Monday, November 17, 2008

Today in History

On this day in 1777, Congress submits the Articles of Confederation to the
states for ratification.

The Articles had been signed by Congress two days earlier, after 16 months
of debate. Bickering over land claims between Virginia and Maryland delayed
final ratification for almost four more years. Maryland became the last
state to approve the Articles on March 1, 1781, affirming them as the
outline of the official government of the United States. The nation was
guided by the document until the implementation of the current U.S.
Constitution in 1789.

The critical distinction between the Articles of Confederation and the U.S.
Constitution--the primacy of the states under the Articles--is best
understood by comparing the following lines.

The Articles of Confederation begin:
"To all to whom these Present shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of
the States…"

By contrast, the Constitution begins:
"We the People of the United States…do ordain and establish this
Constitution for the United States of America."
The predominance of the states under the Articles of Confederation is made
even more explicit by the claims of Article II:
"Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every
power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly

delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."

Less than five years after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation

enough leading Americans decided that the system was inadequate to the task
of governance that they peacefully overthrew their second government in just

over 20 years. The difference between a collection of sovereign states
forming a confederation and a federal government created by a sovereign
people lay at the heart of the debate as the new American people decided
what form their government would take.

Between 1776 and 1787, Americans went from living under a sovereign king, to

living in sovereign states, to becoming a sovereign people. That
transformation defined the American Revolution.

Confederate General James Longstreet places the city of Knoxville, Tennessee

under siege. After two weeks and one failed attack, he abandoned the siege
and rejoined General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

The Knoxville campaign began in November when Longstreet took 17,000 troops
from Chattanooga and moved to secure eastern Tennessee for the Confederates.

Longstreet's corps was normally part of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern
Virginia, but after the Battle of Gettysburg in July, Longstreet took two of

his divisions to shore up the Confederate effort in the West. He and his
troops participated in the victory at Chickamauga in September and the siege

of Chattanooga in October and November. Longstreet quarreled with Braxton
Bragg, the Confederate commander in the West, and he was given independent
command of the Department of East Tennessee.

Longstreet took his 17,000 troops and moved toward Knoxville. Facing him was

General Ambrose Burnside and 5,000 Yankees. Burnside fought a delaying
action at Campbell Station on November 16 before retreating into the
Knoxville defenses. The next day, Longstreet pulled into position around the

north side of the city, but he could not cut off supplies to the Union
troops. Longstreet waited for reinforcements to arrive, which they did on
November 28. He attacked, but was repulsed with heavy loses. Longstreet
continued the siege in order to draw troops away from Chattanooga. The ruse
worked, and 25,000 Union troops were dispatched from Chattanooga to chase
Longstreet's force away.

Ultimately, Longstreet retreated back to Virginia. His Knoxville campaign
was disappointing for the Confederates, who had hoped to secure eastern
Tennessee. Longstreet rejoined Lee in the spring after his disappointing
turn as head of an independent command.

On November 17, 1914, the German 15th Corps makes a final, desperate attempt

to advance against Allied positions in the Ypres Salient, the much-contested

region in Flanders, Belgium.

After advancing relatively quickly through Belgium and eastern France during

the first weeks of World War I, the Germans were defeated by the Allies in
late September 1914 in the Battle of the Marne. The two enemies then began
the so-called "Race to the Sea," moving northwards at a hectic pace in order

to establish positions with access to the English Channel and the North Sea
beyond. On October 19, the Germans launched an offensive aimed at seizing
control of Ypres--the fortress city blocking the ports of the English
Channel in Flanders--from the British, French and Belgian forces guarding it

For their part, the Allies held fast in their resistance, knowing a defeat
would mean the loss of a crucial advantage.

On the last day of October, German cavalry units began a more concentrated
attack, kicking the First Battle of Ypres into high gear. Over the next
three weeks, the chaotic nature of the fighting only increased its bloody
nature, with casualty figures on both sides mounting as the weather grew
colder and more blustery. The attempt by the 15th Corps on November
17--which Allied forces repulsed--marked the last movement of the battle, as

the Germans thereafter confined themselves to intermittent cannon blasts
against the Allied lines. Five days later, amid high winds and blizzards,
fighting was suspended completely, and the First Battle of Ypres came to an
end after taking the lives of more than 5,000 British and 5,000 German

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