July in American History: Part II

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July 16, 1790
Washington, District of Columbia is established as the official US capital. With the signing of the Residence Act by President George Washington, the capital was temporarily set in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while preparation for a permanent location along the Potomac River began, between Maryland and Virginia. The following year, the act was amended to “allow the capital to encompass areas to the south of the Eastern Branch, including Alexandria, Virginia.” Washington DC was officially organized in 1801. Named after George Washington and Christopher Columbus, the city’s district covers approximately 68 square miles. Housed within the city are some of the world’s most prestigious buildings, including the White House, US Capitol, Washington National Cathedral, and Library of Congress. Also contained within Washington DC are various monuments dedicated to historical figureheads of distinction, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. In January 2021, the DC Admission Act – an effort to admit DC into the union as a state – passed through the House of Representatives, but has yet to be approved by the US Senate. The current mayor of DC is Muriel Bowser, a Democrat who was born in the city. Bowser has served as Mayor of DC since 2015.

July 17, 1945
The Potsdam Conference begins. Held in Potsdam, Germany, the leaders of the “Big Three” superpowers – Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, and Joseph Stalin – met to discuss peace treaties, as well as the division of Europe after World War II. On July 26, the Potsdam Declaration was signed. As a result, Great Britain lost its superpower status, while the US and Soviet Union emerged as the world’s two remaining superpowers. An agreement was also reached that Japan would meet ultimate destruction if unconditional surrender was not pledged. The city of Berlin was divided by east and west and became a primary hotspot for political turmoil during the Cold War. The United States claimed the half of Europe west of Berlin, while the USSR claimed the Eastern half. This set the stage for the Cold War, lasting from 1947-1991.

July 18, 1863
The Second Battle of Fort Wagner is fought. Following the passing of a bill by US Congress, the Union Army began recruiting African-American soldiers. This gave birth to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the most renowned of the African-American regiments during the Civil War. On May 28, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts was deployed to South Carolina, where they engaged Confederate troops in combat at Fort Wagner on Morris Island, located in Charleston Harbor. The first battle of the fort resulted in a Confederate victory. At the second battle, Confederate troops won another victory, but the 54th Massachusetts gained recognition here, and displayed ferocity that was rarely seen on the battlefield, earning them a notable reputation. One of the soldiers, William Harvey Carney, retrieved the flag as the color guard fell. Though wounded by gunfire several times, Carney returned the flag to its line. He later stated, “Boys, I only did my duty. The old flag never touched the ground!” On May 23, 1900, Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Fort Wagner.

July 19, 1848
The Seneca Falls Convention opens in Seneca Falls, New York. Conducted in the Wesleyan Chapel, this was held, in the words of its promoters, as a “convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition of women.” Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth C. Stanton were the primary organizers. On July 4, 1876, the National Woman Suffrage Association adopted a Declaration of Rights of Women of the United States. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, this document specifically outlined the right of women to vote, own property, and participate in equal educational opportunities. As the Women’s Rights movement grew, Elizabeth C. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony eventually split, creating factions due to various disagreements.

July 21, 1861
The First Battle of Bull Run is fought. Three months following the start of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, Union and Confederate troops met near Manassas Junction in Prince William County, Virginia. Thinking the fight would be nothing more than a small skirmish, some politicians brought their wives. What resulted was a battle much bloodier than anyone had predicted, and it signaled that the conflict would not be over soon. This was the first major battle of the Civil War. The result was a Confederate victory, with Union troops retreating towards Washington DC. This is where Confederate General Thomas Jackson earned his nickname, “Stonewall.” As other Confederate soldiers were retreating from Union fire, General Barnard Bee noticed Jackson sitting motionless on horseback. He addressed the retreating men by saying, “Look! There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall! Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer!”

July 22, 1793
Alexander Mackenzie reportedly becomes the first person to complete a transcontinental crossing of North America. A Scottish explorer, Mackenzie’s expedition preceded that of Lewis and Clark by 10 years. Starting in Montreal, Quebec, Mackenzie spent the following year traversing through Canada. On July 22, 1793, he reached near the western coast in present-day British Columbia. He inscribed on a rock, “Alex Mackenzie from Canada, by and 22nd of July 1793.” The rock and its inscription are there to this day. As a result of his exploration, the Mackenzie River and Mackenzie Mountains were named after him.

July 23, 1982
The Twilight Zone Tragedy occurs in Santa Clarita, California. During filming of the Twilight Zone movie, actor Vic Morrow was portraying an American in the Vietnam War, tasked with carrying two Vietnamese children across a river, while being chased by US helicopters. As he crossed the river with the two children, one of the helicopters experienced a failed rotor. The helicopter fell onto the three of them, killing them instantly. The cause of the helicopter’s failed rotor was debated, with some stating that explosions on the set were detonated too early. Others, however, concluded that the explosions were detonated too close to the helicopter. The disaster led to lengthy lawsuits and new safety requirements within the film industry. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg later stated, “No movie is worth dying for. I think people are standing up much more now than ever before to producers and directors who ask too much. If something isn’t safe, it’s the right and responsibility of every actor or crew member to yell ‘Cut!’”

July 24, 1847
Brigham Young leads Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley. This resulted in the establishment of Salt Lake City, located within the Territory of Utah. Mormon migration to Utah began following the death of the church’s original leader, Joseph Smith, at the hands of an angry mob in Carthage, Illinois. Smith organized the Mormon Church in 1830, following his supposed discovery of a set of golden plates, which no one but himself was allowed to see, but which he stated he used to translate into the Book of Mormon. Many of the pioneers headed for Salt Lake Valley traveled the same route as those who departed on the Oregon Trail, and often separated from those headed for Oregon in either the Wyoming or Washington Territories. Brigham Young remained President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints until his death on August 29, 1877. Utah was admitted into the union as a state on January 4, 1896. Today, over half of Utah’s population identifies as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

July 25, 1759
Fort Niagara is captured by British soldiers. Located on the Niagara River in western New York, this fort was constructed by French forces in 1726. It served as a major French stronghold until its capture. The fort then remained under British control until the end of the American Revolution, though it was re-occupied by the British in 1813. It was then held again by the British until the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. It is still under operation today, and has been used by the US Coast Guard since 1963. It is one of the longest-operated military bases in the US.

July 27, 1953
The Korean Armistice Agreement is signed, bringing the Korean War to a stalemate. The armistice was designed to “ensure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.” The cease-fire resulted in the separation of Korea into two nations, divided by North and South at the 38th Parallel North. Signed in the border village of Panmunjom, the signatories consisted of: William K. Harrison representing the United States and United Nations; Nam II representing North Korea; and Peng Dehuai representing China. South Korean President Syngman Rhee declined to attend. North Korea became a Communist totalitarian regime, while South Korea became a constitutional republic. In 1994, China withdrew their status as an active member in the agreement. Since the signing of the armistice, there has been little true peace in the Korean Peninsula. On June 12, 2018, President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un met in Sentosa, Singapore, in a summit meeting that was the first of its kind. This conference was organized in an attempt to further peaceful relationships with North Korea.

July 28, 1914
Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, starting World War I. For several years, Europe had been a powder keg on the verge of war. On June 28, 1914, a Serbian assassin – Gavrilo Princip – murdered the Archduke and Duchess of Austria-Hungary as they rode through the streets of Sarajevo, Bosnia. This proved to be the spark that ignited the largest conflict known to humanity at the time. What followed was a chain reaction of the world’s empires declaring war on one another. Two factions were formed: the Triple Entente, consisting of Britain, France, and Russia; and the Central Powers, composed of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. Other nations, including Serbia, Italy, and Japan, also played vital roles in the conflict. The United States remained neutral until 1917, following the interception of the Zimmerman Telegram. The war was officially declared over on June 28, 1919, exactly five years later to the day, though the fighting ceased the previous year. Although originally known as the “War to End All Wars,” it proved to be anything but that. Many of the figureheads who later rose to prominence during the Second World War also served during World War I. Some of these included George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Benito Mussolini.

July 30, 1945
The USS Indianapolis is sunken by a Japanese torpedo. Named after the capital city of Indiana, this ship was launched in 1931, and served as a flagship for eight years. The crew members of the Indianapolis served in the Pacific Theater, where they saw combat at New Guinea, the Aleutian Islands, Makin Atoll, and other locations. The crew were even sent on a secret mission to carry parts for the atomic bomb to Tinian Island. On July 30, 1945, the Indianapolis was struck by a Japanese torpedo in the Philippine Sea. Roughly 300 sailors were killed when the ship sank, while over 800 more were left stranded in the open water. What followed was even more tragedy on a grand scale. Some sailors died from saltwater poisoning, hypothermia, and other factors, including many of the lives being taken by shark attacks. According to the Discovery Channel, this was the largest attack on humans by sharks in history. Around three days later, the 316 surviving crew members were rescued after being spotted by patrol planes, leading to the arrival of the USS Cecil J. Doyle and six other ships. On August 19, 2017, the wreck of the Indianapolis was discovered at a depth of 18,000 feet.

July 30, 1956
President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorizes “In God We Trust” as the US national motto. This replaced the original US motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” which had been the traditional motto since 1782. This phrase, meaning “Out of many, one,” also appears on the Great Seal of the United States, along with “Novus ordo seclorum” (New order of the ages). As a phrase, “In God we trust” is believed to have originated during the Civil War, as it was first seen on the two-cent piece in 1864. Following its adoption since the signing by President Eisenhower, it has been featured on paper money since 1957. The motto has also been featured on state symbols in Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi. Numerous other states feature the phrase in various locations.

July 31, 1991
President George H. W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev sign the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Drafted by President Reagan, this was the first piece of legislation designed to bring long-term peace between the US and USSR. Both nations had been engaged in the Cold War – a period of hostile international political climate – since 1947. The fall of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, as well as the dissolution of the British Empire, in 1945 left the US and the Soviet Union as the world’s sole remaining superpowers. With the US as a capitalist republic and the USSR as a communist authoritarian nation, both superpowers sought to expand their principles and contain those of the other. The signing of START I by Bush and Gorbachev officially signaled the beginning of the end of the Cold War, which concluded with the transformation of the USSR into a Russian republic on December 26, 1991. This treaty expired on December 5, 2009, and was followed by a second START, signed by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 8, 2010.

Garrett Smith
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