On Anniversaries and the Timeline of History

The Battle of Gettysburg took place 155 years ago last month. Seems a long time ago, doesn’t it? Seems even further back to the founding of the United States in the 1780s, right?

“Dates are the pegs on which we hang the tapestry of history,” a history teacher once told me. By understanding historical events in temporal relation to each other, we can get a better sense of the flow of history.

Consider these numbers and anniversaries. The 75th Anniversary of Appomattox was April 9, 1940 – the same day the Germans invaded Norway and Denmark.

World War II began on September 1, 1939, with the invasion of Poland. The previous day was the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Jonesboro, and the following day was the 75th Anniversary of Union entry in Atlanta.

The Rape of Nanking started on December 13, 1937 – 75 years after the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The British declaration of war on Germany in World War I (August 4, 1914) occurred one day before the Battle of Mobile Bay’s 50th Anniversary. Fifty years later to the day occurred part of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917 – 55 years after the Battle of Shiloh’s first day.

Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on November 24, 1963, 100 years after the Battle of Lookout Mountain.

The 75th Anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution was September 17, 1862 – the bloodiest day in American history with Antietam and Munfordville.

The 75th Anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as first U.S. President was April 30, 1864.

From June 1862 until January 1865 was the 50th Anniversary of the War of 1812. Jubal Early’s incursion into the District of Columbia occurred one month before the 50th Anniversary of the British burning of Washington in late August 1814.

Today we are 50 years from 1968 and 75 years from 1943. Consider how the Vietnam era and World War II shaped, and continue to shape, our society and country, and you get a sense of how the Civil War both resonated and was impacted by events and memories from not long before.

6 Responses to On Anniversaries and the Timeline of History

  1. These things–Vietnam, the Cold War, WWII–also shape how we see the past. I think living through Vietnam–whether as a military person, a supporter, or a protester–greatly affects how today we interpret the Civil War.

  2. Then again, two of President Tyler’s grandsons are still alive. And there are men alive who fought at Okinawa under the son of Civil War general Simon B. Buckner.

    It’s an interesting topic. In considering the coming of the Civil War not enough thought is given to how close that event was to the American Revolution and how that shaped attitudes on both sides.

    1. Excellent point, Dudley Bokoski… because both sides believed they were “following the law, and the Constitution,” as created by their Grandparents and Great-grandparents… initially. But once Fort Sumter was fired upon, the gauntlet was thrown down (and the South lost whatever claim it had to “righting Constitutional wrongs”), and there was no turning back until one side, or the other, claimed Victory.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!