Monthly Archives: December 2018

U.S. Army massacres Indians at Wounded Knee

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/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.

The making of an English martyr

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-making-of-an-english-martyr

Archbishop Thomas Becket is brutally murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights of King Henry II of England, apparently on orders of the king.

In 1155, Henry II appointed Becket as chancellor, a high post in the English government. Becket proved a skilled diplomat and won the trust of Henry, who nominated him as archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. The king hoped his friend would help in his efforts to curb the growing power of the church. However, soon after his consecration, the new archbishop emerged a zealous defender of the jurisdiction of the church over its own affairs. In 1164, Becket was forced to flee to France under fear of retaliation by the king.

He was later reconciled with Henry and in 1170 returned to Canterbury amid great public rejoicing. Soon afterward, against the objections of the pope, Henry had his son crowned co-king by the archbishop of York, and tensions again came to a head between Becket and Henry. At this time, perhaps merely in a moment of frustration, the king issued to his court the following public plea: “What a parcel of fools and dastards have I nourished in my house, and not one of them will avenge me of this one upstart clerk.” A group of Henry’s knights took the statement very seriously, and on December 29, Thomas Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.

The Christian world was shocked by Becket’s death, and in 1173 he was canonized a Catholic saint. In 1174, Henry was forced to do penance at his tomb, and his efforts to end the separation between church and state ceased. In 1220, Becket’s bones were transferred to Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral, which later became a popular site of English religious pilgrimage.

Texas enters the Union

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/texas-enters-the-union

Six months after the congress of the Republic of Texas accepts U.S. annexation of the territory, Texas is admitted into the United States as the 28th state.

After gaining independence from Spain in the 1820s, Mexico welcomed foreign settlers to sparsely populated Texas, and a large group of Americans led by Stephen F. Austin settled along the Brazos River. The Americans soon outnumbered the resident Mexicans, and by the 1830s attempts by the Mexican government to regulate these semi-autonomous American communities led to rebellion. In March 1836, in the midst of armed conflict with the Mexican government, Texas declared its independence from Mexico.

The Texas volunteers initially suffered defeat against the forces of Mexican General Santa Anna–the Alamo fell and Sam Houston’s troops were forced into an eastward retreat. However, in late April, Houston’s troops surprised a Mexican force at San Jacinto, and Santa Anna was captured, bringing an end to Mexico’s efforts to subdue Texas.

The citizens of the independent Republic of Texas elected Sam Houston president but also endorsed the entrance of Texas into the Union. The likelihood of Texas joining the Union as a slave state delayed any formal action by the U.S. Congress for more than a decade. In 1844, Congress finally agreed to annex the territory of Texas. On December 29, 1845, Texas entered the United States as a slave state, broadening the irrepressible differences in the United States over the issue of slavery and setting off the Mexican-American War.

Pat Boone earns second #1 hit with “April Love”

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pat-boone-earns-second-1-hit-with-april-love

In the mid 1950s, two young white men began their successful musical careers by bringing the sound of black rhythm-and-blues music to predominantly white mainstream-pop audiences. Both were steeped in religion and gospel music as boys, and both were raised in the segregated South, but one important barrier separated them in childhood: a set of railroad tracks. On the “wrong” side of the tracks in Tupelo, Mississippi, lived Elvis Presley, who would go on to become the King of Rock and Roll. On the “right” side in Nashville, Tennessee, lived Pat Boone, who would briefly rival Presley in terms of chart success, though in a style that never strayed from the conservative mainstream. On this day in 1957, in a year most people now associate with the music of early rockers like Elvis, the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, Pat Boone earned the second of his three career #1 hits when “April Love” topped the Billboard pop chart.

The gentle ballad “April Love” was the theme song from a long-forgotten 1957 film of the same name, starring Pat Boone as a delinquent kid from the rough streets of Chicago who finds true love on his uncle’s Kentucky farm in the form of the neighbor’s daughter, played by a young Shirley Jones. It was Boone’s second film of the year, after Bernardine, and its theme song topped the charts just three weeks after the somewhat more raucous title tune from Elvis Presley’s third film, Jailhouse Rock.

Fully embraced by mainstream media and advertisers, Pat Boone had just become the host of ABC Television’s The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom

Worst air raid on London

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/worst-air-raid-on-london

On the evening of December 29, 1940, London suffers its most devastating air raid when Germans firebomb the city. Hundreds of fires caused by the exploding bombs engulfed areas of London, but firefighters showed a valiant indifference to the bombs falling around them and saved much of the city from destruction. The next day, a newspaper photo of St. Paul’s Cathedral standing undamaged amid the smoke and flames seemed to symbolize the capital’s unconquerable spirit during the Battle of Britain.

In May and June 1940, Holland, Belgium, Norway, and France fell one by one to the German Wehrmacht, leaving Great Britain alone in its resistance against Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s plans for world domination. The British Expeditionary Force escaped the continent with an impromptu evacuation from Dunkirk, but they left behind the tanks and artillery needed to defend their homeland against invasion. With British air and land forces outnumbered by their German counterparts, and U.S. aid not yet begun, it seemed certain that Britain would soon follow the fate of France. However, Winston Churchill, the new British prime minister, promised his nation and the world that Britain would “never surrender,” and the British people mobilized behind their defiant leader.

On June 5, the Luftwaffe began attacks on English Channel ports and convoys, and on June 30 Germany seized control of the undefended Channel Islands. On July 10–the first day of the Battle of Britain according to the RAF–the Luftwaffe intensified its bombing of British ports. Six days later, Hitler ordered the German army and navy to prepare for Operation Sea Lion. On July 19, the German leader made a speech in Berlin in which he offered a conditional peace to the British government: Britain would keep its empire and be spared from invasion if its leaders accepted the German domination of the European continent. A simple radio message from Lord Halifax swept the proposal away.

Germany needed to master the skies over Britain if it was to transport safely its superior land forces across the 21-mile English Channel. On August 8, the Luftwaffe intensified its raids against the ports in an attempt to draw the British air fleet out into the open. Simultaneously, the Germans began bombing Britain’s sophisticated radar defense system and RAF-fighter airfields. During August, as many as 1,500 German aircraft crossed the Channel daily, often blotting out the sun as they flew against their British targets. Despite the odds against them, the outnumbered RAF fliers successfully resisted the massive German air invasion, relying on radar technology, more maneuverable aircraft, and exceptional bravery. For every British plane shot down, two Luftwaffe warplanes were destroyed.

At the end of August, the RAF launched a retaliatory air raid against Berlin. Hitler was enraged and ordered the Luftwaffe to shift its attacks from RAF installations to London and other British cities. On September 7, the Blitz against London began, and after a week of almost ceaseless attacks several areas of London were in flames and the royal palace, churches, and hospitals had all been hit. However, the concentration on London allowed the RAF to recuperate elsewhere, and on September 15 the RAF launched a vigorous counterattack, downing 56 German aircraft in two dogfights that lasted less than an hour.

The costly raid convinced the German high command that the Luftwaffe could not achieve air supremacy over Britain, and the next day daylight attacks were replaced with nighttime sorties as a concession of defeat. On September 19, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler postponed indefinitely “Operation Sea Lion”–the amphibious invasion of Britain. The Battle of Britain, however, continued.

In October, Hitler ordered a massive bombing campaign against London and other cities to crush British morale and force an armistice. Despite significant loss of life and tremendous material damage to Britain’s cities, the country’s resolve remained unbroken. The ability of Londoners to maintain their composure had much to do with Britain’s survival during this trying period. As American journalist Edward R. Murrow reported, “Not once have I heard a man, woman, or child suggest that Britain should throw her hand.” In May 1941, the air raids essentially ceased as German forces massed near the border of the USSR.

By denying the Germans a quick victory, depriving them of forces to be used in their invasion of the USSR, and proving to America that increased arms support for Britain was not in vain, the outcome of the Battle of Britain greatly changed the course of World War II. As Churchill said of the RAF fliers during the Battle of Britain, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

America’s first Labor Day

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/americas-first-labor-day

The Knights of Labor, a labor union of tailors in Philadelphia, hold the first Labor Day ceremonies in American history. The Knights of Labor was established as a secret society of Pennsylvanian tailors earlier in the year and later grew into a national body that played an important role in the labor movement of the late 19th century.

The first annual observance of Labor Day was organized by the American Federation of Labor in 1884, which resolved in a convention in Chicago that “the first Monday in September be set aside as a laborer’s national holiday.” In 1887, Oregon became the first state to designate Labor Day a holiday, and in 1894 Congress designated the first Monday in September a legal holiday for all federal employees and the residents of the District of Columbia.

Calhoun resigns vice presidency

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/calhoun-resigns-vice-presidency

Citing political differences with President Andrew Jackson and a desire to fill a vacant Senate seat in South Carolina, John C. Calhoun becomes the first vice president in U.S. history to resign the office.

Born near Abbeville, South Carolina, in 1782, Calhoun was an advocate of states’ rights and a defender of the agrarian South against the industrial North. Calhoun served as secretary of war under President James Monroe and in 1824 ran for the presidency. However, bitter partisan attacks from other contenders forced him out of the race, and he had to settle for the vice presidency under President John Quincy Adams. In 1828, he was again elected vice president while Andrew Jackson won the presidency. Calhoun soon found himself politically isolated from national affairs under President Jackson. On December 12, 1832, Calhoun was elected to fill a South Carolina Senate seat left vacant after the resignation of Senator Robert Hayne. Sixteen days later, he resigned the vice presidency.

For the rest of his political life, Calhoun defended the slave-plantation system against the growing anti-slavery stance of the free states. In the early 1840s, while secretary of state under President John Tyler, he secured the admission of Texas into the Union as a slave state.

Together with Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun dominated American political life in the first half of the 19th century.

Dubcek returns to public office

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dubcek-returns-to-public-office

Alexander Dubcek, former Czechoslovak leader and architect of the “Prague Spring,” is elected chairman of the new multiparty Czechoslovak parliament. It was the first time Dubcek held public office since being deprived of Communist Party membership in 1970.

The trend toward liberalization in Czechoslovakia began in 1963, and in 1968 reached its apex after Dubcek replaced Antonin Novotny as first secretary of the party. He introduced a series of far-reaching political and economic reforms, including increased freedom of speech and an end to state censorship. Dubcek’s effort to establish “communism with a human face” was celebrated across the country, and the brief period of freedom became known as the “Prague Spring.”

On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union answered Dubcek’s reforms with the invasion of Czechoslovakia by 600,000 Warsaw Pact troops. Prague was not eager to give way, but scattered student resistance was no match for Soviet tanks. Dubcek’s reforms were repealed, and the leader was replaced with the staunchly pro-Soviet Gustav Husak, who reestablished an authoritarian communist regime in the Soviet satellite state.

In 1989, as communist governments folded across Eastern Europe, Prague again became the scene of demonstrations for democratic reforms. In December 1989, Husak’s government conceded to demands for a multiparty parliament. Husak resigned, and for the first time in two decades Dubcek returned to politics as chairman of the new parliament, which subsequently elected playwright Vaclav Havel as president of Czechoslovakia. Havel had come to fame during the Prague Spring, and after the Soviet crackdown his plays were banned and his passport confiscated.

Worst European earthquake

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/worst-european-earthquake

At dawn, the most destructive earthquake in recorded European history strikes the Straits of Messina in southern Italy, leveling the cities of Messina in Sicily and Reggio di Calabria on the Italian mainland. The earthquake and tsunami it caused killed an estimated 100,000 people.

Sicily and Calabria are known as la terra ballerina–“the dancing land”–for the periodic seismic activity that strikes the region. In 1693, 60,000 people were killed in southern Sicily by an earthquake, and in 1783 most of the Tyrrenian coast of Calabria was razed by a massive earthquake that killed 50,000. The quake of 1908 was particularly costly in terms of human life because it struck at 5:20 a.m. without warning, catching most people at home in bed rather than in the relative safety of the streets or fields.

The main shock, registering an estimated 7.5 magnitude on the Richter scale, caused a devastating tsunami with 40-foot waves that washed over coastal towns and cities. The two major cities on either side of the Messina Straits–Messina and Reggio di Calabria–had some 90 percent of their buildings destroyed. Telegraph lines were cut and railway lines were damaged, hampering relief efforts. To make matters worse, the major quake on the 28th was followed by hundreds of smaller tremors over subsequent days, bringing down many of the remaining buildings and injuring or killing rescuers. On December 30, King Victor Emmanuel III arrived aboard the battleship Napoli to inspect the devastation.

Meanwhile, a steady rain fell on the ruined cities, forcing the dazed and injured survivors, clad only in their nightclothes, to take shelter in caves, grottoes, and impromptu shacks built out of materials salvaged from the collapsed buildings. Veteran sailors could barely recognize the shoreline because long stretches of the coast had sunk several feet into the Messina Strait.

U.S. and South Vietnamese troops attack Viet Cong stronghold

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-and-south-vietnamese-troops-attack-viet-cong-stronghold

A United States and South Vietnamese joint-service operation takes place against one of the best-fortified Viet Cong strongholds, located in the U Minh Forest in the Mekong Delta, 125 miles southwest of Saigon.

U.S. warplanes dropped bombs and napalm on the forest in preparation for the assault. Then, 6,000 South Vietnamese troops attacked Viet Cong positions in the forest. The U.S. Navy also participated in the operation–on December 29, the U.S. destroyer Herbert J. Thomas shelled suspected Viet Cong positions in the same area for seven hours. The operation ended on December 31, with 104 Viet Cong reported killed and 18 captured. The operation was considered a success in weakening the communist strength in the U Minh Forest.