Today in History
-- March --
Today in History .. March 19
1865 : Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina
Confederate General Joseph Johnston makes a desperate attempt to stop Union General William T. Sherman's drive
through the Carolinas in the war's last days, but Johnston's motley army cannot stop the advance of Sherman's mighty
Following his famous March to the Sea in late 1864, Sherman paused for a month at Savannah, Georgia. He then turned
north into the Carolinas, destroying all that lay in his path in an effort to demoralize the South and hasten the
end of the war. Sherman left Savannah with 60,000 men divided into two wings. He captured Columbia, South Carolina,
in February and continued towards Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he planned to meet up with another army coming
from the coast. Sherman intended to march to Petersburg, Virginia, where he would join General Ulysses S. Grant
and crush the army of Robert E. Lee, the largest remaining Confederate force. Sherman assumed that Rebel forces
in the Carolinas were too widely dispersed to offer any significant resistance, but Johnston assembled 17,000 troops
and attacked one of Sherman's wings at Bentonville on March 19. The Confederates initially surprised the Yankees,
driving them back before a Union counterattack halted the advance and darkness halted the fighting. The next day,
Johnston established a strong defensive position and hoped for a Yankee assault. More Union troops arrived and
gave Sherman a nearly three to one advantage over Johnston. When a Union force threatened to cut off the Rebel's
only line of retreat on March 21, Johnston withdrew his army northward.
The Union lost 194 men killed, 1,112 wounded, and 221 missing, while the Confederates lost 240 killed, 1,700 wounded,
and 1,500 missing. About Sherman, Johnston wrote to Lee that, "I can do no more than annoy him." A month
later, Johnston surrendered his army to Sherman.
1916 : First U.S. air combat mission begins
Eight Curtiss "Jenny" planes of the First Aero Squadron take off from Columbus, New Mexico, in the first
combat air mission in U.S. history. The First Aero Squadron, organized in 1914 after the outbreak of World War
I, was on a support mission for the 7,000 U.S. troops who invaded Mexico to capture Mexican revolutionary Pancho
On March 9, 1916, Villa, who opposed American support for Mexican President Venustiano Carranza, led a band of
several hundred guerrillas across the border on a raid of the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing 17 Americans.
On March 15, under orders from President Woodrow Wilson, U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing launched a punitive
expedition into Mexico to capture Villa. Four days later, the First Aero Squadron was sent into Mexico to scout
and relay messages for General Pershing.
Despite numerous mechanical and navigational problems, the American fliers flew hundreds of missions for Pershing
and gained important experience that would later be used by the pilots over the battlefields of Europe. However,
during the 11-month mission, U.S. forces failed to capture the elusive revolutionary, and Mexican resentment over
U.S. intrusion into their territory led to a diplomatic crisis. In late January 1917, with President Wilson under
pressure from the Mexican government and more concerned with the war overseas than with bringing Villa to justice,
the Americans were ordered home.
Today in History - March 20
First Woman Wins Iditarod
1985 - On Wednesday, March 20, 1985, at 9:00 a.m., Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Iditarod Trail
Sled Dog Race®, the dog-pulling sled race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. Riddles checked into Safety, the
last checkpoint before the finish line, many hours ahead of her nearest competitor. She raced with a thirteen-dog
team through debilitating blizzards in 18 days, 20 minutes, and 17 seconds, and won $50,000. Riddles put the Iditarod
on the map with her storybook win and her photo on the magazine covers and front pages of many newspapers. The
next three Iditarods also were won by a woman, Susan Butcher, who in 1987, had a then record-breaking time of 11
days, 2 hours, and 5 minutes.
The trail first began as a mail and supply route from the coastal towns of Seward and Knik; to the interior mining
camps at Flat, Ophir, Ruby, and beyond; and to the west coast communities including Unalakleet, White Mountain,
and Nome. In 1925, part of the trail became the route for transporting emergency medical supplies to Nome, which
was stricken by a diphtheria epidemic.
There were two short races on parts of the trail in 1967 and 1969; the annual race to Nome was first run officially
in 1973. Called the "Last Great Race on Earth," the Iditarod (pronounced eye-DIT-a-rod) to some extent
follows the Knik to Nome Iditorod trail dogsled mail and supply route of 1910.
The race consists of teams of twelve to sixteen dogs pulling a sled driven by a man or woman, called a "musher."
The trail involves treacherous climbs through the rugged Alaskan wilderness, and the race lasts for eight to twenty
days in subzero temperatures, much of it in darkness and blinding winds. The musher might be able to catch a glimpse
of the Aurora Borealis; this is the most "daylight" in some arctic regions and northern plains.
The route is alternated every other year. The 1,112-mile northern route, run in even years, has twenty-six checkpoints.
The 1,131-mile southern route, run in odd years, has twenty-seven checkpoints. The Iditarod begins on the first
Saturday in March. Since 1983, teams have left the start line in downtown Anchorage at the corner of 4th and “D”
streets, many aiming just to complete the race. Congress named the original Iditarod Trail a National Historic
Trail in 1976.
The current journey along the National Millennium Trail takes the mushers over mountains (the Kuskokwim and Alaska
ranges), through dense forests, and across frozen rivers (the Yukon for 150 miles), the Norton Sound pack ice,
and desolate tundra. Mount McKinley (or "Denali," meaning "The High One," in the native Athapascan
language), located in the Alaska Range, is North America's highest peak at 20,320 feet. Glaciers are also a unique
part of Alaska's topography.
The challenges presented by these harsh conditions reflect Alaska's heritage of survival in the midst of wild,
untamed nature. The Eskimos (native Indians of Alaska and other arctic regions) are part of this rich heritage
and were conditioned to live on this tough land. Mushing dogsleds were their primary mode of transportation. Eskimos
rely on many animals for their survival, including the walrus, seal, reindeer, whale, and polar bear. They use
the entire animal — for food, clothing, and shelter.
Many Americans studied the Eskimos in the 19th century, including naturalist E. W. Nelson, United States Special
Indian Commissioner Vincent Colyer, and Knud Rasmussen, who was of Danish-Eskimo heritage. Most of these and other
explorations occurred after U.S. Secretary of State William Seward brokered a deal to purchase Alaska from Russia
for $7 million in 1867.
Source: The Library of Congress - http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/today/today.html