This Day in History
January 17: The Battle of Cowpens, the Beginning of the Battle of Monte Cassino, and Other Events of the Date
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January 17: The Battle of Cowpens, the Beginning of the Battle of Monte Cassino, and Other Events of the Date


A number of important events have taken place on January 17 in U.S. history. Here is our take on the most interesting and valuable of them.

1781 – American Revolutionary War: the Battle of Cowpens

The Battle of Cowpens was a military engagement during the late stage of the American Revolutionary War which was fought on January 17, 1781 between American Colonial forces under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan and British forces under Lieutenant Colonel Sir Banastre Tarleton, and was a part of the campaign in the Carolinas (North and South). The battle marked a turning point in the so-called “American Reconquest” of South Carolina from the Brits, thus it was quite important.

Interestingly, Morgan's forces conducted a double envelopment of Tarleton's forces, which happened to be the only double envelopment of the war. Yet, the Brits were simply outnumbered by the Americans, so this was nothing especially sensational: Tarleton's force of 1,000 British in the King's Army were sent against 2,000 men under Morgan, which led to a humiliating British loss.

As a result of the battle, the Americans (Morgan's forces) suffered casualties of only about 20 soldiers killed and 69 wounded, while British troops under Tarleton’s command had at least 110 men killed, 229 wounded and more than 800 soldiers captured by their enemy. Cherokee county of South Carolina, where the battle was fought, saw the decisive American victory.

1929 – The First Appearance of Popeye the Sailor

The charismatic character beloved by several generations of kids all over the world celebrates his 90th birthday today. Popeye first appeared in the strip on January 17, 1929, but was a minor character. He was initially hired by Castor Oyl and Ham to crew a ship for a voyage to Dice Island, the location of a casino owned by the crooked gambler Fadewell: the image of an American gangster from the Roaring 1920’s.

Castor, in his turn, intended to break the bank at the casino using the unbeatable good luck conferred by stroking the hairs on the head of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. Weeks later, on the trip back, Popeye was shot several times by Jack Snork, a stooge of Fadewell's, but survived by rubbing Bernice's head. After the adventure, Popeye left the strip but, due to reader reaction, he was quickly brought back.

The Popeye character eventually became so popular that he was given a larger role, and the strip was taken up by many more newspapers as a result. Initial strips presented Olive Oyl as being less than impressed with Popeye, but she eventually left Ham Gravy to become Popeye's girlfriend and Ham Gravy left the strip as a regular. Over the years, however, she has often displayed a fickle attitude towards the sailor. Castor Oyl continued to come up with get-rich-quick schemes and enlisted Popeye in his misadventures. Eventually, he settled down as a detective and later on bought a ranch out West. Castor has seldom appeared in recent years.

1944 – The Second World War: Italian Campaign: the Beginning of the Battle of Monte Cassino

One of the most well-known and important Allied campaigns of WWII started on this date 75 years ago. The Battle of Monte Cassino (which is also known as the Battle for Rome and the Battle for Cassino) was actually more than just one single battle, as it was a costly series of four assaults by the Allies against the Winter Line in Italy held by Axis forces during the Italian Campaign. The main Allied intention was a breakthrough to Rome: the capital of the main European ally of Germany during the war, Italy.

At the beginning of 1944, the western half of the Winter Line was being anchored by Germans holding the Rapido-Gari, Liri and Garigliano valleys and some of the surrounding peaks and ridges. Together, these features formed the Gustav Line. Monte Cassino, a historic hilltop abbey founded in AD 529 by St. Benedict of Nursia, dominated the nearby town of Cassino and the entrances to the Liri and Rapido valleys. Lying in a protected historic zone, it had been left unoccupied by the Germans, although they manned some positions set into the steep slopes below the abbey's walls.

The battle lasted until May 18, 1944, ending not so long before D-Day. The Allies suffered heavy losses, as they lost no less than 55,000 soldiers killed, wounded and missing in action, while the Axis powers only lost about 20,000 soldiers in these terms. Yet, the main goal of the operation was achieved: the road to Rome (which was liberated June 4, 1944), was open.

These are the most notable events in the U.S. history that occurred on January 17, at least in our view.

Author: USA Really