March 23rd

Handel’s oratorio Messiah premiered in London on this date in 1743.

On this date in 1775, Patrick Henry spoke to the Second Virginia Convention at St. John’s Church, Richmond. The last paragraph:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace–but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Lewis and Clark began their return from the Pacific on this date in 1806.

the rained Seased and it became fair about Meridean, at which time we loaded our Canoes & at 1 P. M. left Fort Clatsop on our homeward bound journey. at this place we had wintered and remained from the 7th of Decr. 1805 to this day and have lived as well as we had any right to expect, and we can Say that we were never one day without 3 meals of Some kind a day either pore Elk meat or roots, not withstanding the repeeted fall of rain which has fallen almost Constantly Since we passed the long narrows on the [blank] of Novr. last

Excerpt by Clark from the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Pancho Villa

. . . and his forces attacked Columbus, New Mexico, 99 years ago today (March 9, 1916).

Why Columbus? Why then?

The U.S. had taken sides against Villa — and for Venustiano Carranza — in the continuing Mexican revolutions. Columbus had a garrison of about 600 U.S. soldiers. Villa had been sold blank ammunition by an arms dealer in the town. And a few days earlier 10 Mexicans had been “accidentally” burned to death while in custody in El Paso during a “routine” delousing with gasoline.

The attack at dawn lasted about three hours before American troops chased Villa’s forces into Mexico. The town was burned and 17 Americans, mostly private citizens, were killed. About 100 of Villa’s troops were reportedly killed. The arms dealer was absent from Columbus that morning. He had a dental appointment in El Paso.

The next day President Wilson ordered General Jack Pershing and 5,000 American troops into Mexico to capture Villa. This “Punitive Expedition” was often mis-directed by Mexican citizens and Villa allegedly hid in the dust thrown up by Pershing’s vehicles. (The American Army used aircraft for reconnaissance for the first time. This is considered the beginning of the Army Air Corps.)

Unsuccessful in the hunt, by February 1917 the United States and Pershing turned their attention to the war in Europe. Minor clashes with Mexican irregulars continued to disturb the border from 1917 to 1919. Engagements took place near Buena Vista, Mexico, on December 1, 1917; in San Bernardino Canyon, Mexico, on December 26, 1917; near La Grulla, Texas, on January 8-9, 1918; at Pilares, Mexico, about March 28, 1918; at Nogales, Arizona, on August 27, 1918; and near El Paso, Texas, on June 15-16, 1919.

Villa, born Doroteo Arango, surrendered to the Mexican Government in 1920 and retired on a general’s pay. He was assassinated in 1923.


The House of Representatives voted 126-47 to impeach President Andrew Johnson on this date in 1868. The New York Times report on the vote begins:

The first act in the great civil drama of the nineteenth century is concluded. Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, stands impeached of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is of no use to argue whether his acts were right or wrong, whether the law he violated is constitutional or otherwise, or whether it is good or bad policy to proceed to this extreme. The House of Representatives, with a full realization of all the possible consequences, has solemnly decided that he shall be held to account in the manner prescribed by the Constitution for his alleged misdemeanors, and, be the result what it may, the issue is made. It must be met without delay, and the first step is already complete.

As the War ended in 1865, there were essentially two different approaches to Reconstruction. The first, shared by Lincoln and Johnson, was that the southern states had not left the Union. There had simply been a rebellion by their citizens. The Union’s purpose in the war had been to end the rebellion, replace the southern leaders and restore the state governments, albeit with freedom for all, black and white. The second approach took the view that the south was a conquered nation to be governed by the federal government. This view was held by many Republicans in Congress.

Johnson was a Democrat and slave-owner from Tennessee selected to run with the Republican Lincoln in 1864 in hopes of attracting pro-Union, pro-war Democratic votes. Johnson was far less inclined than Lincoln to support the former slaves or demand much from the new southern governments. He vetoed Freedmen’s Bills (which were passed over his vetoes) and he openly opposed the Fourteenth Amendment (citizenship and equal protection). The Reconstruction Act of 1867 was also passed over Johnson’s veto. It established military governments in the south.

Ultimately, when Johnson attempted to remove Secretary of War Stanton (the official charged by Congress with carrying out the Reconstruction Act) the House voted to impeach.

The trial was held in the Senate in the spring of 1868. The Senate voted 35-19 to remove Johnson from office, but 36 votes were required. He completed his term as President (until March 1869) and was elected U.S. Senator from Tennessee in 1875, but served only five months before he died.

The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson has contemporary reports from Harper’s Weekly.

Today’s Photo (by someone else)

Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima February 23, 1945 Click for larger version.
Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima
February 23, 1945
Click for larger version.

Within a month, three of the six Marines pictured were killed in battle; the remaining three became celebrities in a savings bond drive. The photo, the second taken of a flag raising on Mount Suribachi that day, February 23, 1945, won the Pulitzer Prize for Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. The flag and the smaller one used in the earlier flag-raising are in the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia.

6,821 Americans were killed during the Battle of Iwo Jima, 19,217 wounded. 18,844 Japanese were killed, 216 taken prisoner, 3,000 in hiding.

Buena Vista

United States General Zachary Taylor was victorious over Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in the Battle of Buena Vista on February 23, 1847. Santa Anna’s loss at Buena Vista, coupled with his defeat by General Winfield Scott at the Battle of Cerro Gordo in April of that year, secured U.S. victory in the Mexican American War.

The Battle of Buena Vista was fought near Monterrey in northern Mexico. The 5,000 men fighting under General Taylor’s command used heavy artillery fire to turn back nearly 14,000 Mexican troops. During the night, the Mexican army retreated, but Taylor did not pursue.

Library of Congress

Treaty of Amity, Settlement, and Limits Between the United States of America and His Catholic Majesty

The Adams-Onis Treaty was concluded with Spain 196 years ago today (1819). It ceded Florida to the United States and settled, after nearly 16 years, the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase between the U.S. and the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

His Catholic Majesty cedes to the United States, in full property and sovereignty, all the territories which belong to him, situated to the eastward of the Mississippi, known by the name of East and West Florida.

The boundary-line between the two countries, west of the Mississippi, shall begin on the Gulph of Mexico, at the mouth of the river Sabine, in the sea, continuing north, along the western bank of that river, to the 32d degree of latitude; thence, by a line due north, to the degree of latitude where it strikes the Rio Roxo of Nachitoches, or Red River; then following the course of the Rio Roxo westward, to the degree of longitude 100 west from London and 23 from Washington; then, crossing the said Red River, and running thence, by a line due north, to the river Arkansas; thence, following the course of the southern bank of the Arkansas, to its source, in latitude 42 north; and thence, by that parallel of latitude, to the South Sea [Pacific].

The Treaty thereby negated U.S. claims to Texas — temporarily.

Mathew Carey map, 1814.
Mathew Carey map, 1814.

The Avalon Project has the complete text of the Treaty. The Adams in the Treaty short name is Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Onis is Luis de Onís y Gonzalez-Vara of Spain. It’s also known as the Transcontinental Treaty,

The Father of Our Country

… was born 283 years ago today on February 11, 1731*.

Gilbert Stuart, The Athenaeum, 1796 Click for larger version.
Gilbert Stuart, The Athenaeum, 1796
Click for larger version.

To describe George Washington as enigmatic may strike some as strange, for every young student knows about him (or did when students could be counted on to know anything). He was born into a minor family in Virginia’s plantation gentry, worked as a surveyor in the West as a young man, was a hero of sorts during the French and Indian War, became an extremely wealthy planter (after marrying a rich widow), served as commander in chief of the Continental Army throughout the Revolutionary War (including the terrible winter at Valley Forge), defeated the British at the Battle of Yorktown, suppressed a threatened mutiny by his officers at Newburgh, N.Y., then astonished the world and won its applause by laying down his sword in 1783. Called out of retirement, he presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787, reluctantly accepted the presidency in 1789 and served for two terms, thus assuring the success of the American experiment in self-government.

Washington was, after all, a magnificent physical specimen. He towered several inches over six feet, had broad shoulders and slender hips (in a nation consisting mainly of short, fat people), was powerful and a superb athlete. He carried himself with a dignity that astonished; when she first laid eyes on him Abigail Adams, a veteran of receptions at royal courts and a difficult woman to impress, gushed like a schoolgirl. On horseback he rode with a presence that declared him the commander in chief even if he had not been in uniform.

Other characteristics smack of the supernatural. He was impervious to gunfire. Repeatedly, he was caught in cross-fires and yet no bullet ever touched him. In a 1754 letter to his brother he wrote that “I heard Bullets whistle and believe me there was something charming in the Sound.” During the Revolutionary War he had horses shot from under him but it seemed that no bullet dared strike him personally. Moreover, when the Continental Army was ravaged by a smallpox epidemic, Washington, having had the disease as a youngster, proved to be as immune to it as he was to bullets.

Forrest McDonald in his review of Joseph J. Ellis’ His Excellency: George Washington.

Ron Chernow was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Washington: A Life.


* By the Julian calendar, George Washington was born on February 11, 1731. Twenty years later Britain and her colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use today. The change added 11 days and designated January rather than March as the beginning of the year. As a result, Washington’s birthday became February 22, 1732.