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.