Today In History, August 31
Sunday August 31, 2014 the 241st day and 34th week of 2014, there are 125 days and 18 weeks left in the year. Highlights of today in world history…
1864 Battle of Jonesboro leads to fall of Atlanta
On this day in 1864, at the Battle of Jonesboro, Georgia, General William T. Sherman launched the attack that finally secured Atlanta, Georgia, for the Union, and seals the fate of Confederate General John Bell Hood’s army, which is forced to evacuate the area.
The Battle of Jonesboro was the culmination of a four-month campaign by Sherman to capture Atlanta. He had spent the summer driving his army down the 100-mile corridor from Chattanooga, Tennessee, against a Confederate force led by General Joseph Johnston. General Hood, who replaced Johnston in July on the outskirts of Atlanta, proceeded to attack Sherman in an attempt to drive him northward. However, these attacks failed, and by August 1 the armies had settled into a siege.
In late August, Sherman swung his army south of Atlanta to cut the main rail line supplying the Rebel army. Confederate General William Hardee’s corps moved to block Sherman at Jonesboro, and attacked the Union troops on August 31, but the Rebels were thrown back with staggering losses. The entrenched Yankees lost just 178 men, while the Confederates lost nearly 2,000.
On September 1, Sherman attacked Hardees. Though the Confederates held, Sherman successfully cut the rail line and effectively trapped the Rebels. Hardees had to abandon his position, and Hood had no choice but to withdraw from Atlanta. The fall of Atlanta was instrumental in securing the re-election of Abraham Lincoln in the fall.
1886 Earthquake shakes Charleston, South Carolina
An earthquake near Charleston, South Carolina, on this day in 1886 left more than 100 people dead and hundreds of buildings destroyed. This was the largest recorded earthquake in the history of the south-eastern United States.
The earthquake was preceded by foreshocks felt in Summerville, South Carolina, on August 27 and 28 but, still, no one was prepared for the strength of the August 31 quake. At 9:51 p.m., the rumbling began, and it was felt as far away as Boston, Chicago and Cuba. There was damage to buildings as far away as Ohio and Alabama. It was Charleston, South Carolina, though, that took the biggest hit from the quake, which is thought to have had a magnitude of about 7.6. Almost all of the buildings in town were seriously damaged. It is estimated that 14,000 chimneys fell from the earthquake. It caused multiple fires and water lines and wells were ruptured. The total damage was in excess of $5.5 million (about $112 million in today’s money).
While there were no apparent surface cracks as a result of this tremor, railroad tracks were bent in all directions in some locations. Acres of land were liquefied. This quake remained a mystery for many years since there were no known underground faults for 60 miles in any direction. However, better science and detection methods have recently uncovered a concealed fault along the coastal plains of Virginia and the Carolinas. Still, a quake of this magnitude remains highly unlikely in this location.
1935 FDR signs Neutrality Act
On this day in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Neutrality Act, or Senate Joint Resolution No. 173, which he calls an “expression of the desire…to avoid any action which might involve [the U.S.] in war.” The signing came at a time when newly installed fascist governments in Europe were beginning to beat the drums of war.
In a public statement that day, Roosevelt said that the new law would require American vessels to obtain a license to carry arms, would restrict Americans from sailing on ships from hostile nations and would impose an embargo on the sale of arms to “belligerent” nations. Most observers understood “belligerent” to imply Germany under its new leader, Adolf Hitler, and Italy under Benito Mussolini. It also provided the strongest language yet warning other countries that the U.S. would increase its patrol of foreign submarines lurking in American waters. This was seen as a response to Hitler’s March 1935 announcement that Germany would no longer honour the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which prohibited Germany from rebuilding her military; he had then immediately stepped up the country’s submarine production.
Although the legislation stated that the U.S. intended to stay out of foreign wars, Roosevelt insisted that the country could not foresee future situations in which the U.S. might have to amend its neutral stance. Noting that “history is filled with unforeseeable situations that call for some flexibility of action,” Roosevelt contended that the law would not prevent the U.S. from cooperating with other “similarly minded Governments to promote peace.” In other words, he left plenty of room for America to change its mind regarding the sale of arms to friendly countries and gave it the right to exercise options to protect her own safety. This came to pass in March 1941, when the passing of the Lend-Lease Act increased America’s military exports to the British in order to help them fight off Hitler’s advance toward England.
1944 The British cross the Gothic Line
On this day in 1944, the British 8th Army broke through the Germans’ “Gothic Line,” a defensive line drawn across northern Italy.
The Allies had pushed the German occupying troops on the Italian peninsula farther and farther north. On June 4, U.S. Gen. Mark Clark had captured Rome. Now the Germans had dug in north of Florence. Built earlier in the year, this defensive line consisted of fortified towns, stretching from Pisa in the west to Pesaro in the east. One of these towns was Siena, home to much glorious medieval art—also home to the Italian partisans, guerrillas who had been harassing the Germans and remnants of Italian fascists since Italy had surrendered. Their ability to create chaos and confusion behind the Germans’ own lines was of great aid to the Allies.
Expert strategic manoeuvring by British General Harold Alexander, who opened his offensive on August 25, surprised the Germans, and the 8th Army swept through the Plain of Lombardy, crashing through the Gothic Line.
1955 William Cobb demonstrates first solar-powered car
On this day in 1955, William G. Cobb of the General Motors Corp. (GM) demonstrated his 15-inch-long “Sun mobile,” the world’s first solar-powered automobile, at the General Motors Powerama auto show held in Chicago, Illinois.
Cobb’s Sun mobile introduced, however briefly, the field of photovoltaics–the process by which the sun’s rays are converted into electricity when exposed to certain surfaces–into the gasoline-drenched automotive industry. When sunlight hit 12 photoelectric cells made of selenium (a non-metal substance with conducting properties) built into the Sun mobile, an electric current was produced that in turn powered a tiny motor. The motor turned the vehicle’s driveshaft, which was connected to its rear axle by a pulley. Visitors to the month-long, $7 million Powerama marvelled at some 250 free exhibits spread over 1 million square feet of space on the shores of Lake Michigan. In addition to Cobb’s futuristic mini-automobile, Powerama visitors were treated to an impressive display of GM’s diesel-fuelled empire, from oil wells and cotton gins to submarines and other military equipment.
Today, more than a half-century after Cobb debuted the Sun mobile, a mass-produced solar car has yet to hit the market anywhere in the world. Solar-car competitions are held worldwide, however, in which design teams pit their sun-powered creations (also known as photovoltaic or PV cars) against each other in road races such as the 2008 North American Solar Challenge, a 2,400-mile drive from Dallas, Texas, to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
In early 2009, The Nikkei, a Japanese business daily, reported that Toyota Motor Corp. was secretly developing a vehicle that would be powered totally by solar energy. Hurt by a growing global financial crisis and a surge in the Japanese yen relative to other currencies, Toyota had announced in late 2008 that it was expecting its first operating loss in 70 years. Despite hard economic times, Toyota (which in 1997 launched the Prius, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid vehicle) has no plans to relinquish its reputation as an automotive industry leader in green technology. The company uses solar panels to produce some of its own electricity at its Tsutsumi plant in central Japan, and in mid-2008 announced that it would install solar panels on the roof of the next generation of its ground-breaking electric-gasoline hybrid Prius cars. The panels would supply part of the 2 to 5 kilowatts needed to power the car’s air conditioning system.
According to The Nikkei, Toyota’s planned solar car is not expected to hit the market for years. The electric vehicle will get some of its power from solar cells on the vehicle, and will be recharged with electricity generated from solar panels on the roofs of car owners’ homes.
1980 Polish government signs accord with Gdansk shipyard workers
On this day in 1980, representatives of the communist government of Poland agreed to the demand of striking shipyard workers in the city of Gdansk. Former electrician Lech Walesa led the striking workers, who went on to form Solidarity, the first independent labour union to develop in a Soviet bloc nation.
In July 1980, facing economic crisis, Poland’s government raised the price of food and other goods, while curbing the growth of wages. The price hikes made it difficult for many Poles to afford basic necessities, and a wave of strikes swept the country. Amid mounting tensions, a popular forklift operator named Anna Walentynowicz was fired from the Lenin Shipyard in the northern Polish city of Gdansk. In mid-August, some 17,000 of the shipyard’s workers began a sit-down strike to campaign for her reinstatement, as well as for a modest increase in wages. They were led by the former shipyard electrician Lech Walesa, who had himself been fired for union activism four years earlier.
Despite governmental censorship and attempts to keep news of the strike from getting out, similar protests broke out in industrial cities throughout Poland. On August 17, an Interfactory Strike Committee presented the Polish government with 21 ambitious demands, including the right to organize independent trade unions, the right to strike, the release of political prisoners and increased freedom of expression. Fearing the general strike would lead to a national revolt, the government sent a commission to Gdansk to negotiate with the rebellious workers. On August 31, Walesa and Deputy Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielka signed an agreement giving in to many of the workers’ demands. Walesa signed the document with a giant ballpoint pen decorated with a picture of the newly elected Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla, the former archbishop of Krakow).
In the wake of the Gdansk strike, leaders of the Interfactory Strike Committee voted to create a single national trade union known as Solidarnosc (Solidarity), which soon evolved into a mass social movement, with a membership of more than 10 million people. Solidarity attracted sympathy from Western leaders and hostility from Moscow, where the Kremlin considered a military invasion of Poland. In late 1981, under Soviet pressure, the government of General Wojciech Jaruzelski annulled the recognition of Solidarity and declared martial law in Poland. Some 6,000 Solidarity activists were arrested, including Walesa, who was detained for almost a year. The Solidarity movement moved underground, where it continued to enjoy support from international leaders such as U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who imposed sanctions on Poland. Walesa was awarded the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize, and after the fall of communism in 1989 he became the first president of Poland ever to be elected by popular vote.