This Day In History – September 18


Plow & Hearth


  • 96 AD Ancient Rome – Nerva is proclaimed Roman Emperor after Domitian is assassinated
  • 1502 Early Americas – Christopher Columbus lands at Costa Rica on his fourth, and final, voyage
  • 1776 War of Independence – Washington reports to Congress on Battle of Harlem Heights
  • 1830 Science History – American steam locomotive races horse
  • 1861 Civil War – Battle of Lexington Missouri draws to an end
  • 1877 Old West – Sam bass and his gang rob a Union Pacific train
  • 1918 WWI – Battle of Epehy, France
  • 1945 WWII – MacArthur arrives in Tokyo to rebuild Japan

    Telling and understanding our story – “history is the story of people” —David McCullough (July 7, 1933) is an American author, narrator, historian, and lecturer.


    Bust of emperor Nerva, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome

    September 18, 96 A.D. – Ancient History

    Nerva is proclaimed Roman Emperor after Domitian is assassinated

    On 18 September 96, Domitian was assassinated in a palace conspiracy involving members of the Praetorian Guard and several of his freedmen. On the same day, Nerva was declared emperor by the Roman Senate. This was the first time the Senate elected a Roman Emperor.

    As the new ruler of the Roman Empire, he vowed to restore liberties which had been curtailed during the autocratic government of Domitian. However, Nerva’s brief reign was marred by financial difficulties and his inability to assert his authority over the Roman army. A revolt by the Praetorian Guard in October 97 essentially forced him to adopt an heir. After some deliberation Nerva adopted Trajan, a young and popular general, as his successor. After barely fifteen months in office, Nerva died of natural causes on 27 January 98. Upon his death he was succeeded and deified by Trajan.

    Minerva (Etruscan: Menrva) Roman goddess - According to Suetonius, Domitian worshipped Minerva as his protector goddess with superstitious veneration. In a dream, she is said to have abandoned the emperor prior to the assassination.

    Although much of his life remains obscure, Nerva was considered a wise and moderate emperor by ancient historians. Recent historians have revised this assessment, characterizing Nerva as a well-intentioned but ultimately weak ruler, whose reign brought the Roman Empire to the brink of civil war. Nerva’s greatest success was his ability to ensure a peaceful transition of power after his death, thus founding the Nerva-Antonine dynasty. —Wikipedia

    Nerva–Antonine dynasty - The Roman Empire in 125 AD


    September 18, 1502 – Early Americas

    Christopher Columbus lands at Costa Rica on his fourth, and final, voyage

    The first European explorer to encounter Costa Rica was the Great Navigator himself, Christopher Columbus. The day was September 18, 1502, and Columbus was making his fourth and final voyage to the New World. As he was setting anchor off shore, a crowd of local Carib Indians paddled out in canoes and greeted his crew warmly. Later, the golden bands that the region’s inhabitants wore in their noses and ears would inspire the Spaniard Gil Gonzalez Davila to name the country Costa Rica, or Rich Coast. —Costa Rica History & Culture

    Columbus Before the Queen, dramatically imaginedby Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1843 (Brooklyn Museum of Art)

    Before leaving for his fourth voyage, Columbus wrote a letter to the Governors of the Bank of St. George, Genoa, dated at Seville, 2 April 1502. He wrote “Although my body is here my heart is always near you.”

    Columbus made a fourth voyage nominally in search of the Strait of Malacca to the Indian Ocean. Accompanied by his brother Bartolomeo and his 13-year-old son Fernando, he left Cadiz, (modern Spain), on 11 May 1502, with the ships Capitana, Gallega, Vizcaína and Santiago de Palos. He sailed to Arzila on the Moroccan coast to rescue Portuguese soldiers whom he had heard were under siege by the Moors. On 15 June they landed at Carbet on the island of Martinique (Martinica). A hurricane was brewing, so he continued on, hoping to find shelter on Hispaniola.

    A pre-Colombian incense burner with a crocodile lid (500 – 1350 AD), from Costa Rica

    He arrived at Santo Domingo on 29 June but was denied port, and the new governor refused to listen to his storm prediction. Instead, while Columbus’s ships sheltered at the mouth of the Rio Jaina, the first Spanish treasure fleet sailed into the hurricane. Columbus’s ships survived with only minor damage, while 29 of the 30 ships in the governor’s fleet were lost to the 1 July storm. In addition to the ships, 500 lives (including that of the governor, Francisco de Bobadilla) and an immense cargo of gold were surrendered to the sea.

    After a brief stop at Jamaica, Columbus sailed to Central America, arriving at Guanaja (Isla de Pinos) in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras on 30 July. Here Bartolomeo found native merchants and a large canoe, which was described as “long as a galley” and was filled with cargo. On 14 August he landed on the continental mainland at Puerto Castilla, near Trujillo, Honduras. He spent two months exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, before arriving in Almirante Bay, Panama on 16 October. —Wikipedia

    A depiction of Columbus claiming possession of the New World in caravels, the Niña and the Pinta.


    George Washington

    September 18, 1776 – American War of Independence

    Washington reports to Congress on Battle of Harlem Heights

    On this day in 1776, General George Washington writes to the president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, reporting on the Battle at Harlem Heights and relaying the unfortunate news of the death of Captain Thomas Knowlton.

    In the early morning hours of September 16, 1776, General Washington ordered the Continentals to hold their line at Harlem Heights while he sent Captain Thomas Knowlton and a volunteer group of Rangers to scout British movements and possibly lure the British into combat. While Captain Knowlton and the Rangers engaged the British in a frontal assault, Washington sent a second force of Patriots to attack the British from their right flank. During the short but intense fighting that ensued, the Americans were able to force a small British retreat from their northern positions.

    Despite the American failure to stop the British invasion of New York City the previous day at Kip’s Bay, the successful Battle of Harlem Heights restored public confidence in the American troops and lifted the spirits of the Continental Army. The Americans and British each lost approximately 70 troops in the fighting. One of the Americans lost was the Ranger leader, Captain Thomas Knowlton.

    In his letter to Congress, General Washington wrote, “The Parties under Colonel Knowlton and Major Leitch unluckily began their Attack too soon, it was rather in flank than in Rear. In a little time Major Leitch was brought off wounded, having received three Balls thro’ his side, and in a short time after Col. Knowlton got a Wound, which proved Mortal.” Despite his premature action, Washington memorialized Knowlton as “a brave and good Officer.” —This Day In History


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    A replica of Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb, the first American-built steam locomotive (ca. 1927)

    September 18, 1830 – Science History

    Loco-horse race – First built American steam locomotive races horse

    In 1830, B&O locomotive Tom Thumb, the first locomotive built in America, lost in a 14-km race with a horse due to a slipped pully.

    Tom Thumb was the first American-built steam locomotive used on a common-carrier railroad. Designed and built by Peter Cooper in 1830, it was designed to convince owners of the newly formed Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to use steam engines. It is especially remembered as a participant in an impromptu race with a horse-drawn car; the “Tom Thumb” led the race until a belt slipped off a pulley and the engine lost power. The demonstration was successful, however, and in the next year the railroad, committed to the use of steam locomotion, held trials for a working engine. —Wikipedia


    Battle of Lexington, Missouri

    September 18, 1861 – American Civil War

    First Battle of Lexington Missouri draws to an end

    The First Battle of Lexington also known as the Battle of the Hemp Bales, was an engagement of the American Civil War, occurring from September 13 to September 20, 1861, between the Union Army and the pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard, in Lexington, the county seat of Lafayette County, Missouri. The State Guard’s victory in this battle bolstered the already-considerable Southern sentiment in the area, and briefly consolidated Confederate control of the Missouri Valley.

    This engagement should not be confused with the Second Battle of Lexington, which was fought on October 19, 1864. That battle also resulted in a Southern victory. —Wikipedia

    U. S. Forces under Col. James A. Mulligan. Maj.-Gen. Sterling Price with the cavalry of his army approached Lexington on the 12th and encamped within 2 miles of the city. At daylight next morning Col. Mulligan made a sortie from the fortifications and drove the Confederates back 2 or 3 miles, at which point their infantry and artillery came up and together drove Mulligan back within his intrenchments. The artillery was posted in a position to sweep the college, but late that night was withdrawn to the fair grounds. On the 18th Price again deployed his forces about the Union intrenchments and during the day several charges were made which put the Confederates in positions from which they could control the water supply. During the 19th and part of the 20th a continuous artillery fire was kept up on the Union position and about 2 p. m. of the 20th Mulligan surrendered, after having suffered a loss of 39 killed and 120 wounded. The Confederate casualties amounted to 25 killed and 72 wounded. —CivilWarReference.com


    Missouri’s Civil War Battlefields


    Sierra Trading Post


    One of at least five alledged photos of Sam Bass. Courtesy of The Barker Texas History Center. The University of Texas at Austin.

    September 18, 1877 – Old West

    Sam bass and his gang rob a Union Pacific train taking $60,000

    Big Springs, Nebraska- Sam bass and his gang rob a Union Pacific train taking $60,000. The gang is tracked by Charles Bassett and Bat Masterson. —This Day In Old West History

    Bass was an outlaw who robbed stage coaches in the Dakotas and later organized a gang in Texas robbing trains and banks. During a robbery attempt of the Round Rock Texas bank, a gunfight ensued. One of the gang, Seaborn Barnes, was shot in the head and Bass was severely wounded, though made it to his horse and rode out of town. However, he was found lying dead on the ground the next day not far from town. It was his 27th birthday. Sam Bass is buried in the Round Rock Cemetery in Round Rock, Texas. Seaborne Barnes, also killed that day, is buried nearby. —Legends of America

    As with many figures of the American Old West, Bass captured the public’s imagination.[citation needed] In 1936, the radio drama “Death Valley Days” portrayed Bass’s last days before his death in Round Rock, Texas. In the 1949 Western, “Calamity Jane and Sam Bass”, Bass is portrayed by Howard Duff. In 1954, Bass was portrayed by Don Haggerty in an episode of the syndicated western television series Stories of the Century. Haggerty was forty when he played the doomed 27-year-old Bass. Bass was thereafter portrayed by Jack Chaplain in an 1961 episode of The Outlaws. In the fictional 1951 film The Texas Rangers, Bass heads a gang composed of The Sundance Kid, John Wesley Hardin, Butch Cassidy and Dave Rudabaugh, then squares off against two convicts recruited by John B. Jones to bring them to justice. He died in Round Rock. —Wikipedia

    Train Robbery


    September 18, 1918 – World War I

    Battle of Epehy, France

    On this day in 1918, near the French village of Epehy, the British 4th Army, commanded by Sir Henry Rawlinson, attacks German forward outposts in front of the Hindenburg Line, Germany’s last line of defense on the Western Front during World War I.

    Named by the British for the German commander in chief, Paul von Hindenburg—the Germans referred to it as the Siegfried Line—the Hindenburg Line was a semi-permanent line of defenses that Hindenburg ordered created several miles behind the German front lines in late 1916. The following spring, the German army made a well-planned withdrawal to this heavily fortified defensive zone, burning and looting villages and countryside as they passed, in order to buy themselves time and confuse the Allied plans of attack. By early September 1918, Allied forces had effectively countered the major German spring offensive of that year and had reached the furthest forward positions of the Hindenburg Line, considered by many on both sides to be impregnable.

    Read more at This Day In History


    September 18, 1945 – World War II

    MacArthur arrives in Tokyo to rebuild Japan

    On this day in 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur moves his command headquarters to Tokyo, as he prepares for his new role as architect of a democratic and capitalist postwar Japan.

    Japan had had a long history of its foreign policy being dominated by the military, as evidenced by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye’s failed attempts to reform his government and being virtually pushed out of power by career army officer Hideki Tojo. MacArthur was given the task of overseeing the regeneration of a Japan shorn of its imperial past. As humiliating as it would be for the defeated Japanese, the supreme allied commander in the South Pacific would lay the groundwork for Japan’s rebirth as an economic global superpower.

    Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito

    The career of Douglas MacArthur is composed of one striking achievement after another. When he graduated from West Point, only one other person, Robert E. Lee, had exceeded MacArthur’s performance, in terms of awards and average, in the institution’s history. His performance in World War I, during combat in France, won him decorations for valor and resulted in his becoming the youngest general in the Army at the time. He retired from the Army in 1934, only to be appointed head of the Philippine Army by its president (the Philippines had U.S. Commonwealth status at the time).

    When World War II broke out, MacArthur was called back to active service-as commanding general of the U.S. Army in the Far East. Because of MacArthur’s time in the Far East, and the awesome respect he commanded in the Philippines, his judgment had become somewhat distorted and his vision of U.S. military strategy as a whole myopic. He was convinced that he could defeat Japan if it invaded the Philippines. In the long term, he was correct. But in the short term, the United States suffered disastrous defeats at Bataan and Corregidor. By the time U.S. forces were forced to surrender, he had already shipped out, on orders from President Roosevelt. As he left, he uttered his immortal line, “I shall return.”

    Civil and naval ensign during the occupation of Japan.

    Refusing to admit defeat, MacArthur was awarded supreme command in the Southwest Pacific, capturing New Guinea from the Japanese with an innovative “leap frog” strategy. True to his word, he returned to the Philippines in October 1944. With the help of the U.S. Navy, which succeeded in destroying the Japanese fleet, leaving the Japanese garrisons on the islands without reinforcements, the Army defeated adamantine Japanese resistance. On March 3, 1945, MacArthur handed control of the Philippine capital back to its president.

    On September 2, 1945, MacArthur signed the instrument of surrender on behalf of the victorious Allies, aboard the USS Missouri, docked in Tokyo Bay. But the man who oversaw Japan’s defeat was about to put it on the road to its own kind of victory. —This Day In History

    It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope and indeed the hope of all mankind that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past — a world founded upon faith and understanding — a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish — for freedom, tolerance and justice. –Douglas MacArthur, Portion of speech at Japanese surrender ceremony, Freedom Document


    The U.S. Army in Post World War II Japan


    1/6 Pacific Century: Reinventing Japan


    History has become more important than ever because of the unprecedented ability of the historical sciences to take in man’s life on earth as a whole. —Alfred Kazin


    America remember and honor your history –
    it will give direction, purpose and security to your future.


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