United States History



13 ColoniesEach group of colonies had its unique aspects in many areas, from architecture to economics. They all had a common goal: to govern themselves and to have a say in how they were represented.
AbolitionistsPeople who were part of the movement (sometimes violent) to eradicate slavery. Prominent abolitionists included William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, Horace Greeley, and John Brown.
John AdamsSecond president of the United States, serving one term. He was also vice-president for two terms under George Washington. Adams was a leader of the American Revolution (along with his cousin Samuel) and of the new Federalist Party, along with Alexander Hamilton. His politics brought him into conflict with his vice-president, Thomas Jefferson, who was a leader of the new Democratic-Republican Party. Adams's presidency was filled with foreign difficulties, including the XYZ Affair, which almost led to war with France. His son, John Quincy Adams, also served as president.
John Quincy AdamsSixth president, elected in 1824 by the House of Representatives after no candidate received a majority of Electoral votes. Was selected after another candidate, Henry Clay, agreed to give his support to Adams. Clay then served as Adams's Secretary of State. Adams had been foreign representative to many European countries, then served as Secretary of State under President James Monroe. Adams arranged for the transfer of Florida from Spain to the U.S., and he was instrumental in the forming of the Monroe Doctrine.
Samuel AdamsSigner of the Declaration of Independence who was also a former governor of Massachusetts and a ringleader of the American Revolution, along with his cousin, John. When trouble was to be made, Samuel Adams was there. He was a constant opponent of British oppression, and he was an instigator in many protests, including the Boston Tea Party.
AlamoSan Antonio-area fort hat was overrun by Mexican forces on March 6, 1836. The Mexican army under General Santa Anna killed every one of the 189 American defenders, including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. The defeat at the Alamo became a rallying cry for Americans when the Mexican War began a decade later.
Alien and Sedition ActsFour laws of Congress that restricted the rights of groups of people. The Naturalization Act increased from 5 to 14 the number of years a non-American had to be living in America before he or she could become an American citizen. The Alien Act allowed the President to force non-Americans he thought dangerous to leave the country. The Alien Deportation Act allowed for the arrest and deportation of any non-American during wartime. The Sedition Act made it a crime to do "any false, scandalous and malicious writing." This resulted in the jailing of 25 newspaper editors, most of them Democratic-Republicans. This was during the presidency of John Adams, a Federalist. The response to these acts was marked. Kentucky and Virginia passed resolutions opposing these acts.
American RevolutionThe securing of independence from Great Britain by the people of the 13 Colonies. Calling themselves the United States of America, these people wrote a Declaration of Independence, defied the authority of their mother country, and ended up winning a war to protect that independence. The Revolution certainly ended with the victory in the Revolutionary War; however, the Revolution began long before that, maybe even with the settlement in America (far away from England) of people who wanted to govern themselves and who wanted to have a direct say in the way they were governed.
American SystemIdea that the federal government should take an active role in promoting and protecting the national economy. Three of the main ways of doing this at that time were promoting a vast network of internal transportation (roads, railroads, and canals), a large protective tariff (a tax on goods imported from other countries), and a central currency and economic strategy run by the Bank of the United States, a federal bank. Henry Clay was a champion of the American System.
Jeffery AmherstLed the British victory at Louisbourg, which earned him the position of overall commander of British forces in North America. He captured Fort Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga and directed the capture of Montreal and the end of the war. It is said that one of his favorite tactics was to give disease-ridden blankets to prisoners of war.
Anaconda PlanU.S. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott's plan to defeat the Confederacy: blockade the southern and eastern coasts, seize control of the Mississippi River so as to break the Confederacy in two, and then strike from all sides at once. When Scott and President Abraham Lincoln released the details of this plan, journalists and others scoffed at its lengthy development time. However, events of the Civil War proved Scott's plan sound.
Robert AndersonUnion Commander of Fort Sumter, who surrendered the fort to Confederate troops under General Pierre G.T. Beauregard on April 12, 1861.
Susan B. AnthonyLeader of the movement to grant American women the right to vote, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Anthony was instrumental in bringing together men and women for a national convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The result was a sort of "improved" Declaration of Independence, which included the phrase "all men and women are created equal." She also spoke out against slavery and worked for the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. Together with Mott, Stanton, and Stone, she helped form the American Equal Rights Association after the Civil War.
AntietamCreek that was the site of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War. More than 23,000 men lost their lives on Sept. 17. General George McClellan had moved to intercept a Southern advance into Maryland. After being shown a copy of General Lee's to his commanders, McClellan, who was north, moved to intercept. His move was not quick enough to catch Lee by himself, though. Stonewall Jackson, recently returned from a victory at Harpers Ferry, joined Lee for the savage battle outside the town of Sharpsburg. Tactically, the battle was a draw. But the result was a Southern retreat, which gave not only the appearance of a Union in command but the opportunity for Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
Appomattox Court HouseVirginia site of the surrender that ended the Civil War. Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865 at the home of Wilmer McLean.
Army of the PotomacMain eastern Union army, commanded by a series of commanders, including Irvin McDowell, George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, George Gordon Meade, and Ulysses S. Grant. Charged with protecting the nation's capitol, Washington, the Army of the Potomac was also tasked with shutting down the Confederate eastern army under Robert E. Lee.
Benedict ArnoldBrilliant general who won several battles against the British and then joined them. He won at Lake Champlain and helped Ethan Allen take Fort Ticonderoga. He played a major part in the American victory at Saratoga. Yet, he joined the British and tried to help them win the war. He had planned to deliver his own keys to West Point, site of the U.S. army, to Britain's Major John Andre. Andre was captured and hanged. Arnold escaped and actually commanded British troops later in the war. He died in Britain, unrecognized and alone.
Articles of ConfederationDocument detailing form of government taken after the Revolutionary War. The focus was on state governments, which had tremendous power. This form of government proved unequal to the task of governing the 13 Colonies, mainly because 9 of the 13 states had to agree to get anything done. The result was the Constitutional Convention.
AtlantaMajor industrial center of the South burned by William T. Sherman, who then began his "March to the Sea," carving a 60-mile-wide path of destruction on his way to Savannah.
Stephen F. AustinCalled the "Father of Texas" because he brought more than 1,200 families to Texas before it was an American state. He later urged these people to revolt against Mexican rule and served as secretary of state of the Republic of Texas.
Battle of BaltimoreHistoric American victory that produced America's national anthem. On September 12, 1814, British troops landed near Baltimore, fresh from their victory at Washington and the burning of the White House and other government buildings. Baltimore was better prepared than Washington had been, and the British bombardment of American positions, including Fort McHenry, did not result in an American surrender. Convinced that they didn't have the troops to take Baltimore, the British retreated. It was the last official battle of the war.
Bank of the United StatesName of the first and second federal banks in American history. The brainchild of Alexander Hamilton, the Bank of the U.S. was set up to handle the monetary affairs of the federal government.
Barbary PiratesGroup of fighters who attacked American ships along the Barbary Coast of northern Africa at in the first few years of the 19th Century. They were members of a handful of African states who at first signed treaties with the United States in which they promised to stop attacking American ships. However, they broke those treaties. The U.S. fought back with force. Both the Navy and the Marines won big victories, including one at Tripoli in 1805.
Baron von SteubenPrussian soldier who knew a great deal about warfare and soldier training. He helped drill the American troops at Valley Forge during the terrible winter there. His two assistants in this matter were Alexander Hamilton, General George Washington's personal aide, and General Nathanael Greene. The soldiers emerged better trained and more capable of acting as an army, not just a collection of militiamen. In addition to instructing the soldiers in fighting, von Steuben also taught them better camp sanitation.
Clara BartonNurse who carried supplies to soldiers and also nursed injured soldiers during the Civil War. In 1864, she was appointed superintendent of nurses for the Army of the James. She is best known for establishing the American branch of the Red Cross, in 1881.
Pierre BeauregardConfederate General and Mexican War who began the war by seizing Fort Sumter, won the First Battle of Bull Run, lost to Grant at Shihoh, directed the successful defense of Petersburg for 10 months, and ended up with Joseph Johnston's army in the Carolinas, where it surrendered.
Henry Ward Beecherpreacher who made a name also as a leader of the abolitionist movement. He advocated violence as a means to achieve abolition. In this respect, guns wielded by abolitionists were sometimes called "Beecher's Bibles." His daughter, Harriet Beecher, became famous for writing Uncle Tom's Cabin.
John BellLong-time political leader from Tennessee. He served in the House from 1827 to 1841, including being Speaker in 1834-1835. He was picked as Secretary of War by William Henry Harrison and survived as successor John Tyler's Secretary of War for a few months. Bell then served in the Senate from 1847 to 1859. A lifelong Democrat, he switched to the Whig Party in 1835. He was the 1860 presidential candidate of the Constitutional Union Party, which existed for a short time in the 1860s. Bell finished a distant last in the popular vote but earned more electoral votes than Stephen A. Douglas.
Bill of RightsThe first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Daniel BooneExplorer known for his trailblazing through what was then the American West. He went with British General Edward Braddock to Fort Duquesne in 1755. He helped make the Wilderness Road, a major road through the Kentucky territory, and named several towns after himself: Boonesborough. He later served in the Kentucky Legislature.
John Wilkes BoothSouthern sympathizer who killed Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865 as the president and Mrs. Lincoln sat watching a production of the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Wilkes was tracked down and killed a few days later. His act was part of a larger plot, but no other officials were killed.
Boston MassacreShooting of five American colonists by British troops on March 5, 1770. One person, an African-American man named Crispus Attacks, was killed. Nearly every part of the story is disputed by both sides. Did the colonists have weapons? The British say rocks and other such weapons were hurled at them. But the British had guns, and they did open fire. The Boston Massacre deepened American distrust of the British military presence in the colonies.
Boston Post RoadMail route that ran from Boston to New York. The original Boston Post Road, later called the Upper Road, went into use in 1673. Two other mail routes were known as the Middle and Lower roads. You can see remnants of the Lower Road in the path of the modern Highway 1.
Boston Tea PartyAngry and frustrated at a new tax on tea, American colonists calling themselves the Sons of Liberty and disguised as Mohawk Native Americans boarded three British ships (the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver) and dumped 342 whole crates of British tea into Boston harbor on December 16, 1773. Similar incidents occurred in Maryland, New York, and New Jersey in the next few months, and tea was eventually boycotted throughout the colonies.
Jim BowieKentucky adventurer who made a name for himself and his "Bowie knives." He was known as a rough-and-tumble guy, but he also was friendly to Native Americans. He believed passionately in the independence of Texas and fought for it hard. He was at the Alamo on the day all the Americans died, sick in his bed with pneumonia.
Edward BraddockBritish general who lost an intense battle at Fort Duquesne. He was the British commander in America for a time, and one of his officers was a young George Washington. Braddock ordered a march through the wilderness to a heavily fortified Fort Duquesne. He paid for it with his life. Out of the 1,400 British soldiers who were in involved in the battle, 900 of them died. One of them was Braddock. Washington organized the retreat to Fort Necessity, where the British awaited the inevitable French follow-up.
William BradfordOne of the original leaders of the Plymouth Colony, founded by the Pilgrims in New England in 1620. He was elected governor of the colony in 1621 and re-elected 30 times. He coined the term "Pilgrims."
Mathew Bradyphotographer whose more than 3,500 photographs of the Civil War brought the war to the homefront.
BrandywineBattle fought on September 11, 1777, when American troops under General George Washington tried to stop British troops under Generals William Howe and Charles Cornwallis from reaching Philadelphia, the temporary American capital. Howe's 18,000 British troops were more than enough for the 11,000 Americans, who backtracked to Chester, leaving Philadelphia dangerously exposed. The British occupied the capital and then pressed on to Germantown.
Braxton BraggConfederate general who did battle famously with Union General William S. Rosencrans several times throughout Tennessee. He started out as a corps commander in the Army of Mississippi at the Battle of Shiloh. As Commander of the Army of Tennessee, Bragg invaded Kentucky early in the war but to Tennessee when the promised secessionist uprising did not materialize. He also had several skirmishes with Union Major Gen. Don Carlos Buell. Bragg was victorious at the Battles of Murfreesboro and Chickamauga but met his ultimate defeat at the Battle of Chattanooga and retreated into Georgia. He was taken out of the field by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and made chief military adviser in early 1864, serving in that post until the end of the war.
John C. BreckinridgeVice-President of the United States under James Buchanan, he ran for president as a Southern Democrat in 1860, finishing third in the popular vote but second in the electoral vote. He was a corps commander in the Army of Mississippi at the Battle of Shiloh and served under Braxton Bragg at Murfreesboro and Chickamauga and then Robert E. Lee at Cold Harbor. He served as Confederate Secretary of War from February, 1864 until the end of the Civil War.
Isaac BrockCanadian (and British) general who gained everlasting fame by capturing the American Fort Detroit without having to fire a shot and even though he was outnumbered 2-to-1. He had trained his troops for battle and made them into a great fighting force. They showed it at their next important battle, at Queenston Heights, near Niagara. Brock took a personal interest in his troops' welfare, and the led them on a charge to take an important hill in this battle. They took the hill but lost their general.
Battle of BrooklynFirst real battle between British and American forces, in August 1776. Also called the Battle of Long Island. Redcoats under Generals William Howe and Charles Cornwallis advanced on New York and tried to trap the Americans in Brooklyn. General George Washington responded by holding his ground until nightfall and then retreating under cover of darkness. The troop movements for this battle actually occurred over a number of days. It was the first British victory and the first of many legendary Washingtonian escapes.
John BrownViolent abolitionist who wanted to free the slaves at all costs. He took matters in his own hands by leading a band of determined patriots on a mission to seize the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. They wanted to distribute the weapons there to slaves and anyone else who wanted to rise up against slavery. On Oct. 16, 1859, they succeeded in taking over an engine house. But the U.S. Army, led by Col. Robert E. Lee, subdued the short-lived rebellion. Brown spoke in his own defense, and Henry David Thoreau issued a plea in Brown's defense; but Brown was convicted and hanged for treason.
James Buchanan15th president. He was president when Southern states began seceding from the Union. The only president never to marry, Buchanan began his political career in the House of Representatives, representing Pennsylvania. He also served as Minister to Russia and Great Britain. He was James K. Polk's Secretary of State. As president, he failed to keep the spirit of compromise and peace that filled the decade since the Compromise of 1850. the Supreme Court delivered the Dred Scott Decision during Buchanan's presidency. His own Democratic Party couldn't agree on slavery or much else and split into two factions, each of which nominated its own candidate. (Neither of these was Buchanan!) This split of the Democratic vote ensured the election of the Republican Party candidate, Abraham Lincoln. Just weeks after the election, with Buchanan a lame duck, Southern states began to secede.
Battle of Buena VistaFebruary 1847 battle between American and Mexican forces. Despite being outnumbered 14,000-to-5,000, the Americans, under Zachary Taylor, emerged victorious.
Don Carlos BuellMexican War veteran and Union general who organized troops around Washington, D.C., when the war broke out and did battle famously with Confederate General William Braxton Bragg. Originally serving with General Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh, Buell was given command of a force that eventually retreated from Tennessee. When his forces and Bragg's met up again at the Battle of Perryville, in Kentucky, Buell turned the tables and forced Bragg to retreat. However, Buell didn't keep the initiative; for this, he was relieved of his command.
Bull RunTwo battles actually, both fought near Manassas Creek and both won by the South. The first was the first engagement of the war, on July 21, 1861, and sent the Union army packing. The second, following hard on the heels of the unsuccessful Peninsular Campaign, was a year later, on Aug. 29-30, 1862, and gave the South almost all of Virginia back.
Battle of Bunker HillTwo-day engagement between British forces under the command of General William Howe and American forces under Colonel William Prescott. The Americans had occupied Breed's Hill in Charlestown on June 16, 1775, in order to protect the shipyard of nearby Boston. The next day, the British attacked. They took the hill but suffered heavy losses. The Americans fired until they were out of ammunition, then quickly retreated. To conserve ammunition, Prescott told his men, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes." Even though the battle was fought on Breed's Hill, it has been remembered as the Battle of Bunker Hill.
John BufordUnion major general who was cavalry commander for the Army of the Potomac at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg.
John BurgoyneBritish general who met with great success early in the war but met his end at Saratoga. He was at the Battle of Bunker Hill and helped capture Fort Ticonderoga. He had plans for an invasion of New York and got as far as Saratoga, where he was stopped and forced to surrender to American General Horatio Gates, partly because Burgoyne's support, in the person of General William Howe, had marched toward Philadelphia instead. Burgoyne left the army and returned home a disgrace.
Ambrose BurnsideMajor general who led the Union to the disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg. He was a brigade commander at Bull Run and a corps commander at Antietam, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.
Aaron BurrNew York Senator and Vice President whose career always seemed to be entwined with that of Alexander Hamilton, the leader of the Federalist Party. Burr served one term in the Senate, then ran for president, in 1800. He received 73 Electoral votes, the same number as Jefferson. In the House of Representatives, Hamilton spoke out so vehemently against Burr that the House elected Jefferson and Burr became vice president. He was later part of a plot to lead the New England states into secession. Hamilton exposed the plot, and Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. Burr killed Hamilton on July 11, 1804. He was indicted for murder but never tried. He escaped and later tried to form a new republic in the Southwest; for this, he was tried for treason but found not guilty. He later went back to practicing law.
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