There are many historical events that have occurred over centuries. Some events, such as the sculpting of Mt Rushmore, although significant, do not transform a nation or its culture. There are a handful of events, that, because they have happened, have completely changed our culture and our nation.
480 B.C.: Battle at Thermopylae
As Xerxes, King of Persia, led a force of 100,000 men against Greece the Greek army took up position at the pass at Thermopylae. In order to give the main force of about 5000 Greek hoplites time to escape, Leonidas, King of Sparta, and a small force of 300 men fought a rear-guard action against impossible odds. All of the Greeks died but they provided enough time for the Greek army to escape. Due to unrest in Babylon, Xerxes was forced to send his army home to prevent a revolt, leaving behind an army in Greece under Mardonius, who was defeated at Plataea. The Greeks also attacked and burned the remaining Persian fleet anchored at Mycale. This cut off the Persians from the supplies they needed to sustain their massive army, and they had no choice but to retreat. Their withdrawal helped create the Greek city-states of Asia.
June 13, 323 B.C.: Alexander the Great Dies
Alexander the Great was a king of Macedon, a state in northern ancient Greece. By the age of thirty, he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. He was undefeated in battle, and is considered one of history’s most successful commanders. Born in Pella in 356 BC, Alexander was tutored by Aristotle until the age of 16. In 334 BC he invaded Persian-ruled Asia Minor and began a series of campaigns that lasted ten years. Alexander broke the power of Persia in a series of decisive battles, most notably the battles of Issus and Gaugamela. He subsequently overthrew the Persian king Darius III and conquered the entirety of the Persian Empire. Alexander’s legacy includes the cultural diffusion his conquests engendered. He founded some twenty cities that bore his name, most notably Alexandria, Egypt. Alexander’s settlement of Greek colonists and the resulting spread of Greek culture in the east resulted in a new Hellenistic civilization, aspects of which were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire in the mid-15th century. He became the measure against which military leaders compared themselves, and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactics.
264-241 B.C.: First Punic War
First of three wars between Rome and Carthage. The First Punic War (264 to 241 B.C.) was a struggle for control of Sicily and of the sea lanes in the Western Mediterranean. It was triggered by a revolt in the city of Messina. Ultimately it ended with a Roman victory, and Sicily becomes the first Roman province.
410: Visigoths Sack Rome; Romans Withdraw from Britannia
The year 383 marks the end of Roman rule in northern and western Britain. In that year, Roman troops were withdrawn from those regions of Britain for the last time. As the connection between these regions and Rome was a military occupation rather than a civilian society, the connection was dissolved when the troops left. In 410, Rome was captured marking the end of the Roman Empire.
December 25, 800: Charlemagne Crowned by Pope Leo III
Charlemagne expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III. His rule is also associated with the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture through the medium of the Catholic Church. Through his foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne helped define both Western Europe and the European Middle Ages. By forcibly Christianizing the Saxons and banning on penalty of death their native Germanic paganism, he integrated them into his realm and thus paved the way for the later Ottonian dynasty. The French and German monarchies descending from the empire ruled by Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor cover most of Europe. In his acceptance speech of the Charlemagne Prize Pope John Paul II referred to him as the Pater Europae (“father of Europe”): his empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Romans, and the Carolingian renaissance encouraged the formation of a common European identity.
October 14, 1066: Battle of Hastings – Norman Conquest of England
William landed on the English coast on September 28, 1066 with about 7000 men. On October 13 Harold II setup his army in a blocking position outside of the modern town of Hastings. The next day William attacked and defeated Harold. Harold was mortally wounded. On December 25th William was crowned king of England. His heavy taxes reduced the great mass of Anglo-Saxon freemen to serfdom. By 1086, the Domesday Book showed that England comprised 12% freeholders; 35% serfs or villeins: 30% cotters and borders; and 9% slaves. William was one of the foremost soldiers of the medieval era. Most important, William created a feudal state that brought order, peace, law to England, promoted commerce, and created a strong central government. His reign, which imposed Norman culture and leadership on England, reshaped England in the Middle Ages.
June 15, 1215: King John of England Signs Magna Carta
The Magna Carta required King John of England to proclaim certain liberties, and accept that his will was not arbitrary. The Magna Carta was the first document forced onto an English King by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their privileges. It was preceded and directly influenced by the Charter of Liberties in 1100, in which King Henry I had specified particular areas wherein his powers would be limited.
August 26, 1346: English Defeat French at Battle of Crecy
Crecy was one of history’s most decisive battles. After the battle of Sluys, Edward III landed in Normandy in July 1346 with about 10,000 men. The French pursued. Edward III decided to halt near Crecy in Normandy and to prepare for battle the next day. However, the French vanguard made contact and started to attack without the benefit of a plan. The French made as many as 15 attacks and the English checked each one in turn mainly because of the English longbowmen. At the end, the French were decimated and the English had a decisive victory.
1347: Bubonic Plague Arrives in Europe
In Early Modern Europe (1340-1500,) Europe had experienced the worst human disaster in Europe’s history, when the Black Death (also known as the bubonic plague) had hit Europe in 1347, destroying a third of the population. The Black Death originated in or near China and had spread from Italy and then throughout European countries. Carried by the fleas on rats, the plague spread to humans near the Black Sea, as a result of people fleeing from one area to another where the plague had later became airborne. Biological resistance and improved sanitation were some ways to combat the disease.
October 12, 1492: Christopher Columbus Lands in the Americas
Although in 1000 AD, Lief Erickson landed in the Northeastern part of the Americas, the world was still developing from agricultural tribes and clans into nation states. Science and technology were just beginning to develop. But almost 500 years later, when Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean, Europe was ready to explore and colonize. France, England, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands had relatively stable political, economic and social environments. Over the next 100 years, they promoted many exploratory excursions to the Americas.
August 7, 1588: Spanish Armada Defeated
During most of the 1500s, Spain was the strongest nation. They were establishing power centers around the world, including the Philippines and the Americas. They had the largest navy in the world. When the Spanish Armada, which was sent to invade England, was defeated by Queen Elizabeth I and her navy, Spain quickly lost its ability to control and maintain its empire. England built a strong navy and began to develop its own power structure around the world, including in the Americas. It was England, not France or Spain, who had the military might and political will to expand into the Americas.
May 14, 1607, November 11, 1620: Landing in Jamestown, VA and Plymouth, MA
Between 1602 and 1638, over 250 ships left England (a handful from other countries), traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to colonize primarily Virginia and Massachusetts, with the Mayflower being the most famous of these ships. These “Pilgrims” came to colonize the Americas. European countries sent large amounts of people to colonize the Americas, Asian and African countries did not. That is why, until recently, the most common languages spoken in the Americas are: English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.
September 11 – November 26, 1758 – General John Forbes & Major George Washington Capture Fort Duquesne
Fort Duquesne, later called Fort Pitt (aka Pittsburgh, PA), was a strategic location that helped maintain control over the Ohio River Valley. The capture of Fort Duquesne from the French led the way to other British victories in and around Quebec, New York and Pennsylvania. The French defeat led to British dominance in the Eastern part of the Americas. Spain controlled much of the Western part. Many Americans, such as George Washington, became military veterans. And in order to pay for the war, England increased taxes on Americans. These paved the way to the American Revolution.
July 4, 1776: Signing of Declaration of Independence
The signing of the Declaration of Independence was the official notice by the American colonies that they were willing to do what it takes to obtain their independence from England. Canada and Australia are, to this day, still considered British commonwealths. Although they are independent and sovereign countries, they still have strong ties to England. The United States of America created its own future.
Winter 1777-1778: Winter at Valley Forge
Prior to the Winter of 1777, the Continental Army suffered defeat after defeat. Recruited by Benjamin Franklin, Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (a former member of the Prussian General Staff) trained the Continental Army during the winter months. Because of this training, the Continental Army stood strong against the British Army in the Battle of Barren Hill (May 20, 1778) and the Battle of Monmouth (June 28, 1778). This changed the momentum of the war in favor of the Americans.
1787-1791: Ratification of US Constitution and Bill of Rights
The US Constitution and the Bill of Rights described and limited the power of government. These documents became the foundation for the many laws and court decisions that were to follow. They became the platform of governance for the new United States of America.
April 30, 1803: Louisiana Purchase
President Thomas Jefferson signed a treaty with General Napoleon Bonaparte of France in which the USA acquired almost 830,000 square miles of land from the French for $15 million. General Napoleon Bonaparte, upon completion of the agreement, stated, “This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a maritime rival who sooner or later will humble her pride.” This agreement gave the US the ability to expand, improve commerce and become a dominant power.
March 3, 1820: Missouri Compromise
This agreement was designed to maintain equal power between the slave states and free states. Because Congress compromised, several things were set into motion that eventually led to the US Civil War. 1) Slavery was not made illegal in the South. 2) The South wanted to become its own independent nation. 3) The country became split on the issues of federalism and slavery.
February 23 – March 6, 1836: Battle of the Alamo
On September 16, 1810, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and gained control over a large amount of territory in Central and North America. On February 23, 1836, General and President of Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna quickly surrounded the Americans that were in the little Spanish mission known as the Alamo. For almost 2 weeks, Santa Anna kept the mission surrounded. On the early morning of March 6, 1836, the Mexican military attacked and killed everyone in the mission. This gave Sam Houston time to develop his own army. On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston attacked and defeated General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s army within a matter of minutes. General Lopez was captured. In exchange for his release, General Lopez signed over Texas. On March 10, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was ratified by Congress and the United States ceased control over much of Western America, including California and New Mexico.
July 1 – July 3, 1863: Battle of Gettysburg
Prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, the South won decisive victories. The North was out maneuvered and lost many men. In the Battle of Gettysburg, the North was entrenched in the high ground just outside of town. The South was strongly defeated. General Robert E Lee and his army never fully recovered. The momentum of victories shifted from the South to the North, and the North eventually won the Civil War.
December 29, 1890: Wounded Knee Massacre
The Native Americans were in the Americas long before the Europeans were. Once the Europeans began exploring and colonizing the Americas in the 1500s and 1600s, wars broke out between the Europeans and Native Americans. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced Native Americans west of the Mississippi River. during the US Civil War, battles with the Native Americans were much lower in priority than defeating the South. After the Civil War, however, the only thing standing in the way of the US controlling all the territory from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean was a few Native American tribes. Conflict was inevitable, and victory for the USA was inevitable. The Wounded Knee Massacre symbolizes the end of military conflicts between the US and Native American tribes.
May 18, 1896: Plessy v Ferguson – Brown v Board of Education (May 17, 1954) – US Supreme Court Cases
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision, upholding the constitutionality of racial segregation, under the doctrine of “separate but equal.” It remained standard doctrine in US law until its repudiation in the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. This US Supreme Court decision upheld the Jim Crow laws which forced racial segregation. Racial tensions significantly increased over the next 60 years leading to much violence. After the Brown v Board of Education decision, several civil rights acts were passed, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These acts began to promote equality amongst all races and remove segregation.
February 15, 1898: Sinking of the USS Maine
The USS Maine was sent to Cuba because Cuban nationalists revolted against Spanish rule. On February 15, 1898, the USS Maine was sunk, either by an internal explosion or a mine. On April 25, 1898, US declares war on Spain one day after Spain declares war on the US. On August 12, 1898, Spain signs an armistice agreement with the US. As a result of the war, the US annexed the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam.
April 6, 1917: USA Declared War on Germany
On April 6, 1917, the US declared war on Germany. This changed the balance of power in favor of the Allies. On November 11, 1918, the Allies signed an armistice agreement with Germany officially ending World War I. The Muslim Ottoman Empire, which was aligned with Germany was split into countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The US became a founding member of the League of Nations. The US turned from isolationism to become an active powerful member of the international community.
September 3 – October 29, 1929: Stock Market Crash
Between September 3 and October 29, 1929, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost almost 40% of its value in 57 days. As a comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost over 53% of its value in 515 days from October 9, 2007, to March 6, 2009. The 1929 stock market crash brought on the Great Depression, and with it, many government programs and agencies designed to combat the economic depression. Many of these government programs are still around today, including: Federal Housing Administration, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Social Security Act.
December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor Attack
June 6, 1944: DDay
August 6 & 9, 1945 – Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
October 24, 1945: Birth of United Nations and UN Security Council
The United States was pulled into World War 2 when Japan attacked the US Navy at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After years of war, the Allies (England, United States), on June 6, 1944, executed a major successful assault on the French coast of Normandy (aka DDay). Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. And after the US dropped 2 atomic bombs on Japan (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), Japan surrendered. Several things occurred as a result of WW2. 1) The United States and the Soviet Union became the dominant powers, which led to the Cold War. 2) The United Nations was born. The permanent members of the UN Security Council (the most powerful element of the United Nations) is composed of the victors of World War 2 (USA, England, Russia, China, France). 3) The development of computer and atomic energy technology ushered in the Information Age.
August 29, 1949: Soviets First Nuclear Weapon Test
October 4, 1957: Sputnik Satellite Launched Into Orbit
These two events significantly increased the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. The space race began. There was a significant increase in government spending on science, technology and military development. The Korean War, Vietnam War and Cuban Missile Crisis were direct results of political tensions between the two super powers.
July 20, 1969: US Lands on the Moon
With President John F Kennedy’s direction, the US wanted to become the first nation to send a man to the Moon. This was accomplished on July 20, 1969. This became a symbol of US power, prestige and dominance in world affairs. The Korean War ended with an armistice separating North Korea from South Korea. The US pulled completely out of Vietnam. The Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan. Throughout the 1980s, the United States, under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan, gained an economic upper hand over the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed and officially disbanded in August 1991.
September 11, 2001: World Trade Center Twin Towers Destroyed
Osama bin Laden executed a successful attack against the United States using 4 planes. Two flew into the World Trade Center towers. One significantly damaged the Pentagon. The fourth was unsuccessful. The passengers overtook the hijackers and flew the plane into the ground in a deserted field in Pennsylvania. Over 3000 people were killed, and there was massive economic damage inflicted on the United States. This set a number of things into motion: 1) US attacks Taliban and occupies Afghanistan (October 7, 2001). 2) US attacks Iraq (March 19, 2003). 3) Saddam Hussein was executed by the newly established Iraqi government (December 30, 2006). 4) Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan (May 1, 2011). This story is still being told.