Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America Chapter Summaries Chapter 1: “Massacre at Mystic”
May 26, 1637 was a fateful day in the history of America. The actions of Major John Mason and his Puritan men set a precedent for the next two hundred years of European and Indian relations. On that clear May night near the Mystic River of New England, hundreds of Pequot Indians were killed by the Europeans and their allies, most of the victims being the elderly, women, and children. This massacre was a massive turning point in the Pequot War, effectively ruining the tribe. Already weakened by disease and by competing native tribes, the Pequot were quickly routed and by September 21, 1638 the war ended with the Treaty of Hartford. The treaty revoked the legal status of the Pequot nation and the few surviving tribe members were sold into slavery. Pequot lands were seized by the Puritans who thought that their struggle was finally over. However, the Massacre at Mystic and the Pequot War set off a chain of events that changed the course of American history.
The death and destruction of this event set in motion the happenings that turned into King Philip’s War. King Philip’s War was the final fight for European domination of New England. Almost a third of the native population was wiped out by the intense fighting. The war showed that there would be no assimilation of Indian culture, but that it would instead be crushed and replaced. The Puritans massive show of force on the May night at Mystic led them to realize that they had ultimate power over the natives of New England. In their eyes, they were doing God’s work by civilizing the brutal savages that they thought the Native Americans were. The attitude of the Puritans made a heavy impact on the rest of the colonies, and eventually the United States. The Europeans made sure to heavily differentiate themselves from the native people. This can be easily seen in the concept of Manifest Destiny. As America pushed its frontier farther West, it had to push the native peoples too. President Jackson’s forced “Trail of Tears” and the full expansion of America to the Pacific was all rooted in the Massacre at Mystic. Just like the Puritans, the frontiersmen expanded through force and supremacy over the natives.
Chapter 2: Shays’ Rebellion
Everyone knows that the Constitution is one of the most important documents in American history, but many people have never heard of Daniel Shays. Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran turned farmer, lived in Western Massachusetts after the war. He had planned on retiring from his military life from which he had fought for the ideals of the revolution. However, he was drawn back into military life fighting against the very government he battled to create.
After the Revolutionary War, the Articles of Confederation were created to govern the new nation. The states were loosely tied together by a weak national government that had little applicable power. The states were left to individually find ways to pay for their war debts. Massachusetts did so by heavily taxing its people. The taxes were so heavy that in many cases people were paying more than they had paid under British rule. Daniel Shays, feeling outraged and betrayed, helped to organize the already present groups of fellow angry farmers into a rebel army. His army numbered close to 2,000 men. January 25, 1787 was to be the day that Shays would lead his men to attack the federal arsenal at Springfield. Due to communication difficulties, about 400 of Shays men were not present at the confrontation. Shays and his men were forced to retreat. Shays fled to Vermont and his rebellion was over.
Although it ended in defeat, Shays’ Rebellion had a major effect on the future of the country. It was a wake up call to the inefficiencies of the current governmental structure. Without Shays, there wouldn’t have been the strong call to replace the Articles of Confederation with a new constitution. Shays was a major talking point at the Constitutional Convention, tipping the scales in favor of the Federalists. Shays exposed the need for change. Also, without the pressure of Shays’ Rebellion George Washington may not have made an appearance at the convention. His appearance was important in garnering support for the reform as well as organizing the delagates.
Chapter 3: Gold Rush
John Sutter was a landowner in California. He ordered one of his workers, a carpenter named James Marshall, to start construction of a sawmill in May of 1847. Marshall searched for an appropriate site along the American River. A site was quickly found and construction quickly started. The morning of January 24, 1848 Marshall was inspecting one of the irrigation channels of the mill when he noticed something glittering in the water. He uncovered it and couldn’t believe what he had discovered. Marshall quickly brought the sample back to Sutter, who determined that it was in fact what they assumed it was: gold.
Sutter tried to keep the discovery a secret. However, soon people were flocking to his land in search of riches. People from all over California and the Northwest soon flocked to the area. The early miners figuratively and literally struck gold; some men made tens of thousands of dollars in months. This created a new kind of American Dream based upon getting rich quickly. The news spread to the East Coast slowly because there was no transcontinental railroad. Once the news arrived, miners began to arrive in California from everywhere in the world. The California Gold Rush drove one of the largest and fastest human migrations in history. It brought people to the United States by the hundreds of thousands. This event helped colonize the vast lands of the West. The Gold Rush also to funded and inspired the Transcontinental Railroad, an extremely important development for America.
A negative effect of the rush was that of environmental destruction. Also, the Gold Rush helped to draw the United States towards the Civil War. Due to the vast riches and new businesses of California a huge debate was spurred when California was being considered as a state about the presence of slavery. California voted as a state to outlaw slavery, but they were below the Mason-Dixon Line. This did not settle well with the Southern states. Lastly, the immigration to California caused by the Gold Rush has created diversity that lasts to this day in California. No other state is as culturally or ethnically varied.
Chapter 4: Antietam
September 17, 1862 was the bloodiest day in American military history. By the end of the battle of Antietam, 22,719 men were dead, wounded, or captured.
Of course this fact alone makes this battle extremely significant. However, there is more importance to be found. On that September morning in Maryland, the Confederate and Union forces collided with a violent crash. General Lee and his rebel forces were coming off of a series of satisfying victories. Lee’s risky offensive strategy was succeeding in demoralizing the North. He needed a resounding victory in order to garner international recognition and hopefully an alliance with Great Britain or France. Lincoln was facing increased pressure from opponents of the war as the next election approached to end the bloody conflict. Both men knew a lot was riding on the upcoming battle. So, the two sides met in a 30 acre cornfield near Antietam Creek. The result of the battle was desolation. Both armies were devastated.
There was no tactical winner, but the Union forces had won a strategic victory. By losing this battle, the Confederates lost their chance for a European alliance. President Lincoln decided that it was finally the time he had been waiting for to unveil his Emancipation Proclamation. The North had the momentum it needed for such a big announcement. This changed the nature of the war. It was no longer just about preserving the Union. It was about freeing the slaves of the South.
The Battle of Antietam was arguably the most pivotal battle of the Civil War. Had the Confederacy succeeded in the fight at Antietam, the war could have ended in a very different way. Lee’s army would have been able to continue marching into Maryland, possibly convincing its citizens to join the Confederacy. The British or French would probably have sided with the Confederacy after the embarrassing performance of the Union military. The South could have won the war and the world would be a very different place today.
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