Today in History, June 20: 1863 – West Virginia becomes the 35th state of the Union. As early as 1769 residents of the western counties of Virginia contemplated separating from the remainder of the state, mostly due to a difference in cultures. The eastern Virginians were mostly wealthy land owners and slave holders. The westerners were predominately small time, lower income farmers who had no use for slavery. In 1861 when Virginia seceded from the Union, the citizens of the western counties declined to follow, and sought to stay in the Union. Many important battles were fought in their territory, including at the pictured Harper’s Ferry. An incident at Harper’s Ferry was part of the ignition of the Civil War.
Today in History, June 18: 1812 – President James Madison signs the Declaration of War against Britain that would lead to The War of 1812. The Brits, accepting the sovereignty of the U.S. in name only after losing the American war for Independence, had been raiding American shipping on the high seas and forcing American sailors into service in the Royal Navy. They had also been supporting Native American tribes for the sole purpose of inhibiting American western expansion. Finally Congress had enough and sent a bill to the President declaring war on the British Empire, which President Madison signed.
Today in History, June 17: 1775 – “Don’t one of you fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” The Battle of Bunker Hill. British Gen. William Howe landed his army on the Charlestown Peninsula and attacks colonist (Patriot) positions on Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill. Believing they were fighting farmers with pitchforks (the Patriots WERE as yet untrained and unorganized) Howe had his well trained, experienced troops charge the American positions head on, and was repelled by not so inexperienced fire (a poor farmer hunting game can’t afford to waste ammo, and becomes a very good marksman). The Brits mounted a second attack, and were again sent running back down the hill. A third wave succeeded, however, as the militia was running out of ammunition. Howe eventually won the battle, but he did so at great expense…nearly half his army lie dead on the field. The British had learned a dear lesson…they were fighting an untrained and poorly disciplined group of citizen soldiers…that were highly motivated and devoted to their cause.
Today in History, June 15: 1864 – US Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton sets aside the land around Arlington House, the home of Robert E. Lee, as a National Cemetery. The home had been passed down to Lee’s wife from her ancestor, Martha Custis Washington, George Washington’s wife. When the Civil War broke out, Robert E. Lee, a US Army officer, surrendered his commission and went home to his “country”, Virginia, where he became the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia for the Confederacy. When Lee’s efforts began filling up Northern cemeteries, Stanton decided to use Lee’s home to give the Union dead a place to rest, and Arlington National Cemetery was born. When you stand in Lee’s living room, you can see the White House, the Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial, and most of D.C. It is fascinating.
Today in History, June 14: 1777 – The Continental Congress approves the design for the flag of our fledgeling nation. The story goes that George Washington had commissioned the flag from seamstress Betsy Ross (the revisionists of course dispute this). For many years cities held unofficial “Flag Days”; in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson made a Presidential Proclamation establishing June 14th as a national Flag Day. Congress passed the law creating Flag Day which was signed by President Harry Truman in 1949. God Bless America!
Today in History, June 13: 1920 – The US Postal Service rules that parents can NO LONGER send their children parcel post. Previous regulations stated that parcels sent via US Mail could not weigh more than 50 pounds…but did not differentiate between inanimate or live parcels. So poor parents had begun sending their children through the mail…they would ride in the mail car on trains.
Today in History, June 12: 1929 – Annelies Frank is born in Frankfurt, Germany. On this date in 1943 she would receive a diary for the birthday. Soon after, the little Jewish girl and her family would go into hiding from the Nazis, being hidden by their Gentile friends. Living in an attic, she described her experiences in her diary until the family was sold out by someone in the community and taken prisoner by the Nazis. Anne’s mother would die at Auschwitz (concentration camp). In 1945, after enduing starvation and slave labor, Anne and her sister would die in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp of Typhus. In 1947, her father would publish her diary as “Diary of a young girl”. The heart wrenching book would be published in over 60 languages.