02
May
09

On This Day, May 2: Stonewall Jackson Wounded

May 2, 1863

Jackson flanks Hooker at Chancellorsville

Stonewall Jackson administers a devastating defeat to the Army of the Potomac. In one of the most stunning upsets of the war, a vastly outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia sent the Army of the Potomac, commanded by General Joseph Hooker, back to Washington in defeat.

Hooker, who headed for Lee’s army confident and numerically superior, had sent part of his force to encounter Lee’s troops at Fredericksburg the day before, while the rest swung west to approach Lee from the rear. Meanwhile, Lee had left part of his army at Fredericksburg and had taken the rest of his troops to confront Hooker near Chancellorsville. When the armies collided on May 1, Hooker withdrew into a defensive posture.

Sensing Hooker’s trepidation, Lee sent Jackson along with 28,000 troops on a swift, 14-mile march around the Union right flank. Splitting his army into three parts in the face of the mighty Army of the Potomac was a bold move, but it paid huge dividends for the Confederates. Although Union scouts detected the movement as Jackson swung southward, Hooker misinterpreted the maneuver as a retreat. When Jackson’s troops swung back north and into the thick woods west of Hooker’s army, Union pickets reported a possible buildup; but their warnings fell on deaf ears.

In the evening of May 2, Union soldiers from General Oliver Otis Howard’s 11th Corps were casually cooking their supper and playing cards when waves of forest animals charged from the woods. Behind them were Jackson’s attacking troops. The Federal flank crumbled as Howard’s men were driven back some two miles before stopping the Rebel advance.

Despite the Confederate victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Union forces soon gained the upper hand in the war in the eastern theater. Scouting in front of the lines as they returned in the dark, Jackson and his aides were fired upon by their own troops. Jackson’s arm was amputated the next morning, and he never recovered. He died from complications a week later, leaving Lee without his most able lieutenant.

“Jackson flanks Hooker at Chancellorsville,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2002 [accessed May 2, 2009]

On This Day

1519 – Leonardo da Vinci died.

1670 – The Hudson Bay Company was founded by England’s King Charles II.

1776 – France and Spain agreed to donate arms to American rebels fighting the British.

1798 – The black General Toussaint L’ouverture forced British troops to agree to evacuate the port of Santo Domingo.

1865 – U.S. President Andrew Johnson offered $100,000 reward for the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

1887 – Hannibal W. Goodwin applied for a patent on celluloid photographic film. This is the film from which movies are shown.

1926 – U.S. Marines landed in Nicaragua to put down a revolt and to protect U.S. interests. They did not depart until 1933.

1933 – Hitler banned trade unions in Germany.

1945 – Russians took Berlin after 12 days of fierce house-to-house fighting. The Allies announced the surrender of Nazi troops in Italy and parts of Austria.

1970 – Student anti-war protesters at Ohio‘s Kent State University burn down the campus ROTC building. The National Guard took control of the campus.

1974 – Former U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew was disbarred by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

1982 – The British submarine HMS Conqueror sank Argentina’s only cruiser, the General Belgrano during the Falkland Islands War. More than 350 people died.

1994 – Nelson Mandela claimed victory after South Africa’s first democratic elections.

May 2, 1972

End of an era at the FBI

After nearly five decades as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), J. Edgar Hoover dies, leaving the powerful government agency without the administrator who had been largely responsible for its existence and shape.

Educated as a lawyer and a librarian, Hoover joined the Department of Justice in 1917 and within two years had become special assistant to Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Deeply anti-radical in his ideology, Hoover came to the forefront of federal law enforcement during the so-called “Red Scare” of 1919 to 1920. The former librarian set up a card index system listing every radical leader, organization, and publication in the United States and by 1921 had amassed some 450,000 files. More than 10,000 suspected communists were also arrested during this period, but the vast majority of these people were briefly questioned and then released. Although the attorney general was criticized for abusing his authority during the so-called “Palmer Raids,” Hoover emerged unscathed, and on May 10, 1924, he was appointed acting director of the Bureau of Investigation, a branch of the Justice Department established in 1909.

During the 1920s, with Congress’ approval, Director Hoover drastically restructured and expanded the Bureau of Investigation. He built the corruption-ridden agency into an efficient crime-fighting machine, establishing a centralized fingerprint file, a crime laboratory, and a training school for agents. In the 1930s, the Bureau of Investigation launched a dramatic battle against the epidemic of organized crime brought on by Prohibition. Notorious gangsters such as George “Machine Gun” Kelly and John Dillinger met their ends looking down the barrels of Bureau-issued guns, while others, like Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the elusive head of Murder, Incorporated, were successfully investigated and prosecuted by Hoover’s “G-men.” Hoover, who had a keen eye for public relations, participated in a number of these widely publicized arrests, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations, as it was known after 1935, became highly regarded by Congress and the American public.

With the outbreak of World War II, Hoover revived the anti-espionage techniques he had developed during the first Red Scare, and domestic wiretaps and other electronic surveillance expanded dramatically. After World War II, Hoover focused on the threat of radical, especially communist, subversion. The FBI compiled files on millions of Americans suspected of dissident activity, and Hoover worked closely with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Senator Joseph McCarthy, the architect of America’s second Red Scare.

In 1956, Hoover initiated Cointelpro, a secret counterintelligence program that initially targeted the U.S. Communist Party but later was expanded to infiltrate and disrupt any radical organization in America. During the 1960s, the immense resources of Cointelpro were used against dangerous groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, but also against African American civil rights organizations and liberal anti-war organizations. One figure especially targeted was civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who endured systematic harassment from the FBI.

By the time Hoover entered service under his eighth president in 1969, the media, the public, and Congress had grown suspicious that the FBI might be abusing its authority. For the first time in his bureaucratic career, Hoover endured widespread criticism, and Congress responded by passing laws requiring Senate confirmation of future FBI directors and limiting their tenure to 10 years. On May 2, 1972, with the Watergate affair about to explode onto the national stage, J. Edgar Hoover died of heart disease at the age of 77. The Watergate affair subsequently revealed that the FBI had illegally protected President Richard Nixon from investigation, and the agency was thoroughly investigated by Congress. Revelations of the FBI’s abuses of power and unconstitutional surveillance motivated Congress and the media to become more vigilant in future monitoring of the FBI.

“End of an era at the FBI,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=4969 [accessed May 2, 2009]

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