- The British surrender to George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown, (1781) – The Battle of Yorktown effectively concluded the American colonies’ struggle for independence. Lord Charles Cornwallis’ English army was defeated by a combined force of the colonists and the French, who were led by George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau. After feinting an attack on Henry Clinton in New York, the Americans began assaulting Cornwallis’ redoubts at Yorktown. They secured victory after capturing these redoubts and laying siege on the British positions until Cornwallis surrendered. Peace talks commenced at Moore House and eventually led to the end of the Revolutionary War with the Treaty of Paris.
- Robert E Lee surrenders to Ulysses S Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, ending the American Civil War (1865) – The American Civil War was fought between the pro-slavery southern Confederacy and the abolitionist northern Union. Led by Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy was formed by southern states that had seceded from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln, who led the Union. The Civil War began in the east with Fort Sumter, the First Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Chancellorsville. In the west, the Battle of Shiloh and New Orleans secured a Union advance into the South. Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg were turning points of the conflict, while General William Sherman secured Atlanta and Savannah on his March to the Sea. Confederate forces surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. Other important figures during the war include Stonewall Jackson, P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Ulysses Grant, and Robert E. Lee.
- Abraham Lincoln is assassinated (1865) – Abraham Lincoln, an antislavery lawyer, legislator, and politician, led the United States through the American Civil War. He taught himself law, fought briefly in the Black Hawk War, ran for office with the Republican Party, and defeated Stephen A. Douglas in the election of 1860. After winning the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War, Lincoln delivered his Emancipation Proclamation and freed all slaves in rebel states; after another victory in Pennsylvania, Lincoln made his famous Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in April, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate supporter. He never lived to implement his vision of Reconstruction and see the 13th Amendment passed.
- Franklin D Roosevelt passes away and Harry S Truman becomes president (1945) – Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd American president and the only president elected to office four times. He led the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. Though crippled by polio, Roosevelt w on a landslide election victory to succeed Herbert Hoover as president in 1932, promising recovery from the Great Depression. During the first Hundred Days of his term, he declared a bank holiday, began holding “fireside chats” over the radio, and initiated the New Deal, a series of radical fiscal and government reforms. The New Deal implemented the Agricultural Adjustment Act, National Industrial Recovery Act, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, among other initiatives. Roosevelt brought the United States into World War II after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, negotiated as part of the “Big Three” world leaders at the Tehran and Yalta Conferences, and set the stage for the founding of the United Nations. He died in 1945 at the beginning of his fourth term.
- Cuban Missile Crisis is caused by American missile deployment in Italy and Turkey and Soviet missile deployment in Cuba (1962) – A face-off between the Soviet Union and the United States, the Cuban Missile Crisis was a narrowly-averted nuclear war. American tension with Cuba and its Soviet supporter began with the failed Operation Mongoose and Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. By 1962, the US had discovered Soviet missile installations in Cuba with its U-2 spy planes; President Kennedy imposed a naval “quarantine” on Cuba and began negotiations with Nikita Khrushchev. The Cuban Missile Crisis was defused by an agreement for Soviet nuclear withdrawal from Cuba and American nuclear withdrawal from Turkey.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I have a dream” speech (1963) – Martin Luther King, Jr. led the American civil rights movement from 1955 until his 1968 assassination. He studied sociology, became a Baptist minister, and began his involvement in the civil rights movement with the Montgomery bus boycott. The boycotts ended in success a year later, and King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to organize protests. King adhered to an ideology of nonviolence throughout his activism, but was arrested by Eugene “Bull” Connor’s Birmingham, Alabama police in 1963. While in prison there, he wrote the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, which helped push forward the Civil Rights Act of 1964. King later organized the March on Washington, where he delivered his “I have a dream” speech, and led the Poor People’s Campaign. He was killed by James Earl Ray in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
- Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin land on the Moon (1969) – The Apollo 11 mission, which carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, marked the first human Moon landing. The astronauts launched from Cape Canaveral (then Cape Kennedy) on the Saturn V, which carried the Eagle lunar module and the Columbia spacecraft. Apollo 11 landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, where Neil Armstrong gave his famous “One giant leap for mankind” address. The mission was motivated both by science and the political Space Race; the Soviets had sent the Sputnik to orbit in 1957 and Yuri Gagarin around Earth in 1961.