This Week in History

Napoleon III’s Waterloo — Sedan: September 2, 1870

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. See sample chapters, here. For ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other texts, please click here. Read the post for which this story is a continuation.

Emperor Napoleon III

Napoleon III had been assured that the French army was well prepared for war, but this was untrue. The French army was in a deplorable condition, and the attempts to mobilize it were filled with mishaps. The men, moreover, were badly equipped and poorly trained. They were in no condition to meet what had become the most disciplined army in Europe, under the best military commander of the day— General Moltke.

The French placed 200,000 men at the city and fortress of Metz in Lorraine and another 100,000 at Strasbourg, in Alsace. From these two cities (called the gateways to Germany), the French thought they would invade Germany. The Prussians for their part had three armies (together numbering 424,000 men), with which they planned to force their way through the “gateways” of Metz and Strasbourg into France.

The Prussian strategy had been so well planned that the German armies moved with the precision of a machine. By mid August, the Prussians forced the French general, Marshal Patrice de Mac-Mahon, to abandon Strasbourg and withdraw from most of Alsace. On August 18, another Prussian army defeated Marshal Achille François Bazaine at Gravelotte in Lorraine and forced him to take refuge in the fortified town of Metz. Though the French fought bravely through several bloody battles, their lack of preparation brought them defeat after defeat at the hands of the Prussians. (more…)



This Week in History

The Battle of Churubusco:

August 20, 1847

This text comes from our high school text, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. Please visit our webpage to peruse sample chapters of our book. For ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other texts, please click here.

General Zachary Taylor

While Taylor rested at Saltillo, and General Scott was planning his strategy for the war, the U.S Navy under Commodores Sloat and Stockton seized, one by one, the coastal pueblos of California. Both Castro and Pico were making plans to resist the invader; but, finding little support among the Californios, both men fled California without firing a shot. For a time it seemed the Californios would acquiesce to the conqueror; but then Archibald Gillespie, whom Stockton had left in command at Los Angeles, proclaimed martial law and imprisoned 20 Angelenos who had spoken out against American rule. Incensed by Gillespie’s high handedness, Californios under Andrés Pico and José Maria Flores rose up against the Americans. Having few arms besides long lances tipped with metal points, the Californios used their superb horsemanship to bloody the noses of the invaders in a few small engage­ments. Further resistance, though, was futile, and in mid-July 1847, Californio leaders signed the Cahuenga Capitulations, surrendering to the United States forces.

The conquest of California, however, was merely a sideshow to what became the main act of the war — General Winfield Scott’s invasion of Mexcio. Scott’s plan of war was a daring one (though some might have called it foolish); he would take Veracruz, and following Cortés’ old invasion route, march across the sultry plains, climb the lofty sierra, and assault Mexico City. Relying as it did on a 350-mile supply line, Scott’s strategy tempted disaster, for the enemy could easily cut off the American supply line. Fortunately for “Old Fuss and Feathers,” the Mexicans were so disunited that they could not muster sufficient numbers at any one time to crush Scott’s small force of 12,000 men. (more…)



This Week in History

Cortés Conquers Tenochtitlán:

August 13, 1521

This text comes from our high school text, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. Please visit our webpage to peruse sample chapters of our book. For ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other texts, please click here. Read our previous post on La Noche Triste, to which this post is a sequel.

Cortés negotiates with the Tlaxcalan, a mural by Murals by Desiderio Hernandez Xochitiotzin in the Palacio de Gobierno, Tlaxcala de Xicohténcatl, Mexico

Defeat and the condition of his army did not discourage Cortés. No sooner had he entered Tlaxcala than he planned to return to Mexico. Fortune seemed to aid him. New soldiers sent by Velásquez to seize Cortés ended up joining him, and a shipload from the Canary Islands, carrying guns and artillery, arrived on the coast. Another unexpected ally struck the Aztecs — the smallpox. Having no immunity against the disease, they died in great num­bers. Among the dead was Montezuma’s successor, Cuitlahua, the king.

Before marching on Mexico, Cortés and his generals subjugated the surrounding tribes. Then, at Tlaxcala, Cortés ordered the construction of 15 small ships, called brigantines, to assault Tenochtitlán by water while the foot soldiers advanced along the causeways. Cortés’ total force numbered 818 Spaniards, including 87 cavalry, and 25,000 Indian auxiliaries. (more…)



This Week in History

The “Second Coming in Wrath” at Hiroshima: August 6, 1945

This text comes from our high school text, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. Please visit our webpage to peruse sample chapters of our book. For ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other texts, please click here.

Albert Einstein (left) with J. Robert Oppenheimer

When Harry Truman became president following Roosevelt’s death, he learned for the first time that the United States had been working on a new, secret weapon. Among the refugees from Europe were a number of physicists, including the German Jew Albert Einstein, the Italian Enrico Fermi, and the Hungarian Leó Szilárd. These physicists had warned President Roosevelt that German scientists were working on the concept of uranium fission to produce a bomb that could wipe out large sections of cities. To beat the Germans, the United States commenced the Manhattan Project. In centers throughout the country, this top-secret project worked to master the splitting of the atom. On December 2, 1942, Fermi and other physicists had produced the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. By 1944, J. Robert Oppenheimer, at the laboratories at Los Alamos, New Mexico, had developed the first atomic bomb. On July 19, 1945, this atomic bomb was successfully exploded at Los Alamos. The United States now possessed a weapon that the broken but desperate might of Japan could not withstand. In a message to Churchill, Truman declared, “this is the Second Coming in wrath.” (more…)



This Week in History

The Death of the Sun King:

September 1, 1715

File:Louis XIV as Child.jpg

An allegorical painting of Louis XIV depicted as Jupiter, by George Poerson

On September 1, 1715, King Louis XIV of France died. With his passing, the “Great Century” (the age of Louis XIV) came to an end. During that monarch’s reign, France became not only the most powerful nation in Europe but the undisputed leader of European culture. Throughout Europe, aristocrats took on French ways and spoke the French language. They built houses and public buildings in the French style, and the artists and writers they patronized imitated the patterns of French art and literature. Louis XIV may have been the most feared ruler in Europe, but he was also the most envied and imitated.

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