This Day (American Skin Edition)*

Published:July 28, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1587, one of the soon-to-be lost colonists at Roanoke wondered aloud, “Hey, whatever happened to George?” One of Governor John White‘s top advisers, George Howe had wandered away from camp a few days after the English arrived and hadn’t been heard from since. Such circumstances generally didn’t bode well for the person who hadn’t been heard from, and so it was with Top Adviser Howe. After sending out a search party, the colonists found him two miles from camp, where he had gone, White later speculated, to hunt crabs. He had sixteen arrows in him, and his head had been beaten.

Lest you be tempted to think this behavior by the Indians was unprovoked, I invite you to recall the head in Edward Nugent’s hand. It’s funny how this one incident, which the BBC thought unimportant, turned out to change everything.

Speaking of which, on this day in 1864, two prickly Union generals who didn’t much like each other—George G. Meade and Ambrose E. Burnside—argued over their plans for their upcoming attack on Confederate lines around Petersburg. The attack involved digging a tunnel under the lines, filling it with powder and dynamite, and blowing the Rebs to smithereens. Then they’d send in the troops, right?

But which troops? That was the hangup. Burnside had some United States Colored Troops all trained and ready to go. (Apropos of nothing: their commander was a former ballroom dance instructor.) But Meade worried they were untested, and Grant worried that if all went awry it would look bad politically—like they had thrown the black troops in just to get slaughtered.

The battle wasn’t for two days, but the decision on this day—to go with the white troops—proved to be critical.

* Almost willfully obscure Boss reference.

IMAGE: Landing at Roanoke