United States History



Thomas PainePatriot and American soldier whose main contribution was in writing. His pamphlets, including Common Sense and The Crisis, inflamed the American population and furthered the Revolutionary cause.
Battle of Palo AltoFirst major battle of the Mexican-American War. It took place on May 8, 1846, near Brownsville, Texas, and resulted in a standoff.
Panic of 1837First Depression in American history. Banks lost money, people lost faith in banks, and the country lost faith in President Martin van Buren.
Peninsular CampaignGeneral George McClellan's plan to advance on Richmond, the Confederate capital, by going to Fort Monroe, near Hampton Roads, Virginia, by steamboat and advance northward along the James River. This plan was in direct contradiction to what Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton wanted: a Union army to protect Washington, D.C., in case of a Confederate strike. Still, McClellan got his way and set off in March, 1862, with 100,000 men. In just two months, he was six miles from Richmond. But Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign, J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry raid, and Robert E. Lee's Battle of the Seven Days convinced McClellan that he could not conceivably take Richmond and that his best course of action was to retreat.
Oliver Hazard PerryNaval hero who won two great battles during the War of 1812: the Battle of Lake Erie and the Battle of the Thames River. In the Battle of Lake Erie, he commanded inexperienced Americans manning small ships against experienced British sailors manning huge warships. The result was an American victory and Perry's two most famous sayings: "Don't give up the ship" and "We have met the enemy, and they are ours." In the Battle of the Thames River, Perry and his ships made sure the British didn't escape from the army commanded by William Henry Harrison.
PetersburgSite of the all-important railroad nexus of the South. Grant hoped to close off the transportation terminus that had kept Richmond supplied. For this, Grant turned to the siege. He marched his troops south and across the James River, building a pontoon bridge more than 2,000 feet long. Lee hunkered down, too. For 10 months, both sides fought minor skirmishes from their trenches. The losses were staggering (30,000 total). Also notable for the Battle of the Crater, in which Northern engineers dug a 500-foot-long tunnel under Southern lines and blew up a powder charge. Unfortunately for the North, the crater wasn't far enough behind Southern lines, and most of those killed in the crater were Federals. Grant finally broke through on April 2, 1865, after Sheridan's cavalry pushed back a weak Southern detachment at Five Forks. With their lines (army and supply) broken, the Confederates retreated.
Franklin Pierce14th president. He signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law. He began his political career in the New Hampshire state legislature, becoming its Speaker at age 26. He then served in both the House and Senate, representing New Hampshire. He served in the Mexican War, then won the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 1852. He campaigned on a platform of continued peace (thanks to the Compromise of 1850). He promised continued peace when he was inaugurated. But peace didn't continue, largely because of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which reopened the question of slavery in the West. Pierce managed to anger both Northerners and Southerners and was not allowed to run for re-election. Instead, the Democrats chose James Buchanan.
Zebulon PikeExplorer who is famous for discovering Pike's Peak in Colorado. He led two expeditions to explore the U.S. The first, in 1805, had as its goal the discovery of the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The second expedition, which took place the very next year, explored the Southwest. He died in the War of 1812.
PilgrimsEnglish Puritans who fled England to escape religious persecution. After a 65-day journey from Southampton, England, they landed in Plymouth Harbor on the western side of Cape Cod Bay on December 21, 1620. There, under the leadership of William Bradford, they signed the Mayflower Compact, which created their own government.
Molly PitcherHer real name was Mary Hays McCauly. She suffered along with her husband during the cold winter at Valley Forge. She got her nickname by bringing pitcher after pitcher of water to the thirsty American troops and their hot guns (for the Battle of Monmouth took place on a very hot day). Her husband, William Hays, was an artilleryman who was manning a gun the day of the battle. She was carrying a pitcher of water to his post when she saw him slump over, hit. She took over the rammer staff of the gun, helping it to keep firing away in the face of enemy fire. She had also gone out onto the battlefield to bring a wounded soldier back to safety. General George Washington recognized her efforts publicly and called her "Sergeant Molly."
William PittName of two British prime ministers. Pitt the Elder was PM during the French and Indian War. Pitt the Younger took over the office from Lord North after the Revolutionary War. When the British retook Fort Duquesne, they named it Fort Pitt in honor of their Prime Minister. Pitt was responsible for financing the British war effort, largely by taxing the British colonies (including those in America), and he also personally promoted Generals Jeffery Amherst and James Wolfe to positions of prominence. The latter decision turned out to be a good one because those two men helped win the war. The former decision turned out to be a bad one because it eventually led to the Revolutionary War. He was PM during some of the early taxes on the American colonies, including the Stamp Act, which he opposed. He made a famous speech against the Act. He was replaced shortly thereafter by George Grenville.
Battle of PlattsburgBattle on Lake Champlain on September 11, 1814, during the War of 1812. American forces defeated the British on land and at sea and helped convince the British that they could no longer hope of taking American territory.
PlymouthColony founded by the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in December, 1620. Many of the 102 passengers who sailed from England aboard the Mayflower died. The survivors formed the Plymouth Colony. They faced great hardship but made friends with neighboring Native Americans. Among the leaders of the Plymouth Colony were William Bradford, John Carver, William Brewster, and Miles Standish.
James K. Polk11th president. He was president during the Mexican-American War and also brought the Oregon Territory into the Union. He began his political career in the Tennessee state legislature and then moved up to the House of Representatives, also representing Tennessee. He served as Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson and Martin van Buren, then returned to Tennessee to become governor. He had always been a supporter of fellow Democrat Andrew Jackson, and this support came back to help him when Jackson supported Polk for president in 1844. Polk favored the annexation of Texas and Oregon and won the presidency partly because he came to be known as "the expansionist candidate." The struggle over the Oregon Territory had the potential to turn nasty, but Polk managed to get a treaty (The Treaty of 1846) that avoided war. (The phrase "54-40 or fight" came out of the struggle over Oregon. It referred to the northern boundary of the Oregon Territory, which was at 54'40' north latitude.) Polk also benefited from strong support at home for the war against Mexico.
Pony ExpressHorse-powered mail service that ran 2,000 miles from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, in 1860 and 1861. Carriers boasted that mail could be delivered along the entire route in 10 days. Each rider traveled about 75 miles, then handed off the mail to another rider. This system worked, even through the winter. This was a novel idea, but the organizers didn't make a whole lot of money. And when the telegraph became a reality in October 1861, the Pony Express made its last delivery.
John PopeCommander for a time of the Army of Virginia. Lost his command after the Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run.
Popular SovereigntyIdea popularized by Stephen A. Douglas that territories and states could decide whether they would allow slavery. Theidea was in direct contradiction with the Dred Scott Decision, which was the law of the land.
William PrescottAmerican colonel who led his troops during the Battle of Bunker Hill. To conserve ammunition, Prescott told his men, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes."
Battle of PrincetonAmerican victory on January 3, 1777, following hard on the heels of General George Washington's great success at Trenton. The victory at Princeton drove the British out of New Jersey, almost for good.
Casimir PulaskiPolish count considered the father of American cavalry. He first found success at Brandywine, where his cavalry charge covered the American retreat and allowed General George Washington to escape. In 1778, Pulaski convinced Washington and the American army to organize a cavalry division. They all agreed, and the American cavalry was born. Pulaski led cavalry charges in other battles, including the Battle of Savannah. But it was at this battle that he was killed. His horse was shot from underneath him, and he died of wounds he received in the fall."
Battle of QuebecEpic, heroic battle pitting British General James Wolfe against French general Marquis de Montcalm that just about ended French occupation of Canada. Quebec itself was a natural fortress, a large city built on high bluffs, with steep cliffs stretching for miles on either side of the city. No real path led from the St. Lawrence River bay up to the heights. But an eagle-eyed British scout had discovered an overgrown path that led up the cliffs and to a lightly defended part of the French lines. Under cover of darkness, thousands of troops slipped up the path and past the French sentries to the Plains of Abraham, a wide open space outside the city of Quebec. When French troops awakened the next morning, they found line after line of infantry of British troops waiting for them. The battle raged for days and finally ended with the French surrender on September 12, 1759. Both Wolfe and Montcalm died soon after from injuries sustained in the battle.
ReaperHugely successful grain-harvesting machine invented by Cyrus McCormick and Obed Hussey in the early part of the 19th century. The reaper made harvesting grain much easier by using revolving bars to cut the grain, pulling it onto a conveyer, and binding it in bushels. This saved huge amounts of time in the harvesting of grain.
ReconstructionLincoln's plan to restore the Union. Among his proposals were a pardon for every Southerner who took an oath to support the Union and the allowance of a state to re-enter if 10 percent of a state's voters took that oath. Congress, on the other hand, wanted to force a state to get 50 percent. Lincoln died before his plan was put into action.
Republican PartyPolitical party formed in 1854 out of the ashes out of the Know-Nothing and Whig parties. John C. Fremont was its first candidate, in 1856. Lincoln was its first successful candidate, in 1860.
Paul RevereFamous silversmith who rode through the countryside to warn the American colonists that the British were coming. He didn't actually make his destination because he was captured by British "Redcoats," but one of his companions, Dr. Samuel Prescott, got the message through. When the British arrived, the Americans were ready.
Revolutionary WarThe 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.
RichmondCapital of the Confederacy and target of Northern strategies from McClellan's Peninsular Campaign to Grant's grind-them-down "total war." Finally evacuated by a starved and exhausted Lee after Grant seized the railroad supply lines in April, 1865. One week later, Lee surrendered.
William S. RosencransUnion general who chased Confederate General Braxton Bragg across Tennessee, losing to him at the Battles of Murfreesboro and Chickamauga.
SamosetNative American who first met the Pilgrims. It was he who walked into their settlement and said, "Greetings, Englishmen." He returned several times, bringing other Native Americans, including the great Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag, who made a peace treaty with the Pilgrims.
Battle of San JacintoAmerican victory over Mexican forces in April 21, 1836. Americans were angered by the massacres at the Alamo and Goliad, in which Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had ordered all prisoners executed. A force of 910 Americans, led by Sam Houston, marched on San Jacinto and defeated a Mexican force of 1,500. Half of the Mexican force was killed, and almost all of the rest were taken prisoner. The result was a secure Texas, one that could proclaim itself a Republic.
Antonio Lopez de Santa AnnaPresident of Mexico and chief general of Mexican forces during much of the turbulent mid-19th century. He captured the Alamo and killed all its defenders. He did the same thing at Goliad. He managed to lose magnificently at San Jacinto. He led his troops during the Mexican-American War. He remained president after the war and was removed from office several years later.
Santa Fe TrailWay west well traveled by Americans aiming to settle in the West. The Santa Fe Trail ran from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fe, in what is now New Mexico. The Trail opened in 1821, the year Mexico gained its independence from Spain. A decade later, the Trail had two main routes: the Mountain Fork, which went through Colorado, and the Cimarron Fork, which went through Kansas. Travel along the Trail reached its height after the Mexican Cession, in 1848. The Civil War brought travel along the Santa Fe Trail to a halt, but people began traveling again after the war ended, in 1865. The introduction of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad in 1880 made wagon travel a less attractive option, and the Santa Fe Trail fell into disuse.
Battle of SaratogaTurning point of the Revolutionary War in that it convinced France to enter the war on the side of the Americans. British General John Burgoyne came up with a brilliant plan to take all of New York away from the Americans. His three-pronged attack called for a meeting of three forces at Saratoga. Burgoyne would advance south from Canada and plan to meet at Albany with Generals Barry St. Leger and William Howe. St. Leger was to move east from Fort Oswego, on Lake Ontario; and Howe was to march north from Virginia. This was a brilliant plan, Burgoyne thought, and he hoped to crush the American Northern Army. Trouble was, it didn't work. Howe never got the message and went to Philadelphia instead. Burgoyne himself was stopped by American General Benedict Arnold at Saratoga. St. Leger made it to Albany and had it all to himself. At the Battle of Saratoga (which was really a handful of battles), Burgoyne surrendered almost his entire army to General Horatio Gates on October 17, 1777. The American victory convinced France that America really did have a chance of winning. Soon thereafter, French money and supplies (and eventually, troops and ships) were making their way to America. The end had begun.
SavannahResounding British victory. The British had seized Savannah a few months earlier. A joint American-French forced tried to take back the city on October 9, 1779. Commanding the American troops is General Benjamin Lincoln. The casualties for the Americans and French are enormous, among them Polish Count Casimir Pulaski, considered the father of American cavalry. His horse was shot from underneath him, and he died of wounds he received in the fall.
Winfield ScottMexican War hero who won the famous Battle of Mexico City by storming three huge castles. Scott originally fought in the War of 1812 and was taken prisoner at the Battle of Queenston Heights. He was commander of the army during the Mexican War and (briefly) the Civil War. He ran for president in 1852 as a Whig but was defeated.
William SewardLincoln's Secretary of State. He was also present at the Hampton Roads peace conference. A founder of the Republican Party, he began his political career as a member of the Whig Party in the New York state legislature. He served as governor of New York from 1839 to 1842 and was a U.S. Senator beginning in 1849. Seward was wounded in an assassination attempt the night Lincoln died but recovered and served as Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson. He is also known for securing the purchase of what became the state of Alaska.
William T. ShermanUnion general who fought with Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh and Chattanooga and took his troops on the "March to the Sea," from Atlanta to Savannah.
Battle of the Seven DaysSeries of 1862 battles (during the Peninsular Campaign) taken together to illustrate Lee's ability to demoralize McClellan and the North with quick strikes by small forces on larger ones. For the record, the larger battles were at Mechanicsville, Gaines; Mill, Savage's Station, Frayser's Farm, and Malvern Hill. When the battles were over, the Army of the Potomac had lost 15,000 men and had retreated to the James River.
Shays's RebellionMovement by New England farmers desperate to be paid for their service in the Revolutionary War. Farmer Daniel Shays took charge of the group and led an attack on a federal arsenal in Springfield, Massachusetts, in January 1787. Federal troops under Revolutionary War General Benjamin Lincoln came from Boston. Four men were killed and 20 wounded. Shays disappeared into the wilds of Vermont, not yet a state. Other men were arrested and imprisoned. Soon after, John Hancock was elected governor of Massachusetts. Hancock quieted everything down.
Philip SheridanUnion cavalry commander who fought in the West and East and secured Washington, D.C., one last time at the Battle of Five Forks.
Battle of ShilohTwo-day (April 6-7, 1862) battle ending in Union victory (and 23,000 combined dead) even though Confederate troops under Joseph E. Johnston and Pierre Beauregard had struck first and almost pushed the Union army back out of Tennessee altogether. With the Union victory came the certainty that Tennessee was forever lost to the South.
Samuel SlaterFamous cotton mill builder. He was originally an English citizen who came to America after the Revolutionary War. He built his first mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in 1790. Other mills around New England soon followed. These mills featured of spinning machines that quickly turned cotton into textiles and fabrics. Such machines and mills were an important part of the Industrial Revolution.
SlaveryThe forced servitude of one person by another. The Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott Decision, reinforced it. Congress reinforced it in act after act (from the Missouri Compromise to the Compromise of 1850). Lincoln did not officially stand against it until the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, the Civil War in the end was a war over slavery. Fugitive Slave Laws were passed; abolitionists cried foul; the Underground Railroad spirited thousands to safety; Southerners refused to let their slaves fight for them or alongside them. Slavery was an all-encompassing way of life that many in the South could not give up and many in the North could not let live.
John SmithLeader of Jamestown, first English colony in America to survive and become permanent. It was settled in 1603 and supported itself through tobacco farming.
Sons of LibertySecret organization of American colonists formed initially to protest the Stamp Act. The idea found success in many colonies, after the initial organizations in Boston and New York. After the Stamp Act was repealed a year after it was passed, the Sons of Liberty disbanded. But the patriotic spirit and the name remained. Groups of men, such as the ones who dumped the tea into Boston Harbor, were called sons of liberty.
SquantoNative American who befriended the Pilgrims and taught them how to grow food.
Stamp ActFirst direct British tax on American colonists. Instituted in November, 1765. Every newspaper, pamphlet, and other public and legal document had to have a Stamp, or British seal, on it. The Stamp, of course, cost money. The colonists didn't think they should have to pay for something they had been doing for free for many years, and they responded in force, with demonstrations and even with a diplomatic body called the Stamp Act Congress, which delivered its answer to the Crown. Seeing the hostile reaction in the colonies, the British government repealed the Stamp Act in March 1766 but at the same time passed the Declaratory Act, which said that Great Britain was superior (and boss of) the American colonies "in all cases whatsoever." The Stamp Act gave the colonists a target for their rage. Indeed, the Sons of Liberty was formed in response to this Act. The Stamp Act Congress also gave the colonists a model for the Continental Congress.
Edwin StantonLincoln's Secretary of War. Before that, he was attorney general under President James Buchanan. It was Stanton that President Andrew Johnson tried to remove in violation of the Tenure of Office Act, an attempt that brought on Johnson's impeachment trial. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant named Stanton to the Supreme Court. Stanton died four days later.
Elizabeth Cady StantonLeader of the movement to grant American women the vote. Other leaders of this movement included Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott. Stanton 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." In 1866, Stanton and Anthony formed the Equal Rights Association, which wanted equal rights for all people, men and women, white and black. Stanton campaigned tirelessly for women's "suffrage," or the right to vote, until her death in 1902.
Star-Spangled BannerAmerica's national anthem. The words were written by Francis Scott Key during the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British in the War of 1812. The music was composed in 1777 by John Stafford Smith, an Englishman, as a setting for a poem. Union soldiers sang it during the Civil War, and American soldiers sang it during World War I. But it wasn't the official national anthem until March 3, 1931, when President Herbert Hoover signed a bill naming it so.
Alexander StephensVice-president of the Confederate States of America. Initially a Whig, he became a Democrat when the Whig Party collapsed. He was opposed to secession but stayed loyal to his home state of Georgia and joined the Confederacy. He was present at the Hampton Roads peace conference.
Lucy StoneLeader of the movement to grant American women the right to vote, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. Together, they helped form the American Equal Rights Association after the Civil War. Stone is also famous for keeping her maiden name when she married Henry Blackwell in 1855.
Harriet Beecher StoweNovelist who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, which drew a vividly accurate and terrifying picture of the evils of slavery
Jeb StuartConfederate cavalry commander who rode circles around Union General George McClellan twice to do the same to Union General Joseph Hooker as the Southern army moved into Pennsylvania. Stuart's going missing for 10 days made possible the "accident" of Gettysburg. Still, he served General Robert E. Lee until Stuart died in 1864.
Suffrage MovementMovement to grant American women the right to vote, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, and others. They were 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." Many men thought women weren't smart enough to vote. The campaign for the vote went on for another 70 years before the Nineteenth Amendment finally granted women the vote (in 1920).
Sugar Act1764 Act that put a three-cent tax on foreign refined sugar and increased taxes on coffee, indigo, and certain kinds of wine. It banned importation of rum and French wines. These taxes affected only a certain part of the population, but the affected merchants were very vocal. Besides, the taxes were enacted (or raised) without the consent of the colonists. This was one of the first instances in which colonists wanted a say in how much they were taxed.
Sutter's MillMill on the American River near Coloma, California, where gold was discovered by James Marshall on January 24, 1848. The mill was owned by businessman John Sutter. The discovery of gold at his mill sent a shockwave through the country, as thousands of people flocked to California to find their fortunes.
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David White