1862— Burnside assumes command of the Union Army of the Potomac
On this day in 1862, General Ambrose Burnside assumes command of the Union Army of the Potomac following the removal of George B. McClellan.
McClellan was well liked by many soldiers, and had a loyal following among some in the command structure. However, others detested him, and his successor would have a difficult time reconciling the pro- and anti-McClellan factions within the army's leadership. Furthermore, Ambrose Burnside was not the obvious choice to replace McClellan. Many favored General Joseph Hooker, who, like Burnside, commanded a corps in the army. Hooker had a strong reputation as a battlefield commander but had several liabilities: a penchant for drinking and cavorting with prostitutes and an acrimonious history with Henry Halleck, the general in chief of the Union armies. Halleck urged President Abraham Lincoln to name Burnside to head the Union's premier fighting force.
Burnside was a solid corps commander, but by his own admission was not fit to command an army. The Indiana native graduated from West Point in 1847, and after serving for five years in the military, entered private business. He worked to develop a new rifle, but his firm went bankrupt when he refused to pay a bribe to secure a contract to sell his weapon to the U.S. army. Burnside then worked as treasurer for the Illinois Central Railroad under McClellan, who was president of the line.
When the Civil War erupted, Burnside became a colonel in charge of the First Rhode Island volunteers. He fought at the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, in July 1861 then headed an expeditionary force that captured Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in February 1862. Burnside returned to the Army of the Potomac and was given command of the Ninth Corps, which fought hard at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland in September 1862. Afterward, he was tapped for the top position in the army over his own protestations. He reluctantly assumed command in November and proceeded to plan an attack on Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. In December 1862, Burnside's army moved toward Lee at Fredericksburg, Virginia. His forces attacked Lee's entrenched troops on December 13 and suffered heavy loses.
Within one month, officers began to mutiny against Burnside's authority, and Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac in late January 1863. After the war, Burnside (whose unusual facial hair is said to have inspired the word sideburns) served as governor of Rhode Island and as a U.S. senator. He died in 1881 at age 57.
1938 — Nazis launch Kristallnacht
On this day in 1938, in an event that would foreshadow the Holocaust, German Nazis launch a campaign of terror against Jewish people and their homes and businesses in Germany and Austria. The violence, which continued through November 10 and was later dubbed "Kristallnacht," or "Night of Broken Glass," after the countless smashed windows of Jewish-owned establishments, left approximately 100 Jews dead, 7,500 Jewish businesses damaged and hundreds of synagogues, homes, schools and graveyards vandalized. An estimated 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, many of whom were then sent to concentration camps for several months; they were released when they promised to leave Germany.
Kristallnacht represented a dramatic escalation of the campaign started by Adolf Hitler in 1933 when he became chancellor to purge Germany of its Jewish population.
The Nazis used the murder of a low-level German diplomat in Paris by a 17-year-old Polish Jew as an excuse to carry out the Kristallnacht attacks. On November 7, 1938, Ernst vom Rath was shot outside the German embassy by Herschel Grynszpan, who wanted revenge for his parents' sudden deportation from Germany to Poland, along with tens of thousands of other Polish Jews. Following vom Rath's death, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels ordered German storm troopers to carry out violent riots disguised as "spontaneous demonstrations" against Jewish citizens. Local police and fire departments were told not to interfere. In the face of all the devastation, some Jews, including entire families, committed suicide.
In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, the Nazis blamed the Jews and fined them 1 billion marks (or $400 million in 1938 dollars) for vom Rath's death. As repayment, the government seized Jewish property and kept insurance money owed to Jewish people. In its quest to create a master Aryan race, the Nazi government enacted further discriminatory policies that essentially excluded Jews from all aspects of public life.
Over 100,000 Jews fled Germany for other countries after Kristallnacht. The international community was outraged by the violent events of November 9 and 10. Some countries broke off diplomatic relations in protest, but the Nazis suffered no serious consequences, leading them to believe they could get away with the mass murder that was the Holocaust, in which an estimated 6 million European Jews died.
1970 — Supreme Court refuses to rule on legality of Vietnam War
The Supreme Court refuses to hear a challenge by the state of Massachusetts regarding the constitutionality of the Vietnam War. By a 6-3 vote, the justices rejected the effort of the state to bring a suit in federal court in defense of Massachusetts residents claiming protection under a state law that allowed them to refuse military service in an undeclared war.
— This Day in History is courtesy of History.com.