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This Week in History: March 27-April 2

Ponce De Leon discovered Florida and the Civil War comes to an end.

By:  |  March 27, 2022  |    933 Words
GettyImages-517443544 Ponce De Leon

Ponce De Leon (Getty Images)

“History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.” ~ Lord Acton

April 2, 1513: Ponce de Leon Discovered Florida

Looking for a land that was rumored to have magical waters, known as the “fountain of youth,” Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon began his quest. In March 1513, he set off from Puerto Rico in his ship and landed near today’s St. Augustine, in what we know now as Florida.

Although he thought he had landed on an island, he named the land Florida because they had landed near the time of Easter, which in Spanish is Pascua Florida. Ponce de Leon explored the coast, including today’s Florida Keys, and discovered the Gulf Stream which would help future ships find their way home from the New World, but he didn’t find the fountain of youth.

Upon returning to Spain, the explorer was given permission to colonize Florida. The Spanish Crown also commanded him to subdue a native uprising in Puerto Rico. In February 1521, the Spanish explorer left San Juan to go to Florida with two ships and about 200 people. They landed on the southwest coast near today’s Charlotte Harbor, where they planned to begin building a colony. A local Indigenous tribe attacked the settlers, and Ponce de Leon suffered a fatal arrow wound to his thigh. He sailed to Havana, Cuba, with his comrades, where he died.

Ponce de Leon was born into a noble family in Leon, Spain, in 1460. Although it has yet to be proven, it is thought that he may have gone on the second voyage to the West Indies that was led by Christopher Columbus in 1493.

April 2, 1865: Confederate Jefferson Davis Evacuated Richmond, Virginia

GettyImages-514887550 Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis (Getty Images)

During the Civil War (1861-1865), while the North and South fought against each other, the southern states decided they needed their own president. They did not feel President Abraham Lincoln represented them, and so Jefferson Davis was made the president of the Confederacy.

On Sunday, April 2, 1865, at around 7 a.m., Ulysses S. Grant’s army attacked the Confederate forces at Petersburg, Virginia. By afternoon, it was clear the South was losing, and Confederate troops started evacuating the town. This victory ensured that the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond (which was only 25 miles away), was sure to be next to fall.

Davis was attending services at St. Paul’s Church in Richmond when he found out about the defeat in Petersburg. General Robert E. Lee told Davis in a telegram, “I think it is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position tonight …”

Davis and his cabinet did leave, but just days later, on April 9, Lee surrendered, officially ending the Civil War.

Davis, shattered by the defeat, considered going to Britain or France, but he was arrested by the Fourth Michigan Cavalry before he could do so. He remained a prisoner for two years at Fort Monroe, Virginia before being released on bail. He returned home near Biloxi, Mississippi, and started writing his two-volume memoir The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.

Other Notable Mentions

March 27, 1977: Two Boeing 747 jets collided on the ground in the Canary Islands. Considered the worst aviation accident in history, the crash resulted in 570 deaths.

March 28, 1979: The Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had a reactor core overheat because a cooling valve failed. The pressure relief valve then got stuck and caused the water level to drop, threatening a nuclear meltdown. This resulted in concern over the safety of nuclear power plants.

March 30, 1981: President Ronald Reagan, who had just been elected, was walking towards his limousine in Washington, DC, when he was shot in the chest. Three others were also hit, including James Brady, Regan’s press secretary.


Civil War re-enactment (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

March 31, 1933: The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was founded. Men and youths were organized to work in national parks and forests.

March 31, 1968: President Lyndon Johnson surprised everyone by announcing he would not run for re-election because of the Vietnam War.

March 31, 1991: The Soviet Republic of Georgia, where Josef Stalin was born, voted to declare its independence from Soviet Russia.

April 1, 1865: Confederate General George Pickett’s troops were defeated and cut off at Five Forks, Virginia, leading to the defeat of Robert E. Lee’s armies at Petersburg and Richmond. This brought about the end of the Civil War.

April 2, 1792: Congress established the first US Mint at Philadelphia.

April 2, 1863: During the Civil War, a bread riot broke out in Richmond, Virginia when people demanded bread from a bakery wagon. Jefferson Davis threatened force and made a personal plea and the angry mob soon dispersed.

Scene from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Snow Queen.

Famous Birthdays

President John Tyler (March 29, 1790) was born in Charles City County, Virginia. He became the tenth president after William Henry Harrison died.

Franz Joseph Haydn (March 31, 1732) was born in Rohrau, Austria. He is considered the father of the symphony and the string quartet. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was his friend and Ludwig van Beethoven was his student. Among his works are 107 symphonies, 84 string quartets, and 58 piano sonatas.

Jack Johnson (March 31, 1878) was born in Galveston, Texas. He was the first black person to win the heavyweight boxing title.

Hans Christian Andersen (April 2, 1805) was born in Odense, Denmark. The fairy tale author created 168 children’s stories including The Snow Queen, The Princess and the Pea, and The Nightingale.

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