This Day (Omnibus Edition)

Published:July 31, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

I missed posting yesterday because Molly and I were staying at the lovely Morris House Hotel in Philadelphia, built in 1787 and—according to someone who might have awoken at 3:30 a.m. when things started going bump in the night—haunted. Was it George Washington looking for his teeth? Was it Thomas Jefferson? Whatever the case, we were in town to celebrate the forty-fifth wedding anniversary of Ed and Margery Butler, and because Ed is a regular reader of this blog, I want to wish him and Aunt Marge the very best. It was great to see you, as always!

Anyway, of all the days to miss posting “This Day,” yesterday was a doozy. On July 30, 1619, the House of Burgesses convened its first meeting at the church in Jamestown. You can find the names of the first twenty-two burgesses here, and read the first entry in the House’s journal here. Our entry notes the House of Burgesses as the first democratically elected legislative body of its kind in British North America. There are various qualifications tucked away in there, but you get the idea.

Fifty-seven years later, on or about July 30, 1676, Nathaniel Bacon issued the first of his declarations of grievance against Virginia governor Sir William Berkeley, together with justifications of his rebellious actions. That he signed these documents “General, by the consent of the people,” has made Bacon something of a folk hero over the years, and for generations his uprising was considered a precursor of the American Revolution. Historians these days are not buying that line of argument, however. Bacon was no Jefferson. Maybe all he really wanted was to kill Indians.

Regardless, 188 years after Bacon’s Rebellion, in the fourth and final year of the American Civil War, Union forces entrenched around Petersburg exploded four tons of powder at the end of a mine dug under Confederate lines. This was at a quarter-to-five in the morning. At least 278 Confederates—South Carolinians and Virginians mostly—were killed instantly, and a giant crater—what has come to be known as the Crater—was opened up in the ground where moments earlier they had been sleeping. (Release of a new book on the subject was well timed.)

Finally—and remember, this is all just yesterday—on the same day in 1864, Confederate general John A. McCausland burned Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, when the town could not produce the demanded ransom. He did this on the orders of Jubal A. Early, who was retaliating against Union forces that burned parts of Lexington. You can see the results of McCausland’s actions above.

As for today, it’s the birthday of George H. Thomas, Virginia native and Union general, who was born in Southampton County on this day in 1816. So why not sneak in a “Separated at Birth”? After all, Thomas reminds me an awful lot of my esteemed former boss Mike Pride, who for twenty-five years edited the Concord Monitor in Concord, New Hampshire, and is now at work on his sixth book, this latest one about New Hampshire in the Civil War. Happy birthday, General Thomas, and all the best, Mike!

IMAGES (Top to bottom, left to right): The Morris House (George Medovoy); Patrick Henry Before the Virginia House of Burgesses by Peter F. Rothermel, 1851; “The Declaration of the people Against Sir Wm Brekeley …” (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation); schematic drawings of the mineshaft at the Battle of the Crater, from the Century magazine, 1887 (Library of Congress); Chambersburg After the Burning, 1864 (U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks); General George H. Thomas (Library of Congress); Mike Pride (Nieman Foundation)