How Small Details Make a Big Difference in History

It’s a shame history books have to generalize, because some major historical events have been decided by minute details.  That’s the most interesting part, but few classes have time to delve into such detail.  Like during the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, part of the Confederate force assaulting Little Round Top ran low on water, so they gave their canteens to two soldiers with orders to find a stream and refill them.  Except those soldiers were captured by a Union patrol, so the Confederates had to continue without drinking water.  By the way, it was July and the assault failed.  If it had succeeded, the Confederates would’ve controlled the high ground, the entire Union line would’ve been in jeopardy, and the outcome very well may have been different.  But…

I was just reminded of this again by an entry in the August 18, 2016 edition of The Writer’s Almanac.  On that date in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally ratified, thus giving women the right to vote.  This amendment has originally been proposed in 1878, but it wasn’t until 1919 that it was (narrowly) passed by Congress and sent to the states.  Most Southern states were in opposition and on August 18th, the ratification battle climaxed in Tennessee.  The state legislature was tied 48 to 48, and the decision came down to the youngest legislator, 24-year-old Harry Burn.  He was expected to vote in opposition, but his mother had written him the following note: “Dear Son: Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification. Your Mother.”  With the note in his pocket, he voted in favor of the amendment.

Such is the way history is made.


The original entry is at

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