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History's Happenings for October 19

Victory At Yorktown -- British Surrender!
1781

Lord Charles Cornwallis

The victory that, militarily at least, marked the successful end of the American Revolution was achieved in Yorktown, VA on October 19, 1781 when troops under General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette forced the surrender of the British army of the south under Lord Charles Cornwallis.

After their embarrassing defeat at Saratoga, and the loss of an entire army under Burgoyne, the British turned their attention to the American south where they hoped to find more support from Loyalists than in the rebel north.

The Americans, meanwhile, had gained the alliance of France, which encouraged the Patriots to continue the fight for full independence by relinquishing French claims to Mississippi Valley and Canadian territories that the Continental Congress also claimed for the United States. Congress, in turn, supported France's claims in the West Indies. That this placed France at odds with her traditional enemy Britain only further helped the cause.

By the middle of 1778, American fortunes looked very different than just a year before. Although the British still firmly held defensive centers in the north at New York and Newport, RI, their offensive efforts there were minimal. The Americans, on the other hand had gained new confidence not only in their ability to win significant battles, but in the possibility of actually winning the War and their independence.

However, it was still far from over.

At the end of 1778 the British took first Savannah, then Augusta, GA. American attempts to dislodge them failed and, by the end of the following year, they and their Loyalist supporters were in firm control of Georgia and looking towards South Carolina. In May, 1780 they took Charleston. Later that summer at the Battle of Camden, the victor of Saratoga, General Horatio Gates, was soundly defeated by the new British commander in the south, Lord Charles Cornwallis. Supported by Loyalists, the British now held South Carolina as well and felt well positioned in their new strategy to defeat the rebellion.

But that's where it all began to crumble. The British Army had stretched itself out to the breaking point, and was not receiving sufficient reinforcements or supply from the north or from home, the British populace having grown tired of the war and its accompanying taxes. Other commitments brought on by the new American alliance with France and the depredations of Patriot guerrilla forces only exacerbated the demands on troops and logistics.

Though still able to win battles in the south, the British were unable to consolidate the victories or to hold territory, and were gradually confined to Charleston and Savannah. Cornwallis, meanwhile, had moved his main army north to Yorktown, VA, there to consolidate a base of operations from which to open a new campaign in the south. At this point the new American military alliance with France came to play a crucial role.

A French army of about 5,000 had landed near Newport, RI and, dislodging the British from their stronghold there, went on to threaten New York. Combining these forces with his own, General Washington felt strong enough to move down into Virgina and confront Cornwallis before he could fully consolidate his position and achieve resupply by sea.

Meanwhile a strong French naval force moved into position in Chesapeake Bay to prevent just such resupply. As Washington quietly moved into place, he was joined by French troops from the fleet, and by a smaller American force under the Marquis de Lafayette.

Outnumbered now by a surrounding Allied army of over 16,000, Cornwallis read the handwriting on the wall and surrendered. The capitulation was accepted honorably by Washington and his fellow generals.

The victory at Yorktown did not immediately end all fighting -- skirmishes continued into 1783, especially at sea. However, with the loss of its second major army, the British Parliament and people decided they had had enough of war in the colonies and began negotiating for peace. After unsuccessful attempts to convince Congress to return to the embrace of British sovereignty under new rules, the British finally conceded the full independence of the United States of America, with appropriate territorial guarantees, in the Treaty of Paris, signed September 3, 1783.

Congress Issues Declaration of Rights
1765

Tax stamp required by the Stamp Act

In March, 1765, the British Parliament imposed a Stamp Act on the American colonies, designed to funnel money to the Crown by requiring the affixing of a stamp to every legal document.

Aside from the purely financial burden the Act placed on colonial commerce and other legal transactions, it also sent the signal that the colonists were not free to grow American commerce on its own terms, a fact hammered home by other restrictions on trade and industry.

In response to the Act, a hastily assembled Stamp Act Congress, with delegates from nine of the colonies, met and drew up a Declaration of Rights decrying "taxation without representation".

The Stamp Act was repealed five months later.

Napoleon Begins Long Retreat From Moscow
1812

French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte

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Allies Enter Pyongyang
1950

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U.S. Embargoes Cuba
1960

Fidel Castro

When Fidel Castro came to power in January, 1959 after years of guerrilla struggle against the corrupt Batista regime, he came with a reputation as a democratic reformer. His revolution was universally acclaimed by the people, and he populated the new government with moderates. Castro himself played no formal part except as head of the army, though he continued to quietly set policy.

American investments in Cuba were huge -- for example, American businesses owned 75% of the island's arable land. As long as Batista had remained in control and the country was relatively peaceful, the United States had supported him. When it became clear in the late 50's that he was deaf to the increasing complaints of his people, the U.S. withdrew its support and awaited developments.

When moderates disillusioned with his policies began deserting the new government, Castro assumed the vacated position of Prime Minister. Still claiming to be a democrat, he proceeded to centralize Cuba's economy, set profit limits on business, divide up large landholdings and generally redistribute wealth. Though many of his social programs benefited the poor and uneducated, it started to dawn on the politically astute that the country was not headed back to democracy.

Its investments clearly at risk, the United States knew it had to do something. That something was to prod Castro back out of office.

The first and most palatable option was to restrict trade with the island. In a see-saw of retaliation, in mid-1960 Congress cut the Cuban sugar import quota after Cuba nationalized certain oil refineries belonging to American companies. Cuba in turn expropriated American-owned sugar plantations. In return, on October 19, the U.S. instituted its full trade embargo, stopping all shipments to the island except food and medicine. The escalating economic war led to the complete cutting of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. in January, 1961.

When the trade embargo failed to topple Castro, the CIA backed an invasion plan to be pulled off by trained Cuban exiles. The attempt on April 17, 1961 at the Bay of Pigs was a total flop, Castro having gained advance warning. He pushed the invasion off the island in 48 hours.

Following the invasion fiasco, Castro tore up the Cuban Constitution of 1940 and, in December, announced that he was, after all, a communist and would implement policies conforming to communist doctrine. By this point there may have been one or two hermits in the mountains of Nepal that hadn't suspected as much.

The trade embargo continues to this day, long after it has lost its significance. Its main effect over the nearly forty years of its existence has been to drive Cuba further into the arms of its main supplier -- the Soviet Union. That well went dry when the U.S.S.R. went belly-up, leaving Cuba with hat in hand, but Castro still firmly at the helm.

Stock Market Crashes!
1987

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