Union disaster at Cold Harbor

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/union-disaster-at-cold-harbor

On this day, Union General Ulysses S. Grant makes what he later recognizes to be his greatest mistake by ordering a frontal assault on entrenched Confederates at Cold Harbor, Virginia. The result was some 7,000 Union casualties in less than an hour of fighting.

Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had already inflicted frightful losses upon each other as they wheeled along an arc around Richmond, Virginia—from the Wilderness forest to Spotsylvania and numerous smaller battle sites—the previous month.

On May 30, Lee and Grant collided at Bethesda Church. The next day, the advance units of the armies arrived at the strategic crossroads of Cold Harbor, just 10 miles from Richmond, where a Yankee attack seized the intersection. Sensing that there was a chance to destroy Lee at the gates of Richmond, Grant prepared for a major assault along the entire Confederate front on June 2.

But when Winfield Hancock’s Union corps did not arrive on schedule, the operation was postponed until the following day. The delay was tragic for the Union, because it gave Lee’s troops time to entrench. Perhaps frustrated with the protracted pursuit of Lee’s army, Grant gave the order to attack on June 3—a decision that resulted in an unmitigated disaster. The Yankees met murderous fire, and were only able to reach the Confederate trenches in a few places. The 7,000 Union casualties, compared to only 1,500 for the Confederates, were all lost in under an hour.

Grant pulled out of Cold Harbor nine days later and continued to try to flank Lee’s army. The next stop was Petersburg, south of Richmond, where a nine-month siege ensued. There would be no more attacks on the scale of Cold Harbor.

Rock 'n' roll is banned in Santa Cruz, California

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rock-and-roll-is-banned-in-santa-cruz-california

Santa Cruz, California, a favorite early haunt of author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, was an established capital of the West Coast counterculture scene by the mid-1960s. Yet just 10 years earlier, the balance of power in this crunchy beach town 70 miles south of San Francisco tilted heavily toward the older side of the generation gap. In the early months of the rock-and-roll revolution, in fact, at a time when adult authorities around the country were struggling to come to terms with a booming population of teenagers with vastly different musical tastes and attitudes, Santa Cruz captured national attention for its response to the crisis. On June 3, 1956, city authorities announced a total ban on rock and roll at public gatherings, calling the music “Detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.” 

It was a dance party the previous evening that led to this reaction on the part of Santa Cruz authorities. Some 200 teenagers had packed the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on a Saturday night to dance to the music of Chuck Higgins and his Orchestra, a Los Angeles group with a regional hit record called “Pachuko Hop.” Santa Cruz police entered the auditorium just past midnight to check on the event, and what they found, according to Lieutenant Richard Overton, was a crowd “engaged in suggestive, stimulating and tantalizing motions induced by the provocative rhythms of an all-negro band.” But what might sound like a pretty great dance party to some did not to Lt. Overton, who immediately shut the dance down and sent the disappointed teenagers home early

It may seem obvious now that Santa Cruz’s ban on “Rock-and-roll and other forms of frenzied music” was doomed to fail, but it was hardly the only such attempt. Just two weeks later in its June 18, 1956 issue, Time magazine reported on similar bans recently enacted in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and in San Antonio, Texas, where the city council’s fear of “undesirable elements” echoed the not-so-thinly-veiled concerns of Santa Cruz authorities over the racially integrated nature of the event that prompted the rock-and-roll ban issued on this day in 1956

Western author Larry McMurtry is born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/western-author-larry-mcmurtry-is-born

Larry McMurtry, one of the most talented modern writers working in the western genre, is born in Wichita Falls, Texas.

McMurtry’s family had been involved in Texas ranching for three generations, and he was exposed to ranching life from an early age. McMurtry, however, ultimately proved more interested in books than in cattle. After studying at Rice University, McMurtry traveled to California, where he joined Wallace Stegner’s creative writing program at Stanford University. Stegner, who had written several highly successful western novels, including The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943), recognized McMurtry’s talent and encouraged his ambitions to write about the modern West.

Uncertain if he could make a living solely through writing, McMurtry established bookstores in Texas and Washington, D.C., and divided his time between the two areas. In his early fiction, McMurtry also combined a rural and urban perspective, giving rise to what some have called the “urban western.” The impact of modern society on the traditional ways and ideals of the American West fascinated McMurtry. The West of his novels is a place where cowboys on horseback confront wealthy oilmen in Cadillacs; where the sons and daughters of ranchers prefer the glitter and flash of the movie palaces to a hard life living off the land.

Of McMurtry’s early novels, his best known was Horseman, Pass By (1961), which became the basis for the popular movie Hud. Homer Bannon, an elderly Texas rancher who symbolizes the courage and endurance of the Old West, refuses to allow oil drilling on his ranch. His stepson, Hud Bannon (played by Paul Newman in the movie), scorns Homer’s values and cares only about the potential profits of oil. He begins legal proceedings to have his stepfather declared incompetent and make himself the executor of the estate.

Many of McMurtry’s other novels, including Leaving Cheyenne (1963), The Last Picture Show (1966), and Moving On (1970), reflect a similar concern with the place of traditional western values in a ruthless modern world. McMurtry’s most successful novel, however, is set in the late 19th century during the early days of the open-range cattle industry. Lonesome Dove (1986) tells the story of two aging Texas Rangers who embark on an epic cattle drive north to Montana where they plan to start anew. More heroic than McMurtry’s earlier novels, Lonesome Dove nonetheless defies the conventions of the traditional western novel with its often starkly realistic and brutal portrait of life in the Old West.

In his 1988 novel, Anything for Billy, McMurtry continued to undermine the mythic view of the Old West. A sophisticated and historically informed portrait of Billy the Kid, Anything for Billy portrays the famous gunslinger as a charismatic but confused young man swept along by social and political forces he cannot control or really understand. McMurtry gives a similar treatment to the popular myths concerning Calamity Jane in his 1990 novel, Buffalo Girls.

A sophisticated observer of both the “Old” and the “New” West, McMurtry has also written several essays on western cultural life and western films.

Zoot Suit Riots begin in Los Angeles

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/zoot-suit-riots-erupt-in-los-angeles

On June 3, 1943, a group of U.S. sailors marches through downtown Los Angeles, carrying clubs and other makeshift weapons and attacking anyone wearing a “zoot suit”—the baggy wool pants, oversized coats and porkpie hats favored by many young men of color at the time.

The Zoot Suit Riots were a series of violent clashes during which mobs of U.S. servicemen, off-duty police officers and civilians brawled with young Latinos and other minorities in Los Angeles.

Noe Vasquez (left) and Joe Vasquez, (unrelated), are shown at the Los Angeles Police Department on June 10, 1943 after being attacked near Union Station by a gang of sailors, who had slashed their clothing.

View the 8 images of this gallery on the original article

Over the next week, the so-called Zoot Suit Riots spread throughout the city, including the largely Mexican-American neighborhood of East Los Angeles and the largely black neighborhood of Watts. The riots marked the culmination of simmering racial tensions in Los Angeles, set against the backdrop of World War II. 

After originating in Harlem jazz clubs in the 1930s, the zoot suit style had become popular with young men in black and Latino communities across the country. In Los Angeles, which had a large Mexican-American population, many more conservative citizens (including both older Mexican Americans and whites) objected to the young zoot-suiters who called themselves “pachucos,” associating them not only with cultural rebellion but also with criminality and gangsterism.

These negative views only increased during World War II, when the rationing of wool in early 1942 led the manufacturing of zoot suits to be banned and the wearing of them to be seen as unpatriotic. The Los Angeles news media in particular devoted itself to portraying pachucos as dangerous, especially after the so-called Sleepy Lagoon Murder of August 1942. In thatnotorious case, hundreds of Mexican-American youths were rounded up and 22 of them tried and convicted in the murder of another young Mexican-American man, Jose Diaz—a decision that was later overturned, and viewed as a major miscarriage of justice.

READ MORE: What Were the Zoot Suit Riots? 

On May 30, 1943, a verbal confrontation between a group of U.S. sailors and a group of zoot-suiters ended in the beating of one of the sailors. In retaliation, about 50 sailors left the local U.S. Navy Reserve Armory on the evening of June 3, armed with makeshift weapons and targeting zoot-suiters (even those as young as 12 or 13 years old). On the second night of rioting, the sailors headed into the city’s Mexican-American communities, barging into cafes, bars and theaters to seek out and attack their victims.

Military personnel and civilians joined in the violence, some traveling to Los Angeles from elsewhere to take part. While news reports portrayed such rioters as heroes fighting against a supposed Mexican crime wave, many of their attacks were clearly racist in nature, targeting Latinos, African Americans and other minorities even when they weren’t wearing zoot suits. Meanwhile, police arrested hundreds of young Mexican Americans—many of whom had been attacked themselves—compared with comparatively few sailors or civilians involved in the rioting.

The Zoot Suit Riots finally died down after June 8, when military officials banned all military personnel from Los Angeles and called on military police to patrol the city. The L.A. City Council subsequently passed a resolution prohibiting the wearing of zoot suits on city streets.

No one was killed during the Zoot Suit Riots, though many people were injured. In the aftermath, Governor Earl Warren tasked an independent citizens’ committee with investigating the riots and determining their cause. Though several factors were involved, the committee concluded that racism was the central cause, exacerbated by inflammatory, biased media coverage and an uneven response by the Los Angeles Police Department. 

How Anti-Mexican Racism in L.A. Caused the Zoot Suit Riots (TV-PG; 4:40)

Austro-German forces attack Russians at Przemysl

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/austro-german-forces-attack-russians-at-przemysl

On June 2, 1915, Austro-Hungarian and German troops continue their attacks on the Russian soldiers holding Przemysl (now in Poland), the citadel guarding the northeastern-most point of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Used as the Austrian army headquarters during the first months of World War I, Przemysl was ordered to hold out until the end in the face of the surprisingly effective Russian advance into Austria-Hungary in the fall of 1914. After six months under siege, facing severe food shortages and heavy casualties, the last Austro-Hungarian troops at Przemysl finally relinquished control of the citadel on March 22, 1915.

With their hard-fought victory, Russia’s troops had gained a certain measure of control in the much-contested Galician region of Austria and were poised to move into Hungary. This was not to be, however, as the powerful German army stepped in to offer more help to their faltering ally. Over the course of the next several months, Austro-German forces began moving swiftly and aggressively on the Eastern Front, recapturing the passes of the Carpathian Mountains and moving steadily forward into Galicia. On May 25, the Germans announced they had taken some 21,000 Russian prisoners east of the San River; the Russians were soon pushed back toward Przemysl, and battle began there once again.

On June 2, 1915, Austro-German forces were nearing victory against the exhausted Russians at Przemysl; the citadel fell back into the hands of the Central Powers the following day. The recapture of Przemysl effectively marked the end of Russian control in Galicia. As a British observer wrote dismissively of the Russian troops, “This army is now a harmless mob.”

Parliament completes the Coercive Acts with the Quartering Act

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/parliament-completes-the-coercive-acts-with-the-quartering-act

On June 2, 1774, the British Parliament renews the Quartering Act, allowing Redcoats to stay in private American homes if necessary. The Quartering Act, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act and the Boston Port Act, were known as the Coercive Acts.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Enraged Colonists and Led to the American Revolution

News of 342 chests of tea dumped into Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773, in what was dubbed the Boston Tea Party, reached Britain in January 1774. Disgusted by the colonists’ action against private property, the British Parliament quickly decided upon the Coercive Acts as a means of reasserting British control over the colonies and punishing Boston.

As of May 20, 1774, the Massachusetts Government Act curtailed democracy in Massachusetts by altering the colonial charter of 1691 to reduce the power of elective officials and to increase that of the royal governor. On the same day, the passing of the Administration of Justice Act ensured that royal officials charged with capital crimes would not be tried in the colonies, but in Britain. On June 1, 1774, the Boston Port Act demanded payment for the destroyed tea before the port could reopen for any imports but food.

On June 2, 1774, Parliament completed its punishment by expanding the Quartering Act to allow soldiers to board in occupied private homes. In its original incarnation, the Quartering Act of 1765 had merely demanded that colonists provide barracks for British soldiers. In Boston, those barracks were on an isolated island in Boston Harbor. In 1766, the act expanded to include the housing of soldiers in public houses (hotels) and empty buildings. With Boston in an uproar, the British now demanded the ability to house the military among civilians, if necessary, to maintain order.

Senator Joseph McCarthy charges communists are in the CIA

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mccarthy-charges-communists-are-in-the-cia

Senator Joseph McCarthy charges that communists have infiltrated the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the atomic weapons industry. Although McCarthy’s accusations created a momentary controversy, they were quickly dismissed as mere sensationalism from a man whose career was rapidly slipping away.

Senator McCarthy first made a name for himself in 1950 when he charged that over 200 “known communists” were in the Department of State. During the next few years, he alleged that communists were in nearly every branch of the U.S. government. His reckless accusations helped to create what came to be known as the Red Scare, a time when Americans feared that communists were infiltrating all aspects of American government and life. Despite the fact that McCarthy never managed to unearth a single communist, his ability to whip up public hysteria and smear opponents as communist sympathizers made him front-page news for several years. By 1954, however, his power was slipping. His earlier charges had been leveled at the Democratic administration of President Harry S. Truman, and Republicans had embraced McCarthy as a useful weapon. When Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped into the presidency in 1953, however, McCarthy’s wild accusations became a nuisance and source of embarrassment to the Republican Party.

READ MORE: Red Scare: Cold War, McCarthyism & Facts

Sensing that his base of power was eroding, in 1954 McCarthy embarked on a spectacularly unsuccessful effort to recapture public support by opening investigations into alleged communist infiltration of the U.S. Army. By early June 1954, the McCarthy-Army hearings had been going on for nearly a month. This was the first opportunity for the American public to get a firsthand view of McCarthy, as the hearings were televised. His bullying style and hysterical behavior quickly turned off the audience. In a desperate attempt to regain momentum, McCarthy charged that communists had also infiltrated the CIA and atomic weapons industry. No one took the charges seriously, and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, and President Eisenhower brusquely dismissed McCarthy’s accusations as reckless and without basis.

Just a few weeks later, McCarthy was thoroughly disgraced when the lawyer for the U.S. Army, Joseph Welch, gave him a devastatingly effective tongue-lashing, which ended with Welch asking the senator whether he had any sense of “decency” at all. The McCarthy-Army hearings collapsed soon thereafter, and the U.S. Senate voted to censure McCarthy. He died, still holding office, in 1957.

Killing spree by dual killers is put to an end

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/serial-killing-spree-is-put-to-an-end

Leonard Lake is arrested near San Francisco, California, ending one of the rare cases of serial killers working together. Lake and Charles Ng were responsible for a series of particularly brutal crimes against young women in California and the Pacific Northwest during the mid-1980s.

Lake was a former Marine who had served time in Vietnam. Ng, born in Hong Kong, was educated in England, and attended college in California briefly before being caught with automatic weapons that he had stolen from a military base in Hawaii and sent to Leavenworth federal prison. After his release, Ng hooked up with Lake in California and the two began a series of murders.

Ng and Lake shared a love of John Fowles’ The Collector, a book in which the protagonist kidnaps a woman solely to keep her in his possession, like the butterfiles he collects as a hobby. Creating “Operation Miranda,” named after a character in the book, Ng and Lake began kidnapping young women and bringing them to a cinderblock bunker in a secluded area south of San Francisco. There, they tried to brainwash the women into becoming their willing sex slaves. They also kidnapped a young couple and their infant son in San Francisco while at their home pretending to be interested in some audiovisual equipment the couple was selling and later killed them.

Lake, who had been arrested in 1985 for his connection to a burglary committed by Ng, ingested a cyanide capsule while in custody, and killed himself. Ng escaped to Canada, where he successfully avoided extradition for almost six years. When he was finally returned to California for trial, he utilized other delaying tactics. By the time he was finally convicted, he had gone through multiple attorneys and judges. It was one of the longest homicide prosecutions in state history and one of the costliest, at approximately $11 million dollars.

The trial itself was unorthodox. Ng persuaded the judge to let him testify in his own defense, against his attorney’s advice. He told the jury that he was Lake’s subservient partner, and denied killing anyone. The prosecution used his testimony to introduce new evidence, including cartoons drawn by Ng depicting babies being smashed, drowned, fried in a wok, and put in a microwave oven. Ng said the cartoons were meant to be funny. After a four-month trial, the jury convicted Ng and he was sentenced to death in 1999. Ng remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison. 

“Dead Poets Society” released in selected theaters

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dead-poets-society-released-in-selected-theaters

On June 2, 1989, the boys’ prep school drama Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams, is released in selected U.S. theaters.

Set in 1959 at a fictional all-male preparatory school called Welton Academy, the film starred Robin Williams as John Keating, a charismatic English teacher who encourages his students to “seize the day” (“carpe diem” in Latin) and embrace the passion for life expressed by great poets like Walt Whitman. With Keating’s guidance, several students (including characters played by Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles) revive an underground campus organization known as the Dead Poets Society. When their rebellious behavior gets the boys in trouble with school and family authority figures (with tragic consequences in one case), Keating is taken to task for his influence on them. Directed by Peter Weir from a screenplay by Tom Schulman, Dead Poets Society featured a soaring score by the multiple Oscar-winning composer Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India).

Though Dead Poets Society was generally well received, some negative reviews stood out: Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film “a collection of pious platitudes masquerading as a courageous stand in favor of something” and said that during the film’s final scene “I was so moved, I wanted to throw up.” Best known for his zany, manic style of comedy, Williams turned in a relatively understated performance that garnered some of the best reviews of his career. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, one of four nominations the film would receive, including Best Director and Best Picture. It won in one category, for Best Original Screenplay.

After winning over fans as the alien Mork from Ork on the hit television comedy Mork and Mindy (1978-1982), Williams had a successful career in stand-up comedy before making his big-screen breakout in Good Morning Vietnam (1987), for which he earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. After Dead Poets Society, Williams received two more Academy Award nominations: Best Actor for The Fisher King (1991) and Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting (1997); he won for the latter film. He also scored comedic hits such as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and The Birdcage (1996). 

Williams died in 2014, by suicide.