Welcome to the fourth installment of This Week in Southern History. I am glad to be back on schedule with these. The weeks between August 12 and September 2 will be covered next year at those times.
1864: Union troops led by infamous General William T. Sherman entered Atlanta during the American Civil War. The city would be burnt to the ground about a month later before Sherman’s army set off on the “March to the Sea.”
1783: The American Revolutionary War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. The war’s latter half, fought extensively in the American South, had been particularly destructive, bloody, stubbornly contested, and fought. The end of the war led to the independence of the United States, and with it the severing of America’s connection to Great Britain.
1950: The Darlington Raceway, in Darlington, South Carolina, (also known as “The Track Too Tough to Tame”) was the site of the first 500-mile NASCAR race. There were twenty five thousand in attendance, with U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond as official marshal.
The Darlington race was unique in that it was a professional affair, on asphalt roads that were in better condition than most highways at the time. Thus, the event marked a milestone in the sport of stock car racing.
1836: Sam Houston was elected the first President of the Republic of Texas in a landslide. The Republic of Texas had gained independence from Mexico that year after the decisive Battle of San Jacinto, during which Houston led the Texan forces and was wounded in the fighting.
Houston received 76.7% of the vote, while his opponents, Henry Smith and Stephen Austin, received 13% and 10.3% respectively, out of an electorate of about 6,000.
1916: The first self-service grocery store was opened in Memphis, Tennessee. The store, opened by Clarence Saunders, was the first of its kind, and was called a “groceteria” (a combination of a grocery and cafeteria) by contemporaries.
As anyone reading this well knows, the concept of the grocery store caught on rather well.
1876: Jesse James, leading the James-Younger Gang, made his famous attempt to rob the town bank of Northfield, Minnesota. The gang members, being Confederate veterans, are considered by many as post-war insurgents. Thus, the battle in Northfield is often known as the last major event of the American Civil War.
James and his gang killed the bank’s cashier and a bystander, but were driven off by the people of Northfield, who armed themselves and shot down the outlaws in the street.
1943: A fire at the Gulf Hotel in downtown Houston, Texas, caused fifty five deaths. A smoldering mattress caused the conflagration, which spread quickly to the upper floors of the hotel. The Gulf Hotel fire remains, in terms of human lives, the most costly fire in the history of Houston.
1565: The city of St. Augustine, the longest continuously occupied European settlement in the lower forty-eight states of America, was founded by the Spanish.
1781: British forces led by General Alexander Stewart engaged Nathanael Greene’s Patriot army at the Battle of Eutaw Springs during the American Revolutionary War. The battle, one of the bloodiest of the war, ended in a pyrrhic victory for the British. In the ferocious fighting, which featured a great deal of hand to hand combat, the British took 882 casualties – almost half their force.
1863: Confederate officer Richard Dowling, with just 49 men, defeated a Union force of around 5,000 at the Second Battle of the Sabine Pass. Keep your eyes peeled for an article coming out here on Identity Dixie that will explore this episode more thoroughly.
1900: A massive hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, killing between 6,000 and 12,000 people. The deadliest natural disaster in American history, the volume of corpses was such that massive funeral pyres were erected on the beaches to cremate them. Most of those killed were drowned or trapped by debris, and for many of the latter it took days to die.
The governor of Texas, Joseph Sayers, reported to U.S. President McKinley: “I have been deputized by the mayor and Citizen’s Committee of Galveston to inform you that the city of Galveston is in ruins.” This was an accurate assessment – not only did the hurricane wipe out the city itself, it alarmed investors and put a definitive end to the “Golden Age of Galveston.”
1739: A slave rebellion, known as the Stono Rebellion, broke out in South Carolina. The rebels would kill forty two whites before being confronted by the militia, who defeated them at the Edisto River.
1972: A link was discovered between the Mammoth cave system and the Flint Ridge cave systems. The Mammoth-Flint Ridge Cave system, which is located near Brownsville, Kentucky, has been, since then, the largest known cave system on earth.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of “This Week in Southern History.” Was there something interesting or significant that I left out?
Let me know over twitter, where unfortunately Identity Dixie’s account has been banned. My account’s handle is: @nugent_returns, so you can contact me there.