On the 19th November 1863, US President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lasting just over two minutes, it is often noted as one of the greatest speeches of all time and linked America’s founding principles, as written in the Declaration of Independence, to the struggles of the Civil War.
Opening with the famous phrase “Four score and seven years ago” Lincoln made the speech to an assembled crowd of approximately 15,000 people which included six separate state governors. However the President’s short, ten-sentence speech was intended only to be ‘dedicatory remarks’ – the main oration came from Edward Everett in a 13,000 word address that directly preceded the President. Everett wrote to the President the next day, stating that the President had delivered a better address in two minutes than he had in two hours.
Not everyone was so complimentary. Newspaper reports at the time were divided along party lines, with Democrat-leaning newspapers such as the Chicago Times dismissing Lincoln’s “silly, flat and dishwatery” speech. Meanwhile Republican newspapers were overflowing with praise.
The exact location, and even the exact wording, of the Gettysburg Address continue to be points of disagreement. Five manuscripts exist, but there are a number of notable differences between each of them. Even the inclusion of the words “under God” are disputed. Furthermore, they also differ from contemporary newspaper reports by people present at the address itself. Despite this, the Gettysburg Address is still seen as one of the most important English-language speeches of all time.
On the 20th October 1935, the 6,000 mile Long March by the Red Army of the Communist Party of China ended when the columns of troops led by Mao Zedong arrived in Shaanxi. Although the three armies involved in the march didn’t fully unite until two days later, Mao’s arrival at the foot of the Great Wall marked the successful end of the Red Army’s flight to safety.
Having fought a Civil War against the nationalist Kuomintang since 1927, by 1934 the Jiangxi Soviet was surrounded by Chiang Kai-Shek’s anti-Communist troops. Facing certain starvation if the siege was allowed to continue, the Communists opted to abandon the Soviet in a controlled breakthrough manoeuvre that began on the 16th October 1934.
Numbering nearly 100,000 people, the fleeing Communist army faced almost daily assaults from the Nationalists as they struggled north on a year-long journey that covered up to 16 miles a day. Although the primary aim of the march was to establish a safe base away from Nationalist interference, the Long March also served as a useful propaganda tool as Red Army troops came into direct contact with the local peasantry. The Eight Points of Attention, a set of orders for the good behaviour of troops, was central to this as the Red Army treated peasants with respect and gratitude, in stark contrast to the Nationalists.
It was during the Long March that Mao Zedong emerged as the leader of the Chinese Communists, and his survival alongside less than 10% of the original troops mythologised him as a leader and reinforced his authority.
In the early hours of the 17th July 1918 the Russian Imperial Romanov family were shot dead in the basement of the Ipatiev House in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg. Their death took place during the ongoing Russian Civil War, at a time when White Russian forces were approaching the house where the family were held captive. The execution was led by Yakov Yurovsky, a member of the Bolshevik secret police known as the Checka, and commandant of the house which had become known as The House of Special Purpose.
The Romanov family – Nicholas and his wife, and their four daughters and son, had first arrived in Ekaterinburg at intervals from the 30th April onwards. They were accompanied by a small number of servants. Their time inside the house was heavily regulated by the guards, who blocked all contact with the outside world.
As the White Army advanced on Ekaterinburg, the Bolsheviks became concerned that the royal family might fall into their hands and act as a rallying point for the White cause. Similarly, their release could encourage other European nations to view them as the legitimate rulers of Russia, and thus undermine the revolutionary Bolshevik government.
Shortly after midnight on the 17th July therefore, the family were woken and led to a small basement room in the house. A group of Bolshevik secret police then entered the room and read out the order for the deaths. All were shot or stabbed by bayonets, their bodies taken away in a truck and disposed of in a forest 12 miles north of the city.
The Battle of Naseby, a decisive engagement of the English Civil War, was fought between the Royalist army of King Charles I and the Parliamentarian New Model Army.
The New Model Army was formed as a result of concerns over the effectiveness of the existing Parliamentarian army that was based on local volunteers, many of whom were reluctant to fight away from home. The new army would be made up of full-time professional soldiers whose loyalty would be national rather than regional. The introduction of the Self-denying Ordinance further strengthened the new force, since it resulted in a more effective military leadership.
The New Model Army, under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, was besieging the King’s former capital in Oxford when news arrived that the Royalist army had captured the Parliamentarian town of Leicester. Fairfax abandoned the siege on Oxford and marched north to engage the Royalists, whom he found on the border between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. Fairfax’s army was joined by Oliver Cromwell’s cavalry on 13 June. Faced with the choice of either fighting or retreating, the King accepted battle.
Fairfax had positioned the Parliamentarian army on a ridge, but was persuaded by Cromwell to move it to a weaker position to encourage the Royalists to attack. Prince Rupert of the Rhine soon broke through the Parliamentary left flank, but rode on to pursue fleeing Parliamentarians rather than turn and outflank the infantry. This weakened the Royalists, and Cromwell’s cavalry were able to break the remaining cavalry before turning against the infantry in the centre. Before long the Royalists began to surrender, while Charles fled. The Royalist army was virtually destroyed in the battle, with around 6,000 of its 8,000 men either killed or captured.
On the 7th June 1628, the Petition of Right was approved by King Charles I. The Petition is a major Constitutional document that recognises four key principles of government: no taxation without the consent of Parliament, no imprisonment without cause, no quartering of soldiers on subjects, and no martial law in peacetime. It is still in force today.
A major reason for the Petition of Right was that Charles firmly believed in Divine Right – the idea that God had chosen him to rule. This encouraged Charles to rule by Royal Prerogative, meaning he tried to govern without consulting parliament. However, Parliament felt that Charles was overreaching his authority, especially when he began gathering “forced loans” from his subjects and imprisoning anyone who refused to pay. They were angered by Charles taking money from his subjects without Parliamentary approval, and by imprisonment without trial that undermined Magna Carta and habeas corpus.
What was notable about the passage of the Petition of Right was that both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – which had traditionally supported the monarchy – had approved it. Despite this, Charles was initially unwilling to ratify it and even sent a message to the Commons “forbidding them to meddle with affairs of state”. When it became clear that Parliament would not back down, Charles finally relented and ratified the Petition on the 7th June. However he continued to govern the country in much the same way as before, setting in place a major factor for the outbreak of the English Civil War less than fifteen years later.
The Jaffna Public Library in Sri Lanka was burnt down during a violent rampage by an organised mob of ethnic Sinhalese.
The Jaffna Public Library was built in 1933 to serve the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. By the 1980s it had become one of the largest libraries in Asia and the foremost repository of Tamil literature and culture. The attack on the library resulted in the burning of over 97,000 books and manuscripts of enormous cultural and historical value. The attack was racially motivated, and was a major cause of the Sri Lankan Civil War that broke out two years later.
Ethnic tensions had been developing between Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese for much of the 20th century. Official discrimination against the Tamils by the government led to young Tamils increasingly turning to militant groups such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, otherwise known as the Tamil Tigers, who sought the creation of a separate Tamil state.
The burning of the Jaffna Public Library came after three Sinhalese policemen were shot and killed during a political rally by the Tamil United Liberation Front who sought an independent state for the Tamils. This triggered three days of violence by the police that saw the indiscriminate killing of four civilians and the destruction of Tamil-owned businesses and property. The library was attacked in an aggressive act of biblioclasm, the deliberate destruction of books.
The government’s failure to respond to the attack and to protect the Tamils and their cultural heritage helped to consolidate opposition. The burning of the library therefore acted as a rallying call for militant Tamils, and helped to bring about the Sri Lankan Civil War that erupted in 1983 and lasted for almost 26 years.
The 22nd May 1455 marked the start of the Wars of the Roses, when the First Battle of St Albans was fought between Richard, Duke of York, and King Henry VI.
The Wars of the Roses were fought between the Houses of Lancaster and York, both of whom had claims to the English throne. Although the Lancastrians had ruled England since 1399, Henry VI had come to the throne in 1422 when he was just 9 months old. England had therefore been ruled by regents for 15 years, during which time the monarchy was weakened.
The situation didn’t improve after Henry took full control of the country in 1437, since he experienced periods of mental illness that affected his behaviour and decisions. Having experienced a long period of mental instability from August 1453, the “kingmaker” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, made Richard, Duke of York, protector of the realm.
When Henry recovered 18 months later, Richard was excluded from the royal court. In response he led an army to London, but was met by the King’s forces 22 miles north of the city in St Albans. After many hours of failed negotiations, Richard ordered his troops to attack. The battle was fought in the streets, and lasted for less than an hour before the Lancastrians were outflanked, key Lancastrian nobles were killed, and Henry was taken prisoner.
Richard was declared Protector of England just a few months later, but the Wars of Roses raged for another three decades.
On the afternoon of 26th April 1937, the Basque town of Guernica experienced what is seen by many as the first large-scale modern air raid against a civilian population.
By the Spring of 1937, Guernica was just 30km away from the front line fighting of the Spanish Civil War, and lay within the focal area for the Nationalist army’s advance on the city of Bilbao. The town was also a Republican communication centre, and was the location of a weapons factory. Documents released in the 1970s show that the attack was part of a larger Nationalist strategy in the north, in which roads and bridges would be destroyed in order to upset Republican troop movements.
However, as historian César Vidal Manzanares notes, the level of destruction was disproportionate to the town’s strategic value. At first, five waves of bombers attacked Guernica over a period of 90 minutes. Further waves came in the early evening, along with a number of fighter planes that strafed the roads leading out of the devastated town, increasing the civilian death toll as people tried to escape the burning ruins.
The number of civilian casualties from the attack has never been fully determined. However, figures in excess of a thousand that were cited until the 1980s are now known to have been exaggerated. Historians now accept that between 170 and 300 civilians were killed in the bombing, although it’s likely that many more died from their injuries.
On the 30th December 1922, the USSR – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – was founded. The Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR, which were approved by delegations from the founding countries on the 29th December, formed the constitutional basis for the Soviet Union. However, they didn’t officially come into force until the 30th when they were confirmed by the 1st Congress of Soviets and signed by the heads of each republic’s respective delegation.
The Soviet Union in 1922 consisted of just four Soviet republics – the Russian SFSR, Ukrainian SSR, Byelorussian SSR and Transcaucasian SFSR – although it’s important to note that the Russian and Transcaucasian SFSRs actually incorporated a number of separate Soviet Socialist Republics. The creation of the USSR therefore effectively created a centralised federal government.
This was an important step for the Bolsheviks who, having won the Russian Civil War, needed to consolidate their gains into a formal political entity. Stalin in particular argued that the New Economic Policy that followed war communism required centralised control, which threatened some national groups. At the same time, some Bolsheviks hoped for a world revolution that would overthrow capitalist governments around the globe.
The USSR’s founding documents therefore allowed Soviet republics to withdraw from the Union at any time, even though none of them actually did so before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Similarly new members were able to join the union at any time, which meant that by 1940 the USSR’s membership had grown from four republics in 1922 to 16.
On the 9th April 1865, after four years of Civil War, approximately 630,000 deaths and over 1 million casualties, Confederate States Army General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. This triggered a series of other surrenders across the south, and marked the beginning of the end of the American Civil War.
Prior to the surrender, Lee’s army had been forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, and was retreating with the hope of joining with other Confederate forces in North Carolina. However, the Union army managed to cut them off with cavalry and infantry and so – with his army surrounded and his men weak and exhausted – Lee had no option but to surrender.
Lee and Grant sent a series of messages that led to them meeting in the village of Appomattox Courthouse, where they signed the surrender documents in the parlour of a house owned by Wilmer McLean. The terms were as generous as Lee could hope for, the Union wanting to avoid any possible excuse for an uprising. All officers and men were pardoned and allowed to return home with their private property including their horses. Furthermore, all Confederate officers would be allowed to keep their side arms, and Lee’s troops would be fed with Union rations.
With the surrender signed, Grant is reputed to have stepped outside and declared, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.”