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December 15: Battle of Nashville, Where the history of the Statue of Liberty began, and Other Events of the Date
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December 15: Battle of Nashville, Where the history of the Statue of Liberty began, and Other Events of the Date


Battle of Nashville

The battle of Nashville remains famous as the end of major Confederate offensive operations in the Western theater during the Civil War. The battle featured one of the largest amounts of military convoys of any conflict. It is also notable for the large number of United States Colored Troops engaged in the fighting.

The battle occurred near Nashville, Tennessee, on December 15-16, 1864, between Confederate General John Bell Hood and the Federal forces of General George H. Thomas. Thomas attacked and nearly destroyed Hood's army, winning one of the biggest victories of the war.

On February 25, 1862, following the Battle of Fort Henry and the Battle of Fort Donelson, Nashville became the first Confederate state capital captured by Northern forces. For the rest of the war it was a major Union supply depot.

Despite a series of defeats in the closing days of November 1864, Bell Hood continued to drag his bloodied Army of Tennessee, approximately 30,000 strong, north towards Nashville. The city was protected by 55,000 Union soldiers, which should have precluded further offensive operations, but Bell Hood was determined and his situation was dire. He reached Nashville on December 2nd and staked out a position south of the city, hoping to draw the Union forces into a costly attack. Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln urged Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas to attack but he delayed for nearly two weeks, citing freezing weather and limited cavalry support.

A native of Virginia and an officer in the U.S. Army before the war, Thomas had chosen to fight for the Union. He had a reputation as an unflappable commander, who had seen action at Mill Springs, Perryville and Stones River before winning accolades for his stand at the Battle of Chickamauga, which prevented the Confederates from pursuing the rest of the fleeing Union army. Two months later, at the Battle of Chattanooga, it was the men of Thomas' command who routed the besieging Confederates from Missionary Ridge.

Thomas pulled in troops from garrison duties, defending railroads, bridges and supply depots farther north, to supplement his command. Many of these were members of the United States Colored Troops.

On December 15, Thomas finally moved forward. The Union plan called for a demonstration on the Confederate right while the main assault struck a cluster of earthen redoubts on the Confederate left.

Howard Pyle

This was early in the morning when Thomas sent a force under General James Steedman (1817-83) against the Confederates’ right flank. The Union troops overran the Confederate trenches and drove the rebels back more than a mile. The short December day halted the fighting, but Thomas struck again on December 16. This time, the entire Confederate line gave way and sent Hood’s men from the field in a total rout. Only the valiant rear-guard action of General Stephen Lee (1833-1908) prevented complete destruction of the Confederate army.

The diversionary attack broke against artillery posted along present-day Battery Lane. To the west, fierce close-range combat erupted as Thomas's men swept over the redoubts.

Closer tonight Hood and his damaged army retreated two miles further south to Mississippi, the Army of Tennessee no longer a viable offensive fighting force.

Thomas renewed the attack the next afternoon. After several hours of fighting, Brig. Gen. John McArthur broke through the Confederate left at Shy's Hill. Hood ordered a hasty retreat south, and only a skillful rearguard action allowed his army to escape. The Union victory at Nashville shattered Hood's Army of Tennessee and effectively ended the war in Tennessee. The Confederates suffered heavy casualties and much of the army's leadership structure was destroyed.  In January 1865, Hood resigned his command.

American Jewish Congress holds its 1st meeting

The American Jewish Congress (AJCongress ) is one of the central agencies in American Jewish community relations. The origins of the American Jewish Congress, founded on December 15, 1918, provide an important lesson in the dynamics of American Jewry. The AJCongress was established by a group that felt dissatisfaction with the American Jewish Committee.

This group, largely of East European origin, felt that the "aristocratic" German-Jewish leadership of the Committee was a self-appointed, self-perpetuating body with no mandate from American Jewry and that the AJC was paternalistic in its dealings with East Europeans.

The debate, largely between East European and German Jews and between Zionists and anti-Zionists, was primarily over the establishment of a Congress that would represent American Jewish interests at the peace conference following World War I. The result was an ad hoc "congress" that would act as an "umbrella" for Jewish groups and represent Jewish interests.

Institutionally, the American Jewish Congress was an outgrowth of the first American Jewish Congress, which assembled in Philadelphia in December 1918. A written agreement entered into by a number of organizations stipulated that the Congress was to dissolve as soon as it fulfilled its task of formulating a postwar program of the Jewish people, named a delegation to the Peace Conference in Versailles, and received its report. This agreement was implemented at the second and last session of the Congress in Philadelphia in 1920. However, some delegates from religious, Zionist, and fraternal organizations, and from Landsmannschaften, reassembled the next day under the chairmanship of Stephen S. Wise and laid the foundation for the present American Jewish Congress, which was fully organized in 1928.

The initial constituency of the American Jewish Congress was mainly Zionist, other voices coming into the body following the 1928 reorganization. In sum, while the American Jewish Committee and other organizations wanted the Congress to go out of business -- and indeed it did formally dissolve itself in 1920 -- the pressure for a permanent representative organization resulted in the formation of the present Congress, which came into being in 1922, originally as a council of agencies. (The AJ Congress evolved into a membership organization in the 1930s.)

The American Jewish Congress began with two goals, which together molded the agency's subsequent ideology: providing humanitarian relief for European Jews in the aftermath of World War I and restoring a political Jewish presence in Palestine. The American Jewish Congress is the only community-relations agency that has been pro-Zionist throughout its history, and, on a number of issues (for example, a boycott of German goods in the 1930s), was arguably more representative of the views of the grassroots of American Jewry than the other "defense" and community-relations agencies.

The early AJ Congress leaders, Louis Brandeis, and Stephen S. Wise believed that only a democratic structure would make possible maximum participation in Jewish affairs by Jews, and not just by German Jews. Moreover, they fervently rejected the belief that Jews should not organize along ethnocentric lines, that Jews ought not to restrict their lobbying efforts to "behind the scenes," and that Jews ought not to engage in vigorous advocacy.

In the early 1930s, the AJCongress emerged as a leading force in the anti-Nazi movement and in efforts to aid the victims of Hitlerism. It sought to arouse American public opinion and to combat antisemitic manifestations in America. With the Jewish Labor Committee, the AJCongress organized the Joint Boycott Council directed against German goods and services. The AJCongress was a founder of the short-lived General Jewish Council and of the National Community Relations Advisory Council.

By the mid-1930s the AJCongress led in the formation of the World Jewish Congress, and shortly thereafter changed itself from a body representing organized groups into one based on individual membership. National Jewish organizations found that group affiliation alongside individual membership was untenable, and withdrew in order to form the American Section of the World Jewish Congress, of which the American Jewish Congress is also an affiliate.

In 1945 the AJCongress embarked on a program based on proposals submitted by Alexander H. Pekelis, in which the character of the agency was matured. Proceeding from the premise that the well-being of Jews depended on a liberal political and social climate, the AJCongress became increasingly involved in the promotion of social legislation and in activities designed to strengthen American democracy, eliminate racial and religious bigotry, and advance civil liberties. The AJCongress created its Commission on Law and Social Action (CLSA, a merger of two commissions, on discrimination and law and legislation) to implement this premise. The CLSA was created for the purpose of engaging the direct-action strategies that would encompass legislative and judicial measures to redress constitutional grievances of American Jews.

The underpinnings of CLSA advocacy were that the AJCongress ought not to limit its work to attacking governmental infringements on the rights of Jews, but should fight discriminatory practices by large, private organizations, such as universities and corporations, and in doing so enter into a coalition with like-minded groups such as the NAACP and the ACLU. Moreover, the direct-action method -- law and litigation -- would concentrate on fighting legal discrimination, and not prejudicial attitudes.

CLSA activity over the years has led to the AJCongress having viewed itself as being the “lawyer” for the American Jewish community; indeed, it took a pioneering stance and leading role in Jewish community involvement in landmark Supreme Court cases on First Amendment (especially church-state separation) and civil rights issues. Major advocates such as Alexander Pekelis, David Petegorsky, and Will Maslow, and above all Leo Pfeffer, put their stamp on the AJCongress's agenda, and, beyond the agency, on American Jewish communal activities in the First Amendment and civil rights arenas.

The AJCongress is a membership organization with approximately 40,000 members; in 2005 it operated out of 15 chapters, with offices in Jerusalem and Paris, and a presence in Moscow and Brussels. Its 2005 budget was $6.5 million, raised from membership dues, independent campaigns, allocations from Jewish federations, and other sources. The small budget – relative to its sister defense agencies, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee – is deceptive. While many predicted the demise of the AJCongress during the 1990s – particularly after merger talks with the AJC broke down – and while it is clearly in the "second tier" of defense agencies, the AJCongress in the first decade of the 21st century is hardly moribund. The core of its operation, CLSA, is active, and the AJCongress has added an Office of Jewish Life. The AJCongress holds national conventions annually and is administered by a Governing Council. The publications Congress Monthly and the scholarly Judaism, which for many years was one of the premier intellectual journals in American Jewish life, are produced under American Jewish Congress auspices.

Christine Jorgenson becomes the first known American to undergo a sex-change operation

A great breakthrough in American society was an event that shocked many and was the impetus for the new and unknown. News of a pioneering sex change operation, one of the first involving both surgery and hormone therapy, was announced in 1952 -- exactly 66 years ago this day.

George Jorgensen, a quiet New Yorker, shocked the nation by returning from a trip to Denmark transformed into the glamorous Christine.

As the slender, blonde 27-year-old woman wrapped in a fur coat stepped out of the plane onto the tarmac in New York, her long eyelashes, high cheekbones, and full red lips betrayed little of the shy man she had once been.

Tom Gallagher

Jorgensen grew up in the Bronx, a happy child in a large close-knit family.

While a teenager, he became convinced he was trapped in the wrong body.

"In photographs from the time Jorgensen looks like a very gay man, which would have been a problem," says Teit Ritzau, a Danish doctor and documentary maker who got to know Christine Jorgensen when he made a film about her in the 1980s.

"The young Jorgensen never identified himself with homosexuality but rather as a woman who happened to be in a man's body," he says.

In her autobiography Jorgensen says that, while she was still living as George, despite being attracted to men she felt physically sick when a man propositioned her.

But in the late 1940s, during a short stint in the US military, Jorgensen came across an article about a Danish doctor, Christian Hamburger, who was experimenting with gender therapy by testing hormones on animals. She began to hope Hamburger would provide the solution to her problem.

Hamburger was the first physician to diagnose Jorgensen as transsexual.

The first step towards becoming a woman was a long course of female hormones. Hamburger encouraged Jorgensen, for the first time, to take on a female identity and begin dressing as a woman in public.

As the hormones began to take effect, Hamburger noted the changes in his patient.

"The first sign was an increase in size of the mammary glands and then hair began to grow where the patient had a bald patch on the temple," he later said. "Finally the whole body changed from a male to a female shape."

As a result, Sturup successfully petitioned the Danish government to change the law to allow castration for the purposes of the operation.

Finally, after more than a year of hormone therapy, Jorgensen went under the knife for the first of a series of operations that would attempt to change her genital organs from male to female.

Before that, the first attempt at a modern sex change operation most likely took place in Berlin in the 1930s on a patient known as Lili Elbe.

The surgery failed and Elbe died as a result of the last of her operations, but the medical notes from the experiment served as a starting point for the Danish team.

Today sexual reassignment surgery involves making an incision in the scrotum and pulling nerve endings from the penis inside the body to design a vagina but this form of penile-inversion surgery was not invented until several years after Jorgensen's operation.

Birthdays on this day: Where the history of the Statue of Liberty began

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel was a civil engineer responsible for the tower that bears his name and which became the iconic symbol of Paris – and, indeed, France itself. But he also played an important role in building the equally iconic symbol of the United States -- the Statue of Liberty.

The French Eiffel Tower was built as the main exhibit of the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World's Fair), held to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. Eiffel designed and oversaw construction of the project, which was completed on March 31, 1889.

The tower remained the world’s tallest man-made structure for 41 years until the completion of the Chrysler Building in New York in 1930. The original plan was that it would be dismantled after 20 years but it was saved because of its use as a wireless telegraph transmitter.

Early in his career, Eiffel had built also a number of bridges for the French railway network and had developed a reputation as a man who knew a thing or two about wind resistance. Just the man to tackle the problems posed by a giant statue designed to stand in New York Harbor.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Eiffel. It was dedicated in 1886.

To make the edifice stable, Eiffel came up with a four-legged pylon structure which would support the copper sheeting that made up the body of the statue. The entire structure was assembled at his works in Paris, then dismantled and shipped to the United States in crates.

But he will probably be best remembered for the Eiffel Tower -- a structure that was lucky to survive the Second World War. In August 1944, Allied troops were advancing towards Paris and it became obvious that the Germans would soon be driven out.

A furious Hitler sent orders to General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, to turn the city into rubble -- including the Eiffel Tower. Thankfully, Choltitz did not carry out the command.

The much-loved tower is 324 meters tall (including antennas) and weighs 11,133 tons.

The French car manufacturer Citroen treated it as a giant billboard between 1925 and 1934 using a quarter of a million light bulbs to emblazon their name on the structure. The Guinness Book of World Records recorded it as the world’s biggest advertisement.

Author: USA Really