- Historic Sites
101 More Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History
You Asked for It
December 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 8
Built in desperate haste to counter the Confederate ironclad Merrimac , the Monitor was the revolutionary creation of the engineer John Ericsson. Above a submerged hull, she mounted two big guns in a revolving turret. When she arrived in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March 1862, a Rebel officer said she was the “strangest looking craft we had ever seen…an immense shingle floating in the water with a gigantic cheese box rising from its center.” But she fought her foe to a standstill in a duel that marked the beginning of the end of wooden warships.
This 1896 battleship is best known for its epic fifteen-thousandmile voyage from its base on the Pacific coast around South America to the West Indies in order to be available in case of war with Spain over Cuba. The vessel accomplished its object and played a major role in the destruction of the Spanish fleet after the war had started. But the time the trip took, well over two months, was one of the reasons the United States undertook the construction of the Panama Canal.
This old fourI M. stacker destroyer fired the first American shots of World War II in September 1941. While en route to Iceland, the Greer received a message from a patrolling British plane that it had sighted a German submarine nearby. The Greer made sonar contact with the U-boat and began to trail it. After the British plane had dropped four depth charges in the area and the Greer continued to follow its maneuvers closely, the Uboat fired a torpedo at the destroyer. The Greer dropped a total of nineteen depth charges in an unsuccessful effort to sink the sub. In announcing the engagement, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Navy to attack German vessels in the North Atlantic on sight. “When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike,” he said, “you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him.” Roosevelt neglected to inform the public, however, that the Greer had been pursuing the submarine when it struck.
Speedy but frail, this patrol torpedo boat became famous because, at the time it was cut in two in the black of an August night in 1943 by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, it was commanded by Lt. (jg.) John F. Kennedy.
(ca. 1767–1822) was a slave who purchased his freedom after winning a lottery and organized an elaborate uprising among South Carolina slaves. However, the authorities got wind of the scheme, and Vesey and thirty-five other blacks were hanged, despite the fact that no actual uprising had taken place.
74 Sojourner Truth
(ca. 1797–1883) was a leading black abolitionist in the decades before the Civil War, unusual in that she campaigned for women’s rights as well as for the ending of slavery. At a women’s rights convention in 1851 she said: “The man over there says women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages or over puddles, or gives me the best place—and ain’t I a woman?…I have ploughed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me—and ain’t I a woman?”
(ca. 1817–95), a Baltimore slave, escaped to New York in 1838. He became an abolitionist, developed an extraordinary ability as a speaker, and published an abolitionist paper, the North Star. During the Civil War he helped raise black regiments and in later life continued to campaign for full equality for blacks and for women.
76 Marcus Garvey
(1887–1940), an ardent black nationalist, founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association. By the mid-1920s the association had nearly a million members and Garvey had created the Black Star steamship line and other all-black businesses. He hoped to establish an independent black nation in Africa the success of which would compel whites to accept blacks as equals. Eventually, however, his companies failed and he was convicted of fraud and deported to his native Jamaica.