What Happened on May 13 in American History?

by oaeen
The Release of the Pentagon Papers

May 13th holds a significant place in the annals of American history, marked by a diverse array of events that have shaped the nation’s trajectory. From pivotal moments in politics to cultural milestones, this date serves as a microcosm of the American experience. In this article, we explore the notable occurrences that have occurred on May 13th throughout the history of the United States.

The Scuttling of the CSS Virginia (1862)

During the American Civil War, May 13th, 1862, witnessed the scuttling of the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) in the waters of the Elizabeth River near Norfolk, Virginia. The CSS Virginia, a Confederate ironclad warship, had wreaked havoc on the Union Navy, threatening to break the Union blockade of Confederate ports. Its destruction marked a turning point in naval warfare, as ironclad vessels emerged as dominant forces on the seas, reshaping the course of the Civil War.

The Establishment of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (1942)

On May 13th, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the creation of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), paving the way for women to serve in non-combat roles in the United States Army during World War II. This historic legislation marked a significant departure from traditional gender roles and expanded opportunities for women to contribute to the war effort. The WAAC laid the groundwork for future advancements in gender equality within the U.S. military.

The Assassination Attempt on Alabama Governor George Wallace (1972)

May 13th, 1972, witnessed a tragic event in American political history when Alabama Governor George Wallace was shot and critically wounded while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in Laurel, Maryland. The assassination attempt, carried out by Arthur Bremer, left Wallace paralyzed from the waist down and effectively ended his presidential aspirations. The incident underscored the volatile political climate of the era and raised questions about the security of public figures in the United States.

The Release of the Pentagon Papers (1971)

On May 13th, 1971, The New York Times began publishing excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Department of Defense study detailing the United States’ involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The release of the Pentagon Papers ignited a firestorm of controversy and sparked a legal battle over freedom of the press. The documents revealed the extent of government deception regarding the Vietnam War and fueled public opposition to the conflict, contributing to the erosion of public trust in the government and the media.

The Riot at Attica Correctional Facility (1971)

One of the deadliest prison uprisings in American history occurred on May 13th, 1971, at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York. Fueled by grievances over living conditions, racial tensions, and the lack of basic rights, inmates seized control of the prison, taking prison guards and civilian employees hostage. The standoff ended four days later when New York State Police stormed the facility, resulting in the deaths of 39 people, including 29 inmates and 10 hostages. The Attica riot exposed deep-seated issues within the American prison system and sparked calls for reform.

The Dedication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (1993)

On May 13th, 1993, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was dedicated in Washington, D.C., as a tribute to the millions of victims of the Holocaust and a testament to the importance of remembrance and education. The museum serves as a solemn reminder of the atrocities committed during one of the darkest chapters in human history and as a beacon of hope for future generations committed to combating hatred and intolerance.

The Founding of the American Philosophical Society (1743)

On May 13th, 1743, Benjamin Franklin and a group of fellow intellectuals gathered in Philadelphia to establish the American Philosophical Society, a learned society dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. As the first learned society in America, the APS played a pivotal role in fostering intellectual exchange and scientific inquiry, contributing to the advancement of scholarship and innovation in the young nation.

The Dred Scott Decision (1857)

May 13th, 1857, witnessed one of the most infamous Supreme Court rulings in American history with the Dred Scott decision. In a landmark case that heightened tensions over slavery and states’ rights, the Supreme Court ruled that African Americans, whether enslaved or free, were not entitled to citizenship under the Constitution. The decision further exacerbated sectional tensions and set the stage for the Civil War, underscoring the deep-rooted divisions that plagued antebellum America.

The Official End of Slavery in America (1865)

On May 13th, 1865, Union General Edward Canby officially declared the end of slavery in Mississippi, marking a significant milestone in the aftermath of the Civil War. With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in December 1865, slavery was abolished nationwide, signaling the dawn of a new era in American history. The end of slavery, however, did not herald an end to racial inequality and discrimination, as African Americans continued to face systemic oppression in the post-war South.

The Scopes Monkey Trial Begins (1925)

One of the most iconic legal battles in American history commenced on May 13th, 1925, with the beginning of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee. The trial, which pitted proponents of evolution against advocates of religious fundamentalism, captivated the nation and sparked a heated debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools. While John T. Scopes was ultimately found guilty of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, the trial served as a catalyst for the advancement of science education and the separation of church and state in America.


May 13th in American history serves as a prism through which we can examine the complexities of the nation’s past, from moments of triumph and progress to instances of tragedy and conflict. As we reflect on the events that have unfolded on this date, we are reminded of the enduring resilience of the American spirit and the ongoing quest for justice, equality, and freedom. In commemorating May 13th, we honor the sacrifices and struggles of those who have shaped the course of American history and reaffirm our commitment to building a more just and inclusive society for all.

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