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April 1, 1945
The Battle of Okinawa begins. This was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Lasting until June 22, 1945, this battle was infamous for its large amount of Japanese Kamikaze attacks. Loading their planes with explosives, Kamikaze pilots would suicide-bomb their targets, and this strategy especially became implemented by the Japanese near the end of the war, as the possibility of Allied victory increased. The Battle of Okinawa proved an Allied victory and it resulted in one of the bloodiest clashes in the Pacific. Approximately 160,000 people on both sides were killed. With the island falling under Allied control on June 22, the decision to drop the atomic bomb was soon to be made.
April 3, 1968
Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. Spoken at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, this was King’s last speech before his assassination, which occurred the following day. King motivated his followers to boycott certain goods in response to industrialized racism. One of the most memorable excerpts reads: “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
April 4, 1949
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is created in Washington DC. Its establishment resulted primarily following the Treaty of Dunkirk in 1947. When the second World War ended, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the two world superpowers. Both sides claimed half of Europe, resulting in a capitalist West and a communist East. The original members of NATO included Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. After its formal establishment, it included the US, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. In 1955, NATO’s adversary, the Warsaw Pact, was formed.
April 6, 1862
The Battle of Shiloh begins. Fought in western Tennessee near the Tennessee River, this was the first major battle in the Western Theater of the Civil War. Under the command of General Albert S. Johnston, a large Confederate force launched a surprise attack against the Union forces of General Ulysses S. Grant. The Western Theater of the Civil War was of utmost importance to the Union, as whoever controlled the Mississippi River could potentially decide the fate of the conflict. During the night, Grant was reinforced by three divisions from the Army of Ohio. General Johnston was killed during the battle and some historians suggest that this led to the downfall of the Confederacy. The battle ended in a Union victory and Union forces went on to secure many major victories in the western theater.
April 6, 1917
The US declares war on the German Empire, entering World War I. From 1914-1917, the United States remained neutral during the Great War, even through catastrophes such as the Sinking of the RMS Lusitania, in which American civilians were killed when a German submarine targeted a passenger ship. In 1848, the US acquired a large portion of the American West from Mexico, and from 1910-1919, the US engaged Mexico in a border war against Pancho Villa. In January 1917, British intelligence intercepted the Zimmerman Telegram. This message, sent by Germany, was meant to inform Mexico that, should the US become involved in the Great War, they would reward Mexico with the western lands lost in 1848, if Mexico sided with Germany. The message proved to be the final straw for President Woodrow Wilson and the US officially entered World War I on the side of the Allied Powers.
April 7, 1994
The Rwandan Genocide begins. From 1959-1962, a revolution was fought, which replaced the country’s monarchy with a Hutu-led republic. The Rwandan Civil War began on October 1, 1990, which consisted of the Rwandan government fighting against the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Lasting 100 days, it is estimated that the genocide killed at least 500,000 Tutsi, and that at least 250,000 women were raped and tortured. This tragedy resulted in a refugee crisis and disease epidemic, as well as a civil war in the Congo. Also following the genocide was the first international tribunal since the Nuremberg Trials and Far East Tribunal of 1945-1946. UN forces have long faced backlash for failing to provide proper intervention. It is believed that US involvement being denied was related directly to the failed US intervention during the Somali Civil War.
April 9, 1865
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Considered by most to mark the official end of the Civil War, Lee was a gentleman in defeat, and he and Grant spent several minutes after the surrender discussing their previous military service. Both men went to West Point, both fought in the Mexican-American War, and both loved the union. Lee, who believed secession to be unconstitutional and slavery to be “a moral and political evil in any society,” only fought for the Confederacy because he could not bring himself to draw arms against his Virginian homeland. He passed away on October 12, 1870, and later became a Southern icon. Grant went on to lead Reconstruction in the South and he served as the 18th US president from 1869-1877. As Lee was leaving Appomattox Courthouse, Grant stated, “The war is over. The rebels are our countrymen again.”
April 10, 1912
The RMS Titanic departs from Southampton, England on its maiden and only voyage. The largest passenger ship of its time, construction of the Titanic began on May 31, 1909, at a cost of $7.5 million. When it set sail from England on April 10, 1912, there were roughly 3,000 people on board. As it headed for New York City, no one knew that the Titanic’s first voyage would also be its final, resulting in one of the deadliest disasters in maritime history.
April 11, 1945
US troops liberate Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Established in 1937, Buchenwald was one of the largest concentration camps within Nazi Germany’s borders. Over 56,000 people died at the camp, and over 240,000 prisoners were held there. On April 8, Polish engineer Gwidon Damazyn and Soviet prisoner Konstantin Ivanovich Leonov transmitted morse code to US troops, which led to the liberation. From 1945-1950, Soviet occupants used the camp to intern over 28,000 prisoners.
April 12, 1776
The Halifax Resolves are adopted by North Carolina. This was the first official call for independence from the British Empire in the American Colonies. The Resolves begin with, “It appears to your Committee that pursuant to the plan concerted by the British Ministry for subjugating America, the king and Parliament of Great Britain have usurped a power over the persons and properties of the people unlimited and uncontrolled and disregarding their humble petitions for peace, liberty, and safety, have made diverse legislative acts, denouncing war famine and every species of calamity daily employed in destroying the people and committing the most horrid devastations on the country.” Eventually followed by the Halifax Resolutions, the resolves were sent to North Carolina’s delegates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they were unanimously accepted.
April 12, 1861
The South Carolina militia fires on Fort Sumter, starting the American Civil War. Starting in December 1860, southern states began seceding from the union, following the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. South Carolina was the first, and following its secession, the state demanded that Union soldiers vacate their facilities. In response, Major Robert Anderson moved his small force from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. President James Buchanan attempted to resupply the soldiers, only to have his troops fired upon by local batteries. When Lincoln assumed the presidency, he informed South Carolina that he would resupply the soldiers, and the SC militia opened fire on the fort. Although no one was killed by enemy fire during the engagement, an Irish immigrant – Daniel Hough – died when a Union cannon exploded. In response to the battle, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress what he considered to be a rebellion, rather than a sovereign nation. Three months later, the first major battle of the war was fought at Manassas, Virginia.
April 13, 1743
Thomas Jefferson is born in Shadwell, Virginia. The primary author of the Declaration of Independence, he played a large role in convincing the American colonies to separate from Britain. Considered one of the most brilliant of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson’s resume was impressive. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1775-1776; Governor of Virginia from 1779-1781; Delegate to the Congress of the Confederation representing Virginia from 1783-1784; Minister Plenipotentiary for Negotiating Treaties of Amity and Commerce from 1784-1786; US Minister to France from 1785-1789; Secretary of State from 1790-1793; Vice President from 1797-1801; and President from 1801-1809. A founder of the Democratic-Republican Party, Jefferson opposed the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and his ideal nation was one with a populace based largely on Yeoman farming. He passed away on July 4, 1826, just hours apart from John Adams.
April 14, 1865
President Abraham Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC. After shooting Lincoln in the back of the head, Booth – an actor, Confederate sympathizer, and member of the Knights of the Golden Circle – leapt from the balcony and onto the stage. He yelled, “Sic semper tyrannis!,” which translates as, “Thus always to tyrants.” President Lincoln was taken to the Peterson House, where he died the next day. After being declared deceased, William Seward remarked, “Now he belongs to the ages.” Booth fled the theater and was eventually held up in a barn at the Garrett Farm. He was shot and killed on April 26 by Boston Corbett, a Union soldier.
April 15, 1912
The RMS Titanic sinks in the North Atlantic. Departing from Southampton, England on its maiden voyage just five days prior, the Titanic was the largest passenger ship of its time. At around 11:30 p.m. on April 14, the Titanic swiped an iceberg. Reports of icebergs in the area were reported several hours earlier. When the iceberg was spotted by Frederick Fleet, the crew began turning the ship. As it turned, the ship was punctured through several of its watertight doors. Around two hours later, in the early morning hours of April 15, the Titanic lay at the bottom of the ocean, with around 1,500 people killed. The RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene not long after and rescued the survivors. This has been renowned as one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history. As a result of this catastrophe, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea was established in 1914. Several expeditions were launched in an effort to find the Titanic’s wreck. On September 1, 1985, the wreck was discovered, making international headlines.
Stay tuned for Part II of American History in April, coming soon!