December 26: Richmond Theater Fire, the Beginning of the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, and Other Events of the Date
A number of important events have taken place on December 26 in U.S. history. Here is our take on the most interesting and valuable of them.
1811 – Richmond Theater Fire
Since many structures were still wooden at the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were frequent fires, no matter how hard both city administrations and firefighters tried to prevent them. Tragedies leaving entire cities burnt were not uncommon in America’s early years. Yet, what happened in Richmond, Virginia, the day after Christmas back in 1811 led to a huge conspiracy. Why?
The fire completely devastated the Richmond Theatre, located on the north side of Broad Street between what are now Twelfth and College Streets, killing 72 people, including many government officials. Among the victims were Virginia's sitting governor, George William Smith, and former senator Abraham B. Venable. The governor of Virginia died like a hero, as he had purportedly tried to save his child from the flames. Another well-known victim of the fire was Benjamin Botts, who had made a name for himself as a member of the defense in Aaron Burr's 1807 trial for treason.
Since so many notable persons were killed at the same time and place, the question of whether this was simply a fire caused by “natural reasons” or whether it was arson aimed at the annihilation of the Virginia political elite is still disputed. The truth behind this mysterious tragedy will probably never be known.
1862 – American Civil War: Vicksburg Campaign: the Beginning of the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou
This battle, also known as the Battle of Walnut Hills, was one of the key military engagements of 1862, and, probably, one of the most severe battles fought in Mississippi history.
The prominent Generals Sherman for the Union and Pemberton and Lee for the Confederacy led their armies into the battlefield, opening the Vicksburg Campaign, which was aimed at the destruction or defense (depending on which side you were on) of the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. The armies of Tennessee (Union) and Mississippi (Confederates) clashed. About 30,000 Union soldiers and just 13,000 Confederate soldiers took part in the battle of Chickasaw Bayou.
The battle, fought on the territory of present-day Warren County, Mississippi turned out to be a great success for the Confederates. On December 26, three Union divisions under Sherman disembarked at Johnson's Plantation on the Yazoo River to approach the Vicksburg defenses from the northeast while a fourth landed farther upstream on December 27. On December 27, the Federals pushed their lines forward through the swamps toward the Walnut Hills, which were strongly defended. On December 28, several futile attempts were made to get around these defenses, and on December 29, Sherman ordered a frontal assault that was repulsed with heavy casualties, and then withdrew. What a humiliating loss for the Union army!
Yet, the losses were quite high for both sides considering there were just three days of fighting, as the Union suffered 208 soldiers killed, 1,005 wounded, and 563 either captured or missing in action. The Confederates, in turn, suffered 63 soldiers killed, 134 wounded, and 10 missing.
1919 – The “Curse of the Bambino” is “established”
There is a simple rule that could be applied to a number of areas of life: One should probably never-ever do anything life-changing the next day after Christmas, especially if one was really drunk the previous day.
We’ll never know how drunk the bosses of the Boston Red Sox and the owner of the club Harry Frazee were when they decided to sell their star, the prominent baseball player Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, but after that the team didn’t manage to win the World Series for 86 years, till 2004! Red Sox fans called it “the curse of the Bambino,” referring to Babe Ruth’s nickname.
Just imagine! Before “the curse” was “established” the Red Sox were one of the most successful teams of the time, winning the World Series in 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1918. Those fans who were five years old in 1918, would turn 91 in 2004 when the Red Sox finally broke it! Of course, this was more of a joke than a real thing, but who knows what would have happened had Bambino stayed with the Red Sox back in 1919.
These are the most notable events in U.S. history that occurred on December 25th, at least in our view.