as valid targets due to their fortified status.

Two defense batteries in Hartlepool responded to the attacks, damaging three of the German vessels, including the heavy cruiser Blucher. Hipper's squadron hoped to draw British forces to pursue them across waters freshly laced with mines. Another German fleet, commanded by Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, sat waiting offshore to provide support. A major confrontation did not take place, however, as the British decided to keep most of their fleet-depleted by the dispatch of their major cruisers to pursue the dangerous squadron of Admiral Maximilian von Spee-in the harbor. An attempt by the Scouting Squadron one month later to repeat the tactics used to surprise the British at Scarborough and Hartlepool resulted in the Battle of Dogger Bank, where Hipper's squadron was defeated but managed to avoid capture.


1944 : Battle of the Bulge
On this day, the Germans launch the last major offensive of the war, Operation Mist, also known as the Ardennes Offensive and the Battle of the Bulge, an attempt to push the Allied front line west from northern France to northwestern Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge, so-called because the Germans created a "bulge" around the area of the Ardennes forest in pushing through the American defensive line, was the largest fought on the Western front. The Germans threw 250,000 soldiers into the initial assault, 14 German infantry divisions guarded by five panzer divisions-against a mere 80,000 Americans. Their assault came in early morning at the weakest part of the Allied line, an 80-mile poorly protected stretch of hilly, woody forest (the Allies simply believed the Ardennes too difficult to traverse, and therefore an unlikely location for a German offensive). Between the vulnerability of the thin, isolated American units and the thick fog that prevented Allied air cover from discovering German movement, the Germans were able to push the Americans into retreat.

One particularly effective German trick was the use of English-speaking German commandos who infiltrated American lines and, using captured U.S. uniforms, trucks, and jeeps, impersonated U.S. military and sabotaged communications. The ploy caused widespread chaos and suspicion among the American troops as to the identity of fellow soldiers--even after the ruse was discovered. Even General Omar Bradley himself had to prove his identity three times--by answering questions about football and Betty Grable--before being allowed to pass a sentry point.

The battle raged for three weeks, resulting in a massive loss of American and civilian life. Nazi atrocities abounded, including the murder of 72 American soldiers by SS soldiers in the Ardennes town of Malmedy. Historian Stephen Ambrose estimated that by war's end, "Of the 600,000 GIs involved, almost 20,000 were killed, another 20,000 were captured, and 40,000 were wounded."

The United States also suffered its second-largest surrender of troops of the war: More than 7,500 members of the 106th Infantry Division capitulated at one time at Schnee Eifel. The devastating ferocity of the conflict also made desertion an issue for the American troops; General Eisenhower was forced to make an example of Private Eddie Slovik, the first American executed for desertion since the Civil War.

The war would not end until better weather enabled American aircraft to bomb and strafe German positions.


29 December --- TODAY IN HISTORY

1778 -- British capture Savannah, Georgia

On this day in 1778, British Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell and his force of between 2500 and 3600 troops, which included the 71st Highland regiment, New York Loyalists, and Hessian mercenaries, launch a surprise attack on American forces defending Savannah, Georgia.
American Major General Robert Howe and his paltry force of between 650 and 900 men were severely outnumbered. Campbell also outflanked the Continental forces by locating a path through the swamp to the right of the American position. Howe ordered the city to be evacuated and the army to withdraw from combat. During the process, the Georgia Brigade took heavy losses when it was cut off from Howe's other forces. The Patriots lost 83 men and another 483 were captured, while the British lost only 3 men and another 10 were wounded.
Savannah remained in British control until the Redcoats left of their own accord on July 11, 1782. French and American forces held Savannah under siege from September 23 to October 18, 1779, but failed to reclaim the city.
The French troops included 500 free Haitians of African descent, calling themselves the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Dominigue. Soldiers of African descent fighting for the Patriots was an anomaly during the southern campaign--most American slaves attempted to flee and join British forces, as they had no desire to defend their Patriot masters' right to enslave them. Many of the Volontaires themselves later went on to rebel against French control of Haiti. In fact, the Volontaires' twelve year old drummer, Henri Christoph, commanded Haiti's revolutionary army and later became king of Haiti.

1890 : U.S. Army massacres Indians at Wounded Knee
On this day in 1890, in the final chapter of America's long Indian wars, the U.S. Cavalry kills 146 Sioux at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
Throughout 1890, the U.S. government worried about the increasing influence at Pine Ridge of the Ghost Dance spiritual movement, which taught that Indians had been defeated and confined to reservations because they had angered the gods by abandoning their traditional customs. Many Sioux believed that if they practiced the Ghost Dance and rejected the ways of the white man, the gods would create the world anew and destroy all non-believers, including non-Indians. On December 15, 1890, reservation police tried to arrest Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux chief, who they mistakenly believed was a Ghost Dancer, and killed him in the process, increasing the tensions at Pine Ridge.
On December 29, the U.S. Army's 7th cavalry surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under the Sioux Chief Big Foot near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. As that was happening, a fight broke out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier and a shot was fired, although it's unclear from which side. A brutal massacre followed, in which it's estimated almost 150 Indians were killed (some historians put this number at twice as high), nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men.
The conflict at Wounded Knee was originally referred to as a battle, but in reality it was a tragic and avoidable massacre. Surrounded by heavily armed troops, it's unlikely that Big Foot's band would have intentionally started a fight. Some historians speculate that the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were deliberately taking revenge for the regiment's defeat at Little Bighorn in 1876. Whatever the motives, the massacre ended the Ghost Dance movement and was the last major confrontation in America's deadly war against the Plains Indians.
Conflict came to Wounded Knee again in February 1973 when it was the site of a 71-day occupation by the activist group AIM (American Indian Movement) and its supporters, who were protesting the U.S. government's mistreatment of Native Americans. During the standoff, two Indians were killed, one federal marshal was seriously wounded and numerous people were arrested.


Source: The Library of Congress - http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/today/today.html

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