31
May
09

On This Day, May 31: Joseph Johnston Wounded

May 31, 1862

Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks), Virginia

Confederate forces strike Union troops in the Pen insular campaign. During May 1862, the Army of the Potomac, under the command of George B. McClellan, slowly advanced up the James Peninsula after sailing down the Chesapeake Bay by boat. Confederate commander Joseph Johnston had been cautiously backing his troops up the peninsula in the face of the larger Union force, giving ground until he was in the Richmond perimeter. When the Rebels had backed up to the capital, Johnston sought an opportunity to attack McClellan and halt his advance.

That chance came when McClellan’s forces were straddling the Chickahominy River. The swampy ground around the river was difficult to maneuver, and the river was now a raging torrent from the spring rains. A major storm on May 31 threatened to cut the only bridge links between the two wings of the Union army.

Johnston attacked one of McClellan’s corps south of the river on May 31 in a promising assault. The plan called for three divisions to hammer the Federal corps from three sides, but the inexperienced Confederates were delayed and confused. By the time the attack came, McClellan had time to muster reinforcements and drive the Rebels back. A Confederate attack the next day also produced no tangible results. The Yankees lost 5,000 casualties to the Rebels’ 6,000.

But the battle had two important consequences. McClellan was horrified by the sight of his dead and wounded soldiers, and became much more cautious and timid in battle—actions that would eventually doom the campaign. And since Johnston was wounded during the battle’s first day, Robert E. Lee replaced him. Lee had been serving as Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ military advisor since his undistinguished service in western Virginia during the war’s first year. The history of the war in the eastern theater drastically changed as Lee ascended the ranks. His leadership and exploits soon became legend.

“Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks), Virginia,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2051 [accessed May 31, 2009]

 

On This Day

1854 – The Kansas-Nebraska Act passed by the U.S. Congress.

1889 – In Johnstown, PA, more than 2,200 people died after the South Fork Dam collapsed.

1902 – The Boer War ended between the Boers of South Africa and Great Britain with the Treaty of Vereeniging.

1909 – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held its first conference.

1913 – The 17th Amendment went into effect. It provided for popular election of U.S. senators.

1947 – Communists seized control of Hungary.

1955 – The U.S. Supreme Court ordered that all states must end racial segregation “with all deliberate speed.”

1962 – Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Israel. Eichmann was a Gestapo official and was executed for his actions in the Nazi Holocaust.

2003 – In North Carolina, Eric Robert Rudolph was captured. He had been on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list for five years for several bombings including the 1996 Olympic bombing.

May 31, 1775

Mecklenburg Resolutions reject the power of the British in North Carolina

On this day in 1775, the committeemen of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, meet and respond to news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolution, with a series of 20 patriotic resolutions.

This meeting gave rise to a lasting historical myth better known than the event itself. In 1819, the Raleigh Register published a document that it claimed was the “Mecklenberg Declaration of Independence” from May 20, 1775. Controversy continues regarding the declaration’s authenticity, but it is likely that the so-called declaration was a misdated and edited version of the resolves that were actually recorded on May 31.

The so-called Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence printed in 1819 contained five resolutions. The first charges, “That whosoever directly or indirectly abetted, or in any way, form, or manner, countenanced the unchartered and dangerous invasion of our rights, as claimed by Great Britain, is an enemy to this County, to America, and to the inherent and inalienable rights of man.” The second resolution “dissolved” Mecklenburg County’s ties “to the Mother Country” and removed “all allegiance to the British Crown,” which had “shed the innocent blood of American Patriots at Lexington. The third resolution declared the Mecklenbergers, “a free and independent people.” The fourth and fifth resolutions dissolved the power of all British appointments and called every officer in the county to resume “his former command and authority… until a more general and organized government be established in this province.”

The myth of the May 20, 1775, declaration is deeply entrenched: North Carolina’s state seal and flag bear the dates May 20, 1775, and April 12, 1776. April 12, 1776, was the date of the Halifax Resolves, with which the North Carolina Provincial Congress empowered its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote in favor of independence from Britain. Despite the continued popularity of the “Mecklenburg Declaration” in popular lore, the less emphatic set of 20 resolves issued on May 31, which suspended crown authority in North Carolina without overtly declaring independence, are the only ones confirmed to have existed by contemporary documents.

“Mecklenburg Resolutions reject the power of the British in North Carolina,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=639 [accessed May 31, 2009]

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