Great Epochs in American History, Volume I. by Various


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Page 1

Columbus, for example, described his own first voyage; Washington, the
defeat of Braddock; Gen. "Sam" Houston the battle of San Jacinto;
General Robert E. Lee, the capture of John Brown at Harper's Ferry;
Murat Halstead, the nomination of Lincoln; Jefferson Davis, the
evacuation of Richmond, and his own arrest in Georgia by Federal
troops; Mrs. James Chesnut, wife of the Confederate general, the
firing on Fort Sumter; Edmund Clarence Stedman, the retreat from Bull
Run; Gen. James Longstreet, Pickett's charge at Gettysburg; General
Sheridan, Sheridan's ride to Winchester; James G. Blaine, the funeral
of Lincoln; Cyrus W. Field, the laying of the Atlantic cable; Horace
White, the great Chicago fire; William Jennings Bryan, the first Bryan
campaign; Admiral Dewey, the battle of Manila Bay, and Admiral Peary,
the finding of the North Pole.

These accounts are often supplemented by passages from the writings of
historians and biographers, including George Bancroft, Washington
Irving, Francis Parkman, Richard Hildreth, William E.H. Lecky, James
Schouler, and John Fiske; or from those of statesmen, journalists and
publicists, among them, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas H.
Benton, Robert Toombs, Horace Greeley, "Bull Run" Russell, Carl
Schurz, and Theodore Roosevelt.

The tables of contents prefixt to the several volumes, or the index
appended to the last, will show how wide is the range of topics. The
events described have been of vital, and often of transcendant,
importance to this country and Europe. The writers will be found
interesting as authorities, and are often supremely competent, alike
as authorities and writers. The work is believed to present American
history in a form that will appeal to readers for its authenticity and
its novelty.

Francis W. Halsey.




INTRODUCTION

(_Voyages of Discovery and Early Explorations._)


Schoolboys have been taught from their earliest years that Columbus
discovered America. Few events in prehistoric times seem more probable
now than that Columbus was not the first to discover it. The importance
of his achievement over that of others lay in his own faith in his
success, in his definiteness of purpose, and in the fact that he
awakened in Europe an interest in the discovery that led to further
explorations, disclosing a new continent and ending in permanent
settlements.

The earliest voyages to America, made probably from Asia, led to
settlements, but they remained unknown ever afterward to all save the
settlers themselves, while those from Europe led to settlements that
were either soon abandoned or otherwise came to nought. Wandering
Tatar, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, or Polynesian sailors who drifted,
intentionally or accidentally, to the Pacific coast in some unrecorded
and prehistoric past, and from whom the men we call our aborigines
probably are descended, sent back to Asia no tidings of what they had
found. Their discovery, in so far as it concerned the people of the
Old World, remained as if it had never been.

The hardy Northmen of the Viking age, who, like John Smith, six
hundred years afterward, found in Vinland "a pleasant land to see,"
understood so little of the importance of what they had found, that,
by the next century, their discovery had virtually been forgotten in
all Scandinavia. It seems never to have become known anywhere else in
Europe. Indeed, had the Northmen made it known to other Europeans, it
is quite unlikely that any active interest would have been taken in
it. Europe in the year 1000 was self-centered. She had troubles enough
to absorb all her energies. Ambition for the expansion of her
territory, for trade with peoples beyond the great waters, nowhere
existed. Most European states were engaged in a grim struggle to hold
what they had--to hold it from the aggressions of their neighbors, to
hold it against the rising power of Islam.

Columbus did not know he had discovered the continent we call America.
He died in the belief that he had found unknown parts of Asia; that he
had discovered a shorter and safer route for trade with the East, and
that he had given new proof of the assertions made by astronomers that
the earth is round. The men who immediately followed him--Vespucius
and the Cabots--believed only that they had confirmed and extended his
discovery. Cabot first found the mainland of North America, Vespucius
the mainland of South America, but neither knew he had found a new
continent. Each saw only coast lines; made landings, it is true; saw
and conversed with natives, and Vespucius fought with natives; but of
the existence of a new world, having continents comparable to Europe,
Asia, or Africa, with an ocean on both sides of them, neither ever so
much as dreamed.

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