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September 17, 1862
The Battle of Antietam is fought. Also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, this was the single bloodiest day of the Civil War, and overall, the second-deadliest battle of the conflict. Under the command of General Joseph Hooker, Union troops attacked Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee at Antietam Creek in Sharpsburg, Maryland. During the afternoon, Union forces were reinforced with General Ambrose Burnside’s soldiers, while Confederates were reinforced by General A. P. Hill. As a result, a counterattack was launched against the Federals. By the end of the battle, over 22,000 soldiers had been killed. The outcome was a strategic Union victory, but a tactical victory for neither side. Three days later, President Abraham Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
September 18, 1850
The Fugitive Slave Act is passed. Following the American victory during the war with Mexico, the West – from the Rio Grande north to Wyoming – was acquired by the United States, as part of the terms listed under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. California was admitted into the union as a free state, while several territories were admitted under the concept of Popular Sovereignty. This concept promoted the belief that the existence of slavery within a state or territory should be determined by its inhabitants. As part of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, which maintained that escaped slaves, if captured in any state or territory, must be returned to their masters. This remains one of the most controversial laws passed in US history. It was signed into law by President Millard Fillmore and remained in effect until the early stages of the Civil War.
September 19, 1796
President George Washington’s “Farewell Address” is published. This was written by Washington at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, just before his retirement. In the address, he affirms a classic statement of republicanism. Washington cautions Americans to steer clear of political parties, warning that they would greatly divide the nation, stating, “Political parties are likely to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reigns of government.” He also advises against meddling in foreign affairs. Although neither of Washington’s warnings would stick, the address still holds tremendous worth.
September 20, 1863
The Battle of Chickamauga comes to an end. Fought in northwestern Georgia near the Tennessee border, this was one of the only significant Confederate victories in the Western Theater of the Civil War. Under the command of General Braxton Bragg, the Army of Tennessee managed to capture the area surrounding the town of Chickamauga. In just two months, Union forces commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant captured Lookout Mountain in nearby Chattanooga, Tennessee, breaking the Confederate hold on the region. Chickamauga is often considered to be one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, following Gettysburg and Antietam.
September 21, 1780
Benedict Arnold gives British forces the plans for West Point. In exchange for a large sum of money and a command position within the King’s Army, Arnold handed the Continental Army’s West Point strategy to Major John Andre. The conspiracy was uncovered when Andre was captured, with papers pertaining to Arnold being found on him. Andre was executed, but Arnold fled to British ranks, and later led British forces in Connecticut and Virginia. Following the war, he moved to England, never fully receiving what he was promised. Benedict Arnold’s namesake has since been synchronized with the concept of betrayal. Prior to switching sides, however, Arnold was one of the most effective and trusted officers within the Continental Army.
September 22, 1776
Nathan Hale is executed by British troops for espionage. Born in 1755, Nathan Hale was a descendant of John Hale, a prominent figure in the Salem Witch Trials. In the fall of 1776, George Washington was desperate to learn the location of the imminent British invasion of Manhattan. He needed a spy, and Hale volunteered. Hale was sent to New York City to gather intelligence, but was eventually captured by British soldiers and hanged. Just before his execution, he stated, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” In 1893, a statue of Hale was raised at City Hall Park in New York City, and in 1985, Hale was designated the state hero of Connecticut, his home state.
September 23, 1806
The Lewis and Clark Expedition returns to St. Louis, Missouri. Three years earlier, President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned the expedition, following the Louisiana Purchase. In May 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out for the west, with three primary goals: to find a route to the Pacific, establish trade with Native tribes, and study the region’s geography and ecology. It is said that the western land was so untamed, that when Jefferson ordered the start of the expedition, he expected the crew to find Woolly Mammoths. The expedition traveled through an area that now contains the states of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. They returned in 1806 with journal entries, sketches, and maps. Today, the route of the expedition is marked for sightseers.
September 24, 1957
President Dwight D. Eisenhower sends the 101st Airborne to Little Rock Central High School, Arkansas. After Governor Orval Faubus defied the US Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to the school to uphold the court’s decision and racially integrate the school. The county’s school board had agreed to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling, Faubus did not, prompting Eisenhower’s intervention. On September 29, 1958, the Supreme Court ruled in Aaron v. Cooper that all states must comply with the court’s rulings.
September 25, 1789
US Congress proposes the Bill of Rights. Drafted primarily by James Madison, the Bill of Rights were, in large part, created to address objections made by Anti-Federalists. Consisting of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, they guarantee various natural rights to the individual, stating that these rights are inalienable, and that the government cannot confiscate them from the people. Along with the Bill of Rights, Congress also passed the 11th and 12th amendments on this same date, albeit in a different year. The Bill of Rights were officially instituted in 1791.
September 26, 1960
The first televised presidential debate is held in Chicago, Illinois. With John F. Kennedy as the Democratic candidate and Richard Nixon as the Republican candidate, this was a very contested election. Nixon gradually rose in popularity prior to Watergate, and Kennedy brought a refreshing sense of youth to the presidential arena. The Cold War and Civil Rights were two of the most prominent issues at the table. Around this time, Cuba’s government under Fidel Castro was becoming increasingly Communist, and the Soviets were maintaining a firm grip on half of Europe. On American soil, the Civil Rights movement had taken off, particularly in the Deep South. The two issues would culminate with the Berlin Crisis and the start of the Sit-In movements. Kennedy went on to secure the 1960 election. Nixon later won the elections of 1968 and 1972, the latter of which was one of the largest landslides in American history.
September 27, 1962
Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” is published. This book was written by Carson in response to the nation’s heavy usage of DDT. This was a pesticide that was banned in the US in 1972, and today, is outlawed in most countries. DDT was prone to remaining in the environment for long periods of time. When contaminated fish or other small animals were eaten by pelicans, cranes, or birds of prey, the birds’ eggshells were softened. This led to a dramatic decrease in many bird populations, including Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Brown Pelicans, and Whooping Cranes. While the latter of those four is still an endangered species, the former three have made impressive comebacks.
September 28, 1781
The Siege of Yorktown begins. This was the final primary battle of the American Revolution in North America. On the coast of Virginia, Washington’s Continental forces managed to besiege British troops, who were commanded by Charles Cornwallis. Coming to the aid of Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, French forces arrived and helped ensure an end to the battle the following month. Cornwallis sent Charles O’Hara to surrender, with Continental forces on one side and French forces on the other. The victory eventually led to the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, which officially ended the war.
September 29, 1907
Construction of Washington National Cathedral begins in Washington DC. Standing amid a crowd of 20,000 people, President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the laying of the cathedral’s cornerstone. Construction took over 80 years, and was not completed until 1990, when President George H. W. Bush dedicated the finial placed atop the building. Several presidential prayer services have been held in the cathedral, and it has been used as a site of many funeral services for Americans with national prominence.
September 30, 1935
Hoover Dam is dedicated. Located on the border of Nevada and Arizona, it’s name was changed to Boulder Dam, but was renamed Hoover Dam in 1947, per a joint resolution of Congress. Construction began in 1931 and consisted of thousands of workers, with over 100 lives being lost during the project. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the dedication. During the early parts of the 20th Century, several large dams were constructed across the US, in an effort to provide jobs and electricity. Other examples include O’Shaughnessy Dam in California’s Hetch Hetchy Valley and Fontana Dam in western North Carolina.