Lincoln, Sherman and Grant Meet
March 27, 1865
On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln meets with Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman at City Point, Virginia, to plot the last stages of the Civil War.
Lincoln went to Virginia just as Grant was preparing to attack Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s lines around Petersburg and Richmond, an assault that promised to end the siege that had dragged on for 10 months. Meanwhile, Sherman’s force was steamrolling northward through the Carolinas. The three architects of Union victory convened for the first time as a group–Lincoln and Sherman had never met—at Grant’s City Point headquarters at the general-in-chief’s request.
As part of the trip, Lincoln went to the Petersburg lines and witnessed a Union bombardment and a small skirmish. Prior to meeting with his generals, the president also reviewed troops and visited wounded soldiers. Once he sat down with Grant and Sherman, Lincoln expressed concern that Lee might escape Petersburg and flee to North Carolina, where he could join forces with Joseph Johnston to forge a new Confederate army that could continue the war for months. Grant and Sherman assured the president the end was in sight. Lincoln emphasized to his generals that any surrender terms must preserve the Union war aims of emancipation and a pledge of equality for the freed slaves.
After meeting with Admiral David Dixon Porter on March 28, the president and his two generals went their separate ways. Less than four weeks later, Grant and Sherman had secured the surrender of the Confederacy.
March Madness Is Born
March 27, 1939
The University of Oregon defeats The Ohio State University 46–33 on this day in 1939 to win the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The Final Four, as the tournament became known, has grown exponentially in size and popularity since 1939. By 2005, college basketball had become the most popular sporting event among gamblers, after the Super Bowl. The majority of that betting takes place at tournament time, when Las Vegas, the internet and office pools around the country see action from sports enthusiasts and once-a-year gamblers alike.
For the first 12 years of the men’s tournament, only eight teams were invited to participate. That number grew steadily until a 65-team tournament format was unveiled in 2001. After a “play-in” game between the 64th and 65th seeds, the tournament breaks into four regions of 16 teams. The winning teams from those regions comprise the Final Four, who meet in that year’s host city to decide the championship.
The most successful team in NCAA men’s tournament history has been the UCLA Bruins, who have taken home a record 11 championships, 10 of them under legendary coach John Wooden between 1964 and 1975. The University of Kentucky is second with seven titles and Indiana University rounds out the top three with five tournament wins. At the end of every tournament, a Most Outstanding Player is chosen. Almost all of these players go on to productive careers in the NBA. Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, won the award three times while leading UCLA to three national championships in 1967, 1968 and 1969. Bill Walton, who succeeded Alcindor at center for UCLA, Jerry Lucas of Ohio State, Alex Groza of Kentucky and Bob Kurland of Oklahoma A&M all won the award twice.
The NCAA held its first women’s basketball tournament in 1982. The women’s tournament started with 32 teams, expanding to 64 teams before the 1994 season. Today, the women’s format echoes the men’s, with play in four regions culminating in a Final Four held in a single location. The championship is played the day after the men’s, concluding the college basketball season. The most dominant team in women’s tournament history has been the Tennessee Volunteers, who won six championships under renowned coach Pat Summit from 1973 to 2006. The Connecticut Huskies are second, with five championships under coach Geno Auriemma. Past women’s Most Outstanding Player winners include Cheryl Miller of USC, Diana Taurasi of Connecticut and Chamique Holdsclaw of Tennessee; all went on to become stars of the WNBA.
Earthquake Rocks Alaska
March 27, 1964
The strongest earthquake in American history, measuring 8.4 on the Richter scale, slams southern Alaska, creating a deadly tsunami. Some 125 people were killed and thousands injured.
The massive earthquake had its epicenter in the Prince William Sound, about eight miles northeast of Anchorage, but approximately 300,000 square miles of U.S., Canadian, and international territory were affected. Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, sustained the most property damage, with about 30 blocks of dwellings and commercial buildings damaged or destroyed in the downtown area. Fifteen people were killed or fatally injured as a direct result of the three-minute quake, and then the ensuing tsunami killed another 110 people. The tidal wave, which measured over 100 feet at points, devastated towns along the Gulf of Alaska and caused carnage in British Columbia, Canada; Hawaii; and the West Coast of the United States, where 15 people died. Total property damage was estimated in excess of $400 million. The day after the quake, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Alaska an official disaster area.
Marlon Brando Declines Best Actor Oscar
March 27, 1973
On this day in 1973, the actor Marlon Brando declines the Academy Award for Best Actor for his career-reviving performance in The Godfather. The Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather attended the ceremony in Brando’s place, stating that the actor “very regretfully” could not accept the award, as he was protesting Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans in film.
Now revered by many as the greatest actor of his generation, Brando earned his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the brutish Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). The role was a reprisal of Brando’s incendiary performance in the 1947 stage production of Tennessee Williams’ play, which first brought him to the public’s attention. Nominated again for roles in Viva Zapata! (1952) and Julius Caesar (1953), he won his first Academy Award for On the Waterfront (1954).
Brando’s career went into decline in the 1960s, with expensive flops such as One-Eyed Jacks (1961), which he also directed, and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962). Aside from his preternatural talent, the actor had become notorious for his moodiness and demanding on-set behavior, as well as his tumultuous off-screen life. Francis Ford Coppola, the young director of The Godfather, had to fight to get him cast in the coveted role of Vito Corleone. Brando won the role only after undergoing a screen test and cutting his fee to $250,000–far less than what he had commanded a decade earlier. With one of the most memorable screen performances of all time, Brando rejuvenated his career, and The Godfather became an almost-immediate classic.
On the eve of the 1972 Oscars, Brando announced that he would boycott the ceremony, and would send Littlefeather in his place. After Brando’s name was announced as Best Actor, the presenter Roger Moore (star of several James Bond films) attempted to hand the Oscar to Littlefeather, but she brushed it aside, saying that Brando could not accept the award. Littlefeather read a portion of a lengthy statement Brando had written, the entirety of which was later published in the press, including The New York Times. “The motion picture community has been as responsible as any,” Brando wrote, “for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil.”
Brando had been involved in social causes for years, speaking publicly in support of the formation of a Jewish state in the 1940s, as well as for African-American civil rights and the Black Panther Party. His Oscar statement expressed support for the American Indian Movement (AIM) and referenced the ongoing situation at Wounded Knee, the South Dakota town that had been seized by AIM members the previous month and was currently under siege by U.S. military forces. Wounded Knee had also been the site of a massacre of Native Americans by U.S. government forces in 1890.
Brando was the second performer to turn down a Best Actor Oscar; the first was George C. Scott, who politely declined to accept his award for Patton in 1971 and reportedly said of the Academy Awards hoopla: “I don’t want any part of it.” Scott had previously declined a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Hustler (1961).