Sunday, September 30, 2012


In 1849, Zachary Taylor began his term as President of the United States.   Elizabeth Blackwell became America’s first woman doctor.  Stagecoach service began between independence, Missouri, and Santa Fe in the Southwest.  And the steamship California arrived in San Francisco with the first gold seekers from the East.  

The great California gold rush was onl

Actually the precioius metal had been first discovered in California a year earlier on January 24, 1848.   At John Sutter’s sawmill on the American River, a worker named James Marshall found a yellow nugget of what he thought was gold.  He showed it to Sutter, who said, “Well, it lks like gold.  Let us test it.”   The nugget passed all the tests.   There was gold in California =- mre  gold than anyone had ever imagined.

The news was slow to reach the rest of the US, but by 1849 people by the thousands were hurrying to California from every corner of the country.     They came by ship and they came by wagon train, and they were called forty-niners.  Gold was found all thrugh the mountains and many forty-niners     Gold was found all through the mountains and many forty-niners became rich.   But not James Marshall.  His search for more gold failed and he died a poor man. 

In 1849, when the gold rush began, there were 14,000 people in California.  Three eyars later there were 250,000.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe

“Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’”

That line from Edgar Allan Poe’s, “The Raven” is one of the most famous in American poetry.  Poe is also well known for his short stories, many of them tales of terror and suspense.  He has been called the father of modern mystery and horror stories.

Poe led a short and tragic life.   Orphaned before he was three, he was raised in Virginia by foster parents.  His failure to complete his education and his self-destructive behavior infuriated his foster father, who disowned him.  Penniless, Poe eaked out a meager living as a writer and magazine editor.   In 1836, he married his cousin, Virginia Clemm.  He was devoted to her, but their life was a constant struggle for survivial. 

In the 1840s, Poe won recognition for poems such as “The Raven,” the story of a lost love, and for chilling stories such as “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

“The Murders in the rue Morgue” was the forerunner of later detective tales.  But despite his growing reputation, Poe earned little.  After his wrife died in 1847, he was plagued by depression and ill health.  He died when only 40 years old. 

To earn money, Poe editied a gossip column for a woman’s magazine in 1846.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Peter Cooper's Steam Locomotive

On September 16, 1830, a crowd gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, to watch a most unusual race.  A spirited gray horse was pitted against a tiny steam locomotive, the Tom Thumb.  The owners of a stagecoach line had challenged the locomotive’s maker, Peter Cooper, to prove his “iron horse” could pull passengers as well as a real horse could. 

Cooper was an inventor from New York.  He had built Tom Thumb to convince officials of the Baltimore and Ohio Railraod that steam locomotives were practical.   Iron pipe was not available in the US so he used old musket barrels for boiler tubing.   A mechanical blower ssupplied air to the fire that boiled water and produced steam.  The locomotive weighed one ton, but had less hosepower than most modern lawn mowers.

In a preliminary demonstration, Tom Thumb pulled a car with 36 passengers over a 13 –mile  track at an average speed of 10 miles an hour.  Then came the actual race.  The horse was fastest off the mark, but the little locomotive soon took the lead.  Victory seemed assured – until the boiler developed a leak.   Tom Thumb chugged to a halt as the horse galloped ahead.  Nevertheless, Peter Cooper’s demonstration concvinced the railroad officials that steam locomotives were practical, as the railroads began to prepare for the Age of Steam.

Among Cooper’s inventions were a washing machine and a a compressed-air engine for ferryboa

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Miss America Pageant

It began in 1921 as a gimmick to attract tourists to Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the end of the summer season. 

Today, it is a national institution.  Millions watch on television each year as the judges’ decision is announced, a winner is crowned, and a tearful but radiant young woman walks down the runway to the strains of a familiar song, “Here she is, Miss America…”

The first Miss America, Margaret Gorman was just 16 years old when she won the contest in 1921.  In the early  days, the contestants often represented cities rather than states.  Not until 1959 was there a contestant from each state.  Originally just a swimsuit contest, the pageant later added a talent contest and interviews designed to reveal  the personalities and opinions of the women.

Beginning in 1945, winners received college scholarships along with other prizes.  The pageant became a truly national even in 1954, when television first beamed the show across the country. 

The Miss America Pageant has been criticized by people who feel that beauty contest are insulting to  women.   But supporters point out that the contest stresses intelligence and talent as well as beauty.  And the pageant  has survived the criticisims to win a lasting place in American popular culture.

The use of live animals in the Miss America talent competition was banned in 1940, afer Miss Montana and her horse almost fell off the stage.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Babe Ruth

George Herman Ruth was possibly the greatest baseball player of all time; certainly he was the most famous.   He was the “Sultan of Swat,” the “Bambino,” or simply the “Babe.”

Babe Ruth made the home run a new force in baseball, and so changed the way the game was played.   Fans in enormous numbers came to see him hit.  In the 1920s, at the peak of his game, Babe Ruth was as well known as anyone in America.

Ruth began his major-league career with the Boston Red Sox in 1915 – as a pitcher.  He became one of the best in the league, pitching a remarkable 29 straight scoreless innings in World Series play.  But he was also so powerful a hitter that he played in the outfield between pitching starts.   In 1919, pitcher-outfielder Ruth hit 29 home runs, breaking the season record set in 1884.

In 1920, Ruth, now a full-time outfielder, became a New York Yankee and his career climbed to new heights.  

Home runs crashed off his bat at an astonishing pace – 54 in his first Yankee season.

In 1921, he hit 59 home runs.  Ruth used a heavy 52-ounce bat and took a long stride, his quick powerful swing with its slight uppercut sent home runs soaring over high fences.  In 1927, he hit 60 homers, still the record for a 154-game season.

Over his twenty year major league career, 1915 to 1935, Babe Ruth had a home run for every 11.78 times that he came to bat.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Susan B. Anthony

Until the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution became law in 1920, American women were not allowed to vote.   Susan B. Anthony’s 50-year fight for women’s suffrage, or the right to vote, made this amendment possible.

Susan B. Anthony grew up in a Quaker home.  Like her parents, she believed the men and women should be treated equally.  In 1851, she began working with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, another suffragette.  Their first success was the passage of a law in 1860 in New York that gave women the right to own property and to keep their children if they divorced.

Anthony also fought for the abolition or end, of slavery, and for the right of former slaves to vote.  After the Civil War, she was disappointed when former slaves were given that right, but women were not.  

As a result, she formed suffrage associations and lectured all over the world.  She saw women get the right to vote in other countries, but not in the U.S.  But she remained hopeful, and in a month before her death in 1906, she said, “failure is impossible.”   She was right.   Fourteen years after Anthony’s death, the 19th Amendment became law, amd people called it is the “Anthony Amendment”.

In 1979, the U.S. government minted $1 coins with Susan B. Anthony’s picture on them.  This made her the first woman to be pictured on an American coin in general circulation.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore is considered one of the least successful Presidents.  But his administration had two important accomplishments:  the Compromise of 1850 and the opening of Japan.

Born in a poor family, Fillmore became a lawyer in Buffalo, New York, and a congressman.  In 1848, he was elected Vice President, and the death of President Zachary Taylor in July, 1850, made him President.

At that time, Congress was debating the Compromise of 1850, a group of laws designed to calm the disputes over slavery.  Fillmore disliked slavery but wanted to preserve the Union.  So he supported the Compromise, which admitted California as a free state and ended slavery  in the District of Columbia and made it easier for southerners to recover runaway slaves.  The Compromise helped delay the Civil War for 10 years

With California now a state, the U.S. looked to the Pacific.   In 1852, Fillmore sent a fleet under Commodore Matthew C. Perry to Japan, which had been closed to foreigners for 200 years.

This show of force resulted in a treaty opening two Japanese ports to U.S. trade.   But when the treaty was signed in 1854.  Fillmore was no longer President.   Unpopular for his support of the Compromise of 1850, he was denied the 1852 presidential nomination.

IN 1856, Fillmore ran for President for the anti-immigrant Americans, or Know-Nothing Party.   Maryland was the only state he carried.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


“With malice toward none, with charity for all….let us strive….to bind up the nation’s wounds.”  Abraham Lincoln spoke these words on March 4, 1865, as he was sworn in for a second term as President.  The Civil War, which had set North against South since 1861, was coming to a close.  Americans were ready to answer Lincoln’s call and “do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace.”

Peace finally came in 1865. On April 9, Southern General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.   Although scattered fighting continued, Lee’s surrender signaled the end of the war.  But the nation’s joy was cut short five days later.  President Lincoln, attending a play in Washington, D.C., was shot and killed by John Wilkes Booth, an actor who was a diehard supporter of the South.

Thousands of people came out to view the train that carried Lincoln’s body to the his home state, Illinois, to be buried. 

“Now he belongs to the ages,” a cabinet member said.   Vice President Andrew Johnson was immediately sworn in as President, and by the end of May, the last of the Southern forces had surrendered. 

In December, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution became law.  It banned slavery – a goal Lincoln had embraced during the war.

Ironically, the last battle of the war was fought May 12-13, 1864, at Palmetto Ranch, Texas, and the Southern forces won.

The picture is taken from the funeral procession held in New York City as the funeral train made its way to Illinois.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Yosemite National Park

Deep in the Sierra Nevada, California’s snow-capped mountains, is a special hidden treasure – not gold or silver, but America’s most spectacular hidden valley.

It is called Yosemite and it is the center of one of our most popular national parks.

Yosemite Valley is seven miles long and in some places less than half a mile wide.  Towering on both sides of the winding Merced River are sheer granite walls more than 2,000 feet high.  Ribbon-like waterfalls cascade down the sides.   To the north, Half Dome Mountain presents its flat, scarred face.   (The other half of Half Dome cracked off and slid down into the valley thousands of years ago.)

Stretching out from the famous valley Yosemite National Park takes in 1,200 square miles of soaring mountains.   Mariposa Grove, in the south, is the home of giant sequoia trees.  Some of them measure 34 feet through the middle and are 275 feet high.  

In the northwest are the Tuolumne Meadows, cold Alpine meadows which fill with flowers in summer.  Through the years the park has revealed the beauty of the Sierra Nevada to millions of visitors.

The first white men to see Yosemite Valley were probably U.S. soldiers who arrived in 1851.

They were searching for Indians who were raiding nearby  mining camps.  There were 22 Indian villages in Yosemite at that time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth could neither read nor write.  But when this tall African-American woman strode on stage to speak out against slavery, she held everyone’s attention.  She began almost every speech with the same words:  “Children, I talk to God and God talks to me.”

Sojourner Truth was born a slave named Isabella on a farm in New York State.  Before she was freed, Sojourner Truth had several children, most of whom were sold into slavery by her masters.

She gained her freedom after New York abolished slavery, when she was about 30 years old.  She then moved to New York City, where she worked as a servant.  Deeply religious, she sometimes preached on street corners, both against slavery and on behalf of women’s rights.  

Then in 1843, she came to believe that God wanted her to “travel up and down the land” preaching his word. 

She took the name Sojourner (which means wanderer) Truth and began traveling through the country, speaking wherever she could find an audience.  She suffered abuse and physical attacks, but her eloquence made her famous.  In 1864, Abraham Lincoln invited her to the White House and appointed her counselor to freedmen in the capital.

After the Civil War, Sojourner Truth continued to work tirelessly to help the newly freed slaves and improve the lives of women.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Lemonade Lucy" Hayes

The press jokingly called her "Lemonade Lucy," because no alcoholic beverages were served in the White House while she was First Lady.  But Lucy Hayes, wife of the 19th President, was widely respected as a kind an intelligent woman.  She was, her husband Rutherford B. Hayes said, "the Golden Rule incarnate."  

A doctor's daughter, Lucy Ware Webb grew up in Ohio.  She graduated from Wesleyan Female Seminary, a college, in 1850.  Two years later, she married "Rud" Hayes, who became a congressman and governor of Ohio.  Lucy had a keen interest in politics and helped her husband in his career.  

She worked to outlaw slavery and alcohol, and raised money for the poor.  Because President and Mrs. Hayes came from Ohio, the rule that no liquor could be served in the White House was called “the Ohio idea.”

President Hayes and his wife had seven sons and one daughter.

Lucy Hayes was a thoroughly modern First Lady.   She was the first one to hold a college degree.  And during her time in the White House, a host of new inventions were introduced there.

These included indoor plumbing, telephones, typewriters, and record players.  But Lucy Hayes also had traditional values.  She held family prayers each morning, as well as frequent songfests around the sitting-room piano.   And she introduced the Easter egg roll on the White House lawn, an event that has been held ever since.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Near the center of the city, on the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, stands the Space Needle.  From the top of this tower, visitors can admire the magnificent setting of Seattle, the largest city in Washington state and the U.S. Northwest.

To the west, across the island-dotted waters of Puget Sound, rise the Olympic Mountains.  They protect the city from extreme heat and cold.  Far to the southeast looms snow-covered Mt. Rainier, rising more than 14,000 feet from sea level.  To the east is the stately Cascade Range.   Scattered everywhere are the forests that give the city its start as a lumbering center in the 1890s.

Named after Seattle, a friendly Indian chief, the city grew slowly until the 1940s.  Then the Boeing Company made it a center of airplane manufacturing.  In the 1980s, many new electronics companies attracted thousands of workers.

Once a small isolated town, Seattle is becoming a major international city.   Because it is a Pacific port, Seattle is a center for trade with Asia.   Its residents include a large percentage of Asian-Americans.

Many of Seattle’s oldest families are descendants of “Mercer girls.”  They were marriageable women brought from the east by Asa Mercer to wed lonely pioneer men.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dwight D. Eisenhower

When World War II began, few people outside the army had ever heard of a 50-year-old career officer named Dwight D. Eisenhower.  But soon everyone knew “Ike,” who became one of the greatest generals of the century and much-loved two-term President.

Born in Texas, Eisenhower graduated from West Point in 1915.  He was a starting halfback on the West Point football team until he hurt his knee.

He rose rapidly through the ranks, and in 1942 was put in command of U.S. troops in Europe.  Then he directed the successful Allied invasions of North Africa and Italy.   And in 1944, he planned the largest invasion in history.

On June 6, more than 150,000 Allied troops under his command landed on the beaches of Normandy, France.  Eisenhower’s ability to win the cooperation of soldiers of many nationalities was a key factor in the Allied victory over Germany.

World War II made Eisenhower a national hero.   Although he resisted invitations to become a political leader at first, he finally agreed to run for President.  “I like Ike,” campaign buttons said.   The nation agreed, electing him in 1952 and again in 1956.  

As President, he helped bring an end to the Korean War, and he took a strong position against Communism….although some people criticized him for remaining aloof from controversial issues. 

Eisenhower’s down-to-earth manner and kindness won him the nation’s affection.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ralph Bunche

Ralph Bunche was a skillful diplomat who played a key role at the United Nations during its early years.  His efforts on behalf of world peace won him the Nobel Prize in 1950.

Orphaned at age 11, Bunche was raised by his grandmother in Los Angeles.   He graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles summa cum laude (with highest honors).   In 1934, he became the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in government and international relations from Harvard.  After teaching, for several years, he worked in Africa for the U.S. during World War II.  As a State Department officer in 1944, he helped to organize the United Nations.

In 1945, Bunche became the first black to head a division of the U.S. State Department.

Bunche began his 25-year career at the UN in 1946.  Three years later, he negotiated cease-fire agreements between Israel and Arab countries that had invaded the newly formed nation.  For this accomplishment, Bunche was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first black to win that award.

After leading other UN peacekeeping missions, Bunche became the world body’s second-ranking officer, the under secretary-general, in 1967.  Although his job focused on international affairs, Bunche was also committed to the struggle of American blacks.  Thought seriously ill at the time, he joined the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to demand that African-Americans be allowed to vote.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Camp David Accords

The presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, was the setting for a historic moment in September, 1978.  With the help of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the leaders of Egypt and Israel reached agreements that would end a 30-year state of war between their countries.

Israel was created by the United Nations in 1948 as a homeland for the Jewish people.  But Arab countries, including Egypt, denied its right to exist.  Arab armies attacked, but the outnumbered Israelis threw them back.   In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel gained control of the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.  All peace efforts failed.

Then, in 1978, Carter invited Egyptian Premier Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin to Camp David to restart a stalled round of talks.  After 12 days, two accords were reached.  One was a plan for the return of the Sinai to Egypt and for peace between the countries.  The second called for self-rule for the Palestinian Arabs in other Israeli-occupied territories.

A treaty based on the first accord was signed in March, 1979.   Egypt became the first Arab country to recognize the first Arab country to recognize Israel.  Because the second accord involved Arabs who did not agree to it, it was not carried out at that time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


In 1608, Captain John Smith, one of the leaders of the English settlement at Jamestown in Virginia, was captured by Indians.  According to a book Smith wrote in later years, he was about to be clubbed to death when Pocahontas, “the king’s dearest daughter…got his head in her arms and laid her own upon his to save him from death.”

No one knows for sure if Smith’s story is true.  Yet there is no doubt that Pocahontas was a young princess of the Powhatan tribe who befriended the settlers, helped them in many ways, and convinced her father, the chief, to give the foreigners food during the harsh winter.

Relations between the Indians and the settlers were not good, however.  In 1613, Pocahontas was taken hostage by the settlers.  During her stay in the colony, Pocahontas learned English and became a Christian.  Her marriage to John Rolfe, a tobacco planter, resulted in an eight year truce between Indians and settlers.

In 1616, Pocahontas traveled to England with her husband.  She was treated like royalty by the English, who found her charming and beautiful.  But before she could return to Virginia in 1617, she was taken ill and died at the age of 22.

Pocahontas’ real name as Matoaka.  “Pocahontas” was a nickname meaning “the playful one.”  After she was married, Pocahontas was known as Lady Rebecca Rolfe.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

50th Anniversary of the Roswell Incident

In early July, 1947, a sheep rancher near Roswell, New Mexico, found pieces of strange metal foil littering his land.  The material was unlike anything he had ever seen.  Officials at a nearby air-force base said the debris was from a weather balloon.   But some people didn't believe it.  They claimed the metal was from an alien spacecraft that had crashed to earth.  The government, they said, was hiding the evidence.

The alleged crash and cover-up of a UFO (unidentified flying object) became known as the Roswell Incident.  By the time the 50th anniversary of the event occurred in 1997, the story had been wildly exaggerated.   Some people claimed to have seen alien bodies as well as alien spacescraft.  As the anniversary neared, the air force released a paper explaining how secret military work may have inspired the stories.

The original debris came from a high-altitude spy balloon the report said.  Further, the “alien bodies” were crash-test dummies, and the “UFOs” were secret spy planes.

The report didn’t dampen Roswell’s anniversary celebration.  For six days in July, people toured the alleged crash site, visited UFO museums, and attended concerts and extraterrestrial-themed costume parties.  Nor did the report change the minds of those who continued to insist that aliens had crashed at Roswell 50 years before. 

A 1997 Time magazine poll found that one of every three Americans believe that aliens have visited earth.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Barbara Jordan

“My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, and it is total,” Congresswoman Barbara Jordan told a national television audience on July 25, 1974.   She was not about to stand by and watch “the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”  At that time, Jordan was participating in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on President Richard Nixon’s serious abuse of presidential powers.  Jordan’s vote again Nixon helped lead to the President’s resignation in August.

A brilliant scholar and a thrilling orator, Jordan became the first African-American elected to Congress since the 1870s.  Her eloquent denunciation of Nixon at the committee hearings in 1974 stirred the nation.  Two years later, she became the first black woman to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention.  Her presence there, she noted, proved that “the American Dream need not forever be deferred.”  After retiring from Congress in 1979, Jordan taught at the University of Texas in Austin.   In 1992, though confined to a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis, she again addressed a Democratic convention.  Less than four years later, however, she died at the age of 59.   President Lyndon B. Johnson once said Jordan “proved that black is beautiful before we knew what [the saying] meant.”

Jordan’s love of and respect for the U.S. Constitution was so great that she always carried a copy of the document in her purse.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Battle of Bunker Hill

The Revolutionary War had begun in April, 1775, and British troops controlled Boston.  The Americans controlled the surrounding countryside, and they knew that the British wanted to take Charlestown, just across the Charles River from Boston.   On the night of June 16, twelve hundred American troops moved to fortify Bunker’s Hill in Charleston.

Throughout the night, the Americans feverishly dug trenches to protect them if attacked.   At dawn, British General Thomas Gage ordered his ships to fire cannons at the American fortifications.  The cannons failed to hit their target, but Gage sent 2,000 troops across the river anyway.

The Americans were short of gunpowder.  Colonel William Prescott, their commander, ordered them to hold their fire “until you see the whites of their eyes.”  As the British charged, sudden fire from the Americans cut them down.  The British charged a second time and were forced to retreat.  During the third attack, the Americans ran out of gunpowder, and the British took the hill.  But the battle gave hope to the Americans.  The British suffered 1,000 casualties, twice as many as the Americans.  And it was clear that the inexperienced American troops would fight valiantly for their country.

For unknown reasons, the Americans actually fortified and fought for Breed’s Hill instead of Bunker’s Hill.  But the battle was named after the neighboring hill they were sent to defend.

The painting with this post is The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill.   ElementaryHistoryTeacher over at History Is Elementary provides an excellent explanation of the painting and how it relates to the battle here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Repeal of Prohibition

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution ended what had been called America’s “noble experiment.”   The experiment was Prohibition – a nationwide ban on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.  The ban had been in place for nearly 14 years.

Prohibition had become the law of the land in 1920, when the 18th Amendment took effect.  Its supporters hoped that banning alcoholic drinks would make American society better.  But that didn’t happen.   From the start, the ban proved impossible to enforce.  People made their own alcoholic drinks – “bathtub gin” – and visited illegal bars called speakeasies. 

Smugglers and gangsters, such as Chicago’s Al Capone, made fortunes selling bootleg (illegal) liquor and beer.  Crime, corruption, and alcoholism increased. 

Prohibition divided the nation.  “Drys” supported it, and “wets” opposed it.  But in 1933, most Americans realized that the ban was probably doing more harm than good.   Congress passed the 21st Amendment, and Prohibition ended in December when Utah became the 36th state to ratify it.

Some American counties and towns are “dry” today.  They have local laws forbidding the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Monday, January 23, 2012


“A house divided against itself cannot stand”……Abraham Lincoln warned in 1858.   Two years later, Lincoln was elected President of a nation divided by the bitter issue of slavery.  And as he predicted, the house began to shake.

In June, 1860, the Democratic Party had split apart.  Northern Democrats, opposed to slavery, named Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas as their presidential candidate.  Southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky.  The Republicans were united in their antislavery stand and nominated Lincoln, the Illinois lawyers whose speeches opposing the spread of slavery had made him a hated figure in the South.   No candidate won a majority of the popular vote, but Lincoln won the largest share and a majority of the electoral vote.

Infuriated by Lincoln’s victory, South Carolina’s leaders did not wait for his inauguration.  They met in Charleston on December 20 and voted to secede from the United States.  Bells rang out and crowds cheered.  The Charleston Mercury published a special edition with a headline reading, “The Union Is Dissolved.”   As the fateful year of 1860 drew to a close, the U.S. was rushing headlong into the tragic, agonizing Civil War.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Saratoga Campaign

The first years of the Revolutionary War were discouraging for Americans.   British forces were larger, better trained, and better equipped.  American victories were few, but in the fall of 1777, Americans defeated the British in two battles that turned the war in their favor. 

In the summer of 1777, the British army under General John Burgoyne moved south towards Albany, New York.   Burgoyne planned to gain controls of the Hudson River and separate New England from the other colonies, but about 25 miles north of Albany, at Bemis Heights, an American force under General Horatio Gates blocked his path.   The British tried twice to get around Gates.  On September 19 and again on October 7, the armies clashed at Freeman’s Farm, a mile north of Bemis Heights.  The Americans were victorious both times.

Burgoyne pulled back to Saratoga (now Schuylerville).  He expected help from British forces in southern New York, but relief did not arrive.  The Americans surrounded the British, and on October 17, Burgoyne and his 5,000 men surrendered.  The victories near Saratoga gave Americans new confidence and convinced the French that Americans had to resolve and skill to defeat Britain.  As a result, France entered the war as an American ally.

One of the heroes of the Saratoga campaign was Benedict Arnold, who later betrayed the American cause.

The image you see here is a painting by John Trumbull titled The Surrender of General Burgoyne, and it hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capital.