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Today in History
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NOVEMBER 17 IN HISTORY

1777 :
ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION SUBMITTED TO THE STATES
On this day in 1777, Congress submits the Articles of Confederation to the states for ratification.

The Articles had been signed by Congress two days earlier, after 16 months of debate. Bickering over land claims between Virginia and Maryland delayed final ratification for almost four more years. Maryland became the last state to approve the Articles on March 1, 1781, affirming them as the outline of the official government of the United States. The nation was guided by the document until the implementation of the current U.S. Constitution in 1789.

The critical distinction between the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution--the primacy of the states under the Articles--is best understood by comparing the following lines.

The Articles of Confederation begin: "To all to whom these Present shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of the States."

By contrast, the Constitution begins: "We the People of the United States.do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." The predominance of the states under the Articles of Confederation is made even more explicit by the claims of Article II: "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."

Less than five years after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation enough leading Americans decided that the system was inadequate to the task of governance that they peacefully overthrew their second government in just over 20 years. The difference between a collection of sovereign states forming a confederation and a federal government created by a sovereign people lay at the heart of the debate as the new American people decided what form their government would take.

Between 1776 and 1787, Americans went from living under a sovereign king, to living in sovereign states, to becoming a sovereign people. That transformation defined the American Revolution.



1863 : SIEGE OF KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE, BEGINS
Confederate General James Longstreet places the city of Knoxville, Tennessee under siege. After two weeks and one failed attack, he abandoned the siege and rejoined General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

The Knoxville campaign began in November when Longstreet took 17,000 troops from Chattanooga and moved to secure eastern Tennessee for the Confederates.

Longstreet's corps was normally part of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, but after the Battle of Gettysburg in July, Longstreet took two of his divisions to shore up the Confederate effort in the West. He and his troops participated in the victory at Chickamauga in September and the siege of Chattanooga in October and November. Longstreet quarreled with Braxton Bragg, the Confederate commander in the West, and he was given independent command of the Department of East Tennessee.

Longstreet took his 17,000 troops and moved toward Knoxville. Facing him was General Ambrose Burnside and 5,000 Yankees. Burnside fought a delaying action at Campbell Station on November 16 before retreating into the Knoxville defenses. The next day, Longstreet pulled into position around the north side of the city, but he could not cut off supplies to the Union troops. Longstreet waited for reinforcements to arrive, which they did on November 28. He attacked, but was repulsed with heavy loses. Longstreet continued the siege in order to draw troops away from Chattanooga. The ruse worked, and 25,000 Union troops were dispatched from Chattanooga to chase Longstreet's force away.

Ultimately, Longstreet retreated back to Virginia. His Knoxville campaign was disappointing for the Confederates, who had hoped to secure eastern Tennessee. Longstreet rejoined Lee in the spring after his disappointing turn as head of an independent command.



1914 : GERMANS MAKE LAST STAB AT YPRES
On November 17, 1914, the German 15th Corps makes a final, desperate attempt to advance against Allied positions in the Ypres Salient, the much-contested region in Flanders, Belgium.

After advancing relatively quickly through Belgium and eastern France during the first weeks of World War I, the Germans were defeated by the Allies in late September 1914 in the Battle of the Marne. The two enemies then began the so-called "Race to the Sea," moving northwards at a hectic pace in order to establish positions with access to the English Channel and the North Sea beyond. On October 19, the Germans launched an offensive aimed at seizing control of Ypres--the fortress city blocking the ports of the English Channel in Flanders--from the British, French and Belgian forces guarding it.

For their part, the Allies held fast in their resistance, knowing a defeat would mean the loss of a crucial advantage.

On the last day of October, German cavalry units began a more concentrated attack, kicking the First Battle of Ypres into high gear. Over the next three weeks, the chaotic nature of the fighting only increased its bloody nature, with casualty figures on both sides mounting as the weather grew colder and more blustery. The attempt by the 15th Corps on November 17--which Allied forces repulsed--marked the last movement of the battle, as the Germans thereafter confined themselves to intermittent cannon blasts against the Allied lines. Five days later, amid high winds and blizzards, fighting was suspended completely, and the First Battle of Ypres came to an end after taking the lives of more than 5,000 British and 5,000 German soldiers.


18 November .. TODAY IN HISTORY

1776 : Fort Washington becomes Fort Knyphausen In honor of Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen, who had stormed the post five days earlier, British Commander in Chief General William Howe renames Fort Washington "Fort Knyphausen" on this day in 1776.

Knyphausen and a force of 3,000 Hessian mercenaries and 5,000 Redcoats had laid siege to Fort Washington at the northern end and highest point of Manhattan Island on November 16, 1776.

Throughout the morning, Knyphausen met stiff resistance from the Patriot riflemen inside, but by afternoon, the Patriots were overwhelmed, and the garrison commander, Colonel Robert Magaw, surrendered. Nearly 3,000 Patriots were taken prisoner, and valuable ammunition and supplies were lost to the Hessians. The prisoners faced a particularly grim fate: Many later died aboard British prison ships anchored in New York Harbor.

Among the 53 dead and 96 wounded Patriots were John and Margaret Corbin of Virginia. When John died in action, his wife Margaret took over his cannon, cleaning, loading, and firing the gun until she too was severely wounded. The first woman known to have fought for the Continental Army, Margaret survived, but lost the use of her left arm.

Two weeks earlier, one of Magaw's officers, William Demont, had deserted the Fifth Pennsylvania Battalion and given British intelligence agents information about the Patriot defense of New York, including details about the location and defense of Fort Washington. Demont was the first traitor to the Patriot cause, and his treason contributed significantly to Knyphausen's victory.

Fort Washington stood at the current location of Bennet Park in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, near the George Washington Bridge, at the corner of Fort Washington Avenue and 183rd Street. Fort Washington Park and Fort Washington Point lay beneath the site along the Hudson River.


1883 : Railroads create the first time zones
At exactly noon on this day, American and Canadian railroads begin using four continental time zones to end the confusion of dealing with thousands of local times. The bold move was emblematic of the power shared by the railroad companies.

The need for continental time zones stemmed directly from the problems of moving passengers and freight over the thousands of miles of rail line that covered North America by the 1880s. Since human beings had first begun keeping track of time, they set their clocks to the local movement of the sun. Even as late as the 1880s, most towns in the U.S. had their own local time, generally based on "high noon," or the time when the sun was at its highest point in the sky. As railroads began to shrink the travel time between cities from days or months to mere hours, however, these local times became a scheduling nightmare. Railroad timetables in major cities listed dozens of different arrival and departure times for the same train, each linked to a different local time zone.

Efficient rail transportation demanded a more uniform time-keeping system. Rather than turning to the federal governments of the United States and Canada to create a North American system of time zones, the powerful railroad companies took it upon themselves to create a new time code system. The companies agreed to divide the continent into four time zones; the dividing lines adopted were very close to the ones we still use today. Most Americans and Canadians quickly embraced their new time zones, since railroads were often their lifeblood and main link with the rest of the world. However, it was not until 1918 that Congress officially adopted the railroad time zones and put them under the supervision of the Interstate Commerce Commission.



1916 : Haig ends Battle of Somme
Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force in World War I, calls off the Battle of the Somme in France after nearly five months of mass slaughter.

The massive Allied offensive began at 7:30 a.m. on July 1, 1916, when 100 000 British soldiers poured out of their trenches and into no-man's-land. During the preceding week, 250,000 Allied shells had pounded German positions near the Somme River, and the British expected to find the way cleared for them. However, scores of heavy German machine guns had survived the artillery onslaught, and the invading infantry were massacred. By the end of the day, 20,000 British soldiers were dead and 40,000 wounded. It was the single heaviest day of casualties in British military history.

After the initial disaster, Haig resigned himself to smaller but equally ineffectual advances, and more than 1,000 Allied lives were extinguished for every 100 yards gained on the Germans. Even Britain's September 15 introduction of tanks into warfare for the first time in history failed to break the deadlock in the Battle of the Somme. In October, heavy rains turned the battlefield into a sea of mud, and on November 18 Haig called off the Somme offensive after more than four months of slaughter.

Except for its effect of diverting German troops from the Battle of Verdun, the offensive was a miserable disaster. It amounted to a total gain of just 125 square miles for the Allies, with more than 600,000 British and French soldiers killed, wounded, or missing in action. German casualties were more than 650,000. Although Haig was severely criticized for the costly battle, his willingness to commit massive amounts of men and resources to the stalemate along the western front eventually contributed to the collapse of an exhausted Germany in 1918.



1940 : Hitler furious over Italy's debacle in Greece
On this day in 1940, Adolf Hitler meets with Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano over Mussolini's disastrous invasion of Greece. Mussolini surprised everyone with a move against Greece; his ally, Hitler, was caught off guard, especially since the Duce had led Hitler to believe he had no such intention. Even Mussolini's own chief of army staff found out about the invasion only after the fact!

Despite being warned off an invasion of Greece by his own generals, despite the lack of preparedness on the part of his military, despite that it would mean getting bogged down in a mountainous country during the rainy season against an army willing to fight tooth and nail to defend its autonomy, Mussolini moved ahead out of sheer hubris, convinced he could defeat the inferior Greeks in a matter of days. He also knew a secret, that millions of lire had been put aside to bribe Greek politicians and generals not to resist the Italian invasion. Whether the money ever made it past the Italian fascist agents delegated with the responsibility is unclear; if it did, it clearly made no difference whatsoever-the Greeks succeeded in pushing the Italian invaders back into Albania after just one week. The Axis power spent the next three months fighting for its life in a defensive battle. To make matters worse, virtually half the Italian fleet at Taranto had been crippled by a British carrier-based attack.

At their meeting in Obersalzberg, Hitler excoriated Ciano for opening an opportunity for the British to enter Greece and establish an airbase in Athens, putting the Brits within striking distance of valuable oil reserves in Romania, which Hitler relied upon for his war machine. It also meant that Hitler would have to divert forces from North Africa, a high strategic priority, to Greece in order to bail Mussolini out. Hitler considered leaving the Italians to fight their own way out of this debacle-possibly even making peace with the Greeks as a way of forestalling an Allied intervention. But Germany would eventually invade, in April 1941, adding Greece to its list of conquests.

19 November .. TODAY IN HISTORY

1863 : LINCOLN DELIVERS GETTYSBURG ADDRESS
On November 19, 1863, at the dedication of a military cemetery at Gettysburg Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivers one of the most memorable speeches in American history. In just 272 words, Lincoln brilliantly and movingly reminded a war-weary public why the Union had to fight, and win, the Civil War.

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought some four months earlier, was the single bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Over the course of three days, more than 45,000 men were killed, injured, captured or went missing. The battle also proved to be the turning point of the war: General Robert E. Lee's defeat and retreat from Gettysburg marked the last Confederate invasion of Northern territory and the beginning of the Southern army's ultimate decline.

Charged by Pennsylvania's governor, Andrew Curtin, to care for the Gettysburg dead, an attorney named David Wills bought 17 acres of pasture to turn into a cemetery for the more than 7,500 who fell in battle. Wills invited Edward Everett, one of the most famous orators of the day, to deliver a speech at the cemetery's dedication. Almost as an afterthought, Wills also sent a letter to Lincoln--just two weeks before the ceremony--requesting "a few appropriate remarks" to consecrate the grounds.

At the dedication, the crowd listened for two hours to Everett before Lincoln spoke. Lincoln's address lasted just two or three minutes. The speech reflected his redefined belief that the Civil War was not just a fight to save the Union, but a struggle for freedom and equality for all, an idea Lincoln had not championed in the years leading up to the war. This was his stirring conclusion: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Reception of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was initially mixed, divided strictly along partisan lines. Nevertheless, the "little speech," as he later called it, is thought by many today to be the most eloquent articulation of the democratic vision ever written.

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

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