This Week in Southern History (September 10 – September 17)

Welcome to the fifth installation of This Week in Southern History.

SEPTEMBER 10

1608: John Smith, an English explorer and soldier, became the council president of Jamestown Colony, in modern-day Virginia.

John Smith’s life up until this point was already noteworthy.  Having left his native Lincolnshire at the age of sixteen, he served as a mercenary fighting Spain during the Eighty Years War.  Afterwards, he fought for Hungary against the Turks, and beheaded three Turkish commanders in single combat.  For this feat, Smith was knighted and presented with a coat of arms that prominently displayed three Turkish heads.  He was later captured by the Turks and sold as a slave, and after many adventures escaped into Russia, and travelled through Poland-Lithuania and North Africa back to England.

As governor of Jamestown, Smith enacted the doctrine of “he that will not work, will not eat.”  Although he probably saved the fledgling settlement from destruction and starvation, he was injured by an accidental explosion in 1609 and was forced to return to England.

SEPTEMBER 11

1786: Delegates from five states of the newborn United States gathered in Annapolis to discuss trade barriers.  Under the Articles of Confederation, the states had considerable autonomy, and could decide to erect tariffs.  The Annapolis Convention sought to iron out these differences between the states.

The final report of the Annapolis Convention recommended that a convention be held the following year in Philadelphia.  The recommendation was fulfilled and the Constitutional Convention began in May, 1787.

SEPTEMBER 12

1814: The Battle of North Point was fought near Baltimore, Maryland, during the War of 1812.  A British force of 4,000, led by General Robert Ross, advanced north toward the city after he defeated an American army at the Battle of Bladensburg and burning down the White House.

General Ross was mortally by two young American sharpshooters early on during the battle.  Within minutes, however, both of the sharpshooters were killed and the British army, now commanded by Arthur Brooke, made a frontal assault against the American positions.

The Americans, commanded by Samuel Smith, were outnumbered, but held out for some time before making a fighting retreat back toward Baltimore.  Contemporary accounts of the battle differ – while some Americans regarded it as another shameful defeat like that at Bladensburg, others realized that it had delayed the British army so that the defenses of Baltimore could be properly organized.

The British victory had been a very costly one.  Not only had they lost their experienced commander, but more than three hundred British soldiers had been killed or wounded.  American losses numbered around two hundred.

The Battle of North Point gave the Americans time to organize a proper defense of Baltimore, which would famously repel the British attack.

1857: The *SS Central America* sunk off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  The disaster, which was unparalleled at that point in American history, cost the lives of 425 people.  In addition to the loss of life, a massive quantity of gold was lost when the ship went down (the equivalent of $292 million today), contributing to the Panic of 1857.

1952: The Flatwoods monster was sighted in Braxton County, Western Virginia.

Edward (13) and Fred (12) May, along with their friend Tommy Hyer (10) saw what they believed to be a UFO crash on a nearby farm.  Running back to the May’s mother, they told her what they had seen.  Mrs. May, along with the three boys, went to investigate.  They were joined by three other local boys – Neil Nunley (14), Ronnie Shaver (10), and Eugene Lemon (17), the latter of whom was a member of the “West Virginia” National Guard.

The party claims to have seen bright lights, and a ten foot tall monster bounding toward them.  They took to their heels and contacted the local sheriff as well as the local paper, which printed a story on the incident shortly afterwards.

No matter what they really saw, the members of the group certainly believed that they saw something.  During the weeks following the encounter, they suffered from symptoms of hysteria, such as a burning throat and nose.  However, the sufferers themselves attributed this to an odor given off by the Flatwoods monster.

SEPTEMBER 13

1814: Following the Battle of North Point, the British navy commenced a bombardment of Fort McHenry, which guarded the city of Baltimore.  Nearly 2,000 cannonballs were fired, along with Congreve rockets and mortar rounds, but the British failed to reduce the fortifications.  Shortly afterwards, they retreated, having failed to take Baltimore.

The American victory at the Battle of Fort McHenry was commemorated in a poem by Francis Scott Key, which later became the “Star Spangled Banner.”  The Star Spangled banner would eventually become the national anthem of the United States of America.

Key wrote the poem on board a British ship.  General Ross, shortly before his death, consented to the release of Doctor William Beanes, an American physician who had been arrested by his troops.  Ross was grateful for Beanes’ having taken good care of his wounded officers, and Francis Scott Key, a friend of the prisoner, arrived to take charge of him.  Neither men were allowed to return to Baltimore, however, until the outcome of the battle was decided.  After a twenty-seven hour bombardment, it became clear that the Americans had prevailed.  Key and Beanes were let go, and entered Baltimore on the 16th.

SEPTEMBER 14

1862: Union forces under George B. McClellan engaged Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee at the Battle of South Mountain.  The battle, which consisted of three different engagements at Turner’s Gap, Fox’s Gap, and Crampton’s Gap, was a Confederate defeat, but allowed the southern army time to consolidate before the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam).

Some notable Union casualties from Fox’s Gap included Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, who was badly wounded at the battle, and Major General Jesse Reno, who was killed.  Hayes would eventually become President of the United States, and the city of Reno, Nevada, was named after the latter.

The most notable of the Confederate casualties was Brigadier General Samuel Garland, from Lynchburg, Virginia.  He was also killed at Fox’s Gap.

After the battle, Union troops disgracefully threw the corpses of sixty dead Confederates into a dry well, and paid the well’s owner sixty dollars in “compensation.”  In total, around eight hundred men were killed at the Battle of South Mountain.

SEPTEMBER 15

1862: Twelve-thousand Union troops surrendered to General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson at the Battle of Harper’s Ferry in Western Virginia.  13,000 small arms, over 200 wagons, and 73 pieces of artillery were also taken.  This was the largest federal capitulation of the American Civil War.

After the surrender, northern prisoners lined the road to get a look at the legendary Stonewall Jackson as he rode by.  “Boys, he isn’t much for looks,” one of the Union soldiers said, “but if we’d had him we wouldn’t have been caught in this trap.”

Jackson’s men couldn’t tarry for long – they were soon rushed up north to take part in the Battle of Antietam.

SEPTEMBER 16

1893: The largest land rush in American history began when the Cherokee Strip in Oklahoma was opened for settlement.  A “land rush” entailed a surge of settlers pouring into a territory to claim land on a first-come first-serve basis.  The Cherokee Strip land rush of 1893 involved around one hundred thousand people.

Despite the presence of U.S. Cavalry, “Sooners” were able to cross the border from Kansas into the Cherokee Strip to claim land before the designated time.  These renegades were often able to take the best lands for themselves.

2013: In an act of spontaneous vibrancy, a melanin enriched gunman killed twelve and wounded three inside the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

SEPTEMBER 17

1862: The Battle of Sharpsburg took place in Maryland.  Often referred to as “The Battle of Antietam” in the north, this was the bloodiest single-day action of the American Civil War.  In a series of savagely fought engagements, General George B. McClellan’s Union Army, numbering around 90,000, fought Lee’s army of around 40,000 to a standstill.

Entire volumes have been committed to the Battle of Sharpsburg, and so I will provide this brief summary:  The Confederate center was pierced at the Sunken Lane, and Union troops stormed over Antietam Creek.  The Confederate army would likely have been destroyed were it not for the arrival of General A.P. Hill’s division, which had accompanied Jackson to Harper’s Ferry (see September 15).

Subsequently, Lee withdrew across the Potomac, having suffered around 10,300 casualties.  McClellan’s army took around 12,400 losses.  Overall, around 3,700 men, Union and Confederate, were killed during the battle.

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.

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