December 29-30: Texas Becomes a State, the Iroquois Theatre Fire, and Other Events of the Dates
A number of interesting events have taken place on December 29 and 30 in U.S. history. Here is our take on the most interesting and valuable of them.
December 29, 1778 – American Revolutionary War: Southern Theater: the Capture of Savannah
This event, which is also sometimes referred to as the First Battle of Savannah (because of a siege that happened the next year, in 1779), was an American Revolutionary War battle fought right at the end of 1778, pitting local American Patriot militia and Continental Army units, holding the city, against a British invasion force under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell.
The well-prepared British seizure of the city led to an extended occupation and was the key move in the British southern strategy to regain control of the rebellious Southern provinces by appealing to the relatively strong Loyalist sentiment there. Yes, not all Americans wanted their country to be independent: Some of them were pretty comfortable living under the Crown.
General Sir Henry Clinton, the commander-in-chief of the British forces based in New York City, dispatched Campbell and around 3,000 soldiers from New York to capture Savannah and begin the process of returning Georgia, a historical colony of the U.K., to British control. As it was planned, he was supposed to be assisted by troops under the command of Brigadier General Augustine Prevost that were marching up from Saint Augustine in East Florida.
After landing near Savannah on December 23, Campbell assessed the American defenses, which were comparatively weak, and decided to attack without waiting for Prevost. This battle, which occurred back on December 29, 1778 turned out to be a bitter defeat for the Americans, as they lost not only the town, but also 83 soldiers killed, 11 wounded, and up to 453 captured. At the same time, the Brits only suffered 7 soldiers killed and 17 wounded.
December 29, 1845 – Texas becomes a state
Next time you hear the U.S. blaming some other country for some kind of an annexation, remember this episode. The Republic of Texas declared independence from the Republic of Mexico on March 2, 1836, and the vast majority of the Texans population favored the annexation of the Republic by the United States.
However, with Texas's economic fortunes declining by the early 1840s, the President of the Texas Republic, Sam Houston, arranged talks with Mexico to explore the possibility of securing official recognition of independence, with the United Kingdom mediating (and the U.K. was really eager to help, which is pretty obvious): Thus there was a real possibility that Texas wouldn’t become another American state. Texans didn’t want the war against Mexico that was right at the doorstep. They wanted to live in peace.
Of course, there have been many intrigues both within the Texas elite and the federal government, and eventually those of the elites who saw Texas as a future American state defeated those who supported “the independence” movement. Long story short, on March 1, 1845, President Tyler signed the annexation bill and on March 3 (by a strange coincidence that was his last full day in office), he forwarded the House version to Texas, offering immediate annexation (which preempted Polk).
When President Polk took office the very next day, he encouraged Texas to accept Tyler’s offer. Texas ratified the agreement with popular approval from Texans (or, at least, with the support of their pro-American rulers). When the decision was made, the bill was immediately signed by President Polk on this date, December 29, 1845, accepting Texas as the 28th state of the Union.
December 30, 1903 - The Iroquois Theatre fire
A real disaster occurred in Chicago in late 1903 as the Iroquois Theatre burned to the ground. It was both the deadliest theater fire and the deadliest single-building fire in United States history. To this day, the exact number of victims is unknown: At least 602 people died as a result of the fire, but not all the deaths were reported, as some of the bodies were removed from the scene; thus, the death toll was probably higher.
At about 3:15 that fatal afternoon, shortly after the beginning of the second act of of the popular Drury Lane musical Mr. Blue Beard, the actors, eight men and eight women, were performing In the Pale Moonlight. That very moment the sparks from an arc light ignited a muslin curtain, probably from an electrical short circuit. A stagehand tried to douse the fire with the Kilfyre canisters provided, but it quickly spread to the fly gallery high above the stage.
The tragedy happened due to a combination of factors. For example, several thousand square feet of highly flammable painted canvas scenery flats were hung at the stage. The stage manager tried to lower the asbestos fire curtain, but it snagged. Early reports stated that it was stopped by the trolley-wire that carried one of the acrobats over the stage, but the later investigation showed that the curtain had been blocked by a light reflector which stuck out under the proscenium arch--another fatal coincidence. A chemist who later tested part of the curtain stated that it was mainly wood pulp mixed with asbestos, and would have been "of no value in a fire."
By this time, many of the patrons on all levels were attempting to quickly flee the theater. Some found the fire exits hidden behind draperies on the north side of the building but found that they couldn’t open the unfamiliar bascule locks. Bar owner Frank Houseman, a former baseball player with the Chicago Colts, defied an usher who refused to open a door. Unfortunately, most of the ordinary people who gathered there weren’t that lucky.
These are the most notable events in U.S. history that occurred on December 29 and 30, at least in our view.