588 BC: Traditional start date for Nebuchadnezzar II’s siege of Jerusalem, which steadily tightens the noose around the Jewish capital until it finally capitulates in July, 586 BC, sending the majority of Judah’s population into exile in Babylon. He was prominent in the biblical books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah (chapters 4 & 52), and the early chapters of Daniel.
41 A.D. : Roman Emperor Gaius Caesar (Caligula) is assassinated by members of his Praetorian Guard. Nephew of the great Tiberius Caesar, Caligula’s five year reign quickly degenerated into an orgy of violence and sexual perversion. The Senate conspirators believed that removing him would allow for reinstatement of the Republic, but the army was so incensed by the murder that they spirited away Caligula’s uncle Claudius, rallying the troops to support the imperial throne against the Senate.
1225: Birth of Thomas Aquinas (d.1274), who began his career as an Italian monk, but whose force of intellect and spiritual insights catapulted him to professorship at the University of Paris, where he was prolific in his writings and instruction of the burgeoning cadre of church intellectuals. One of his key philosophical insights was the idea of the validity of truth being known through observation, a process he referred to as “natural revelation,” which helped lay the foundation for the growth and strength of the scientific revolution in Europe. His life and works remain the gold standard for intellectual Christianity. He was canonized in 1323, and is today held as a model teacher for aspiring Catholic priests, and anyone who thinks seriously about the relationship of science and faith.
1287: King Alfonso III of Aragon invades the island of Menorca.
1412: The Medici family of Florence is formally appointed to act as banker to the Papacy, an account that greatly accelerated their rise as the most powerful family in Italy, to say nothing of hastening the development of modern banking and accounting methods to accurately deal with vast sums of money.
1493: From his anchorage off the Caribbean island of Hispanola, Christopher Columbus weighs anchor and sets his small fleet on a course back to Spain, bringing to a close the exploratory phase of his first voyage to the New World.
1535: Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro, newly named Royal Governor of the newly conquered Inca lands in Peru, selects a well-watered and wooded coastal site for his capital and dedicates it on this date. He initially names it Cuidad des los Reyes, later re-named Lima.
1547: Death of the King Henry VIII (b.1491), leaving in his wake the 6 year old Edward VI as king. His daughter Elizabeth did not inherit the throne , it was her half-brother, born of Anne Boleyn’s successor, Jane Seymour, who died only a few days after giving birth to Henry’s only male heir. Not only was Edward in the way, so was her half-sister Mary.
1559: Coronation of Elizabeth I as Queen of England.
1584: Florentine explorer Gionvanni da Verrazzano sets sail from Madeira to find the so-far elusive ocean route to the Pacific. He explores much of the eastern coast of North America, misidentifying Pamlico Sound as the Pacific Ocean, but discovering the entrance to New York harbor, and farther up the coast, Block Island. The narrows of NY harbor, and the bridge that spans it, bear his name.
1670: In one of the final acts of plundering the Spanish Main, the British pirate Henry Morgan, captures and sacks the city of Panama, burning it to the ground after taking anything and everything of value. For nearly 10 years, multiple Royal Governors of Jamaica ignored repeated edicts from the Crown to suppress piracy. Instead, they encouraged Morgan to range throughout the Caribbean basin attacking Spanish ships and port cities under Jamaican Letters of Marque, which provided a veneer of legitimacy to his activities. Morgan kept his crews occupied with adventure and plunder, while enriching himself, his Governors, and the Crown itself with tremendous hauls of looted Spanish treasure. Today’s sack of Panama, however, was the last straw for Britain’s diplomatic dance with their Spanish counterparts: the country was formally at peace with Spain in 1670, and the Spanish Crown demanded Morgan’s head. In 1672 he was arrested for the act, and returned to England for an expected trial and hanging. Instead, King Charles II knighted him for Services to the Crown and appointed him Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, where he served until 1683, living in splendor until his death in 1688. His grave in the pirate haven of Port Royal, Jamaica, disappeared beneath the sea in the great earthquake of 1692. Morgan was renowned for dressing in a scarlet jacket trimmed in gold during his recruiting drives, reinforcing his image as a highly successful privateer.
1707: The Scottish Parliament ratifies the Act of Union with England, beginning the process of creating the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Wales (and later, Northern Ireland). In January 2011, the Scottish Parliament decided to hold a plebiscite on the de-ratification of the Act of Union, in order to make Scotland an independent country within the EU. The independence vote was finally taken in September of 2014 and was handily defeated 54/46, with a historically high turnout of 85% of the electorate making their voices heard.
1759: Opening day for the British Museum. The priceless artifacts resident in the museum includes the Rosetta stone; Babylonian bull; Greek Hoplite; Assyrian gate; and many other antiquities.
1761: Great Britain captures Pondicherry, India from its former French overlords. Despite coming under British rule from this point, the city never lost its French colonial flavor. It served culturally as a competitive rival to Bombay and Calcutta, both of which were under British influence from the early days of the East India Company. The name pops up regularly in fiction about the British Raj.
1773: Captain James Cook, on his second voyage of discovery, sails below the Antarctic Circle for the first time, the first European explorer to do so. The Antarctic (and Arctic) Circle is the northernmost (southernmost) latitude where the sun does not rise at the winter solstice, June 21st (December 21st). It lies at 66 degrees 33 minutes South (North) latitude, about 650 nautical miles south of Cape Horn. Part of Cook’s mission was to survey the northern extent of the summer icepack as well as the iceberg zone. It’s important to note here that the Southern Ocean south of 40 degrees latitude is also completely unencumbered by any landmasses to break up the prevailing westerly winds, creating a region sailors call the “Roaring 40s,” where it is not unusual for near-hurricane force winds to pipe up for weeks at a time, causing the seas themselves to build into towering breakers approaching fifty feet in height.
1778: On his third Voyage of Discovery, Captain James Cook discovers a Central Pacific island chain he names the Sandwich Islands. They have since reverted to their native name, Hawaii. As an aside, the people who consider themselves the indigenous natives of the chain are working to further devolve the name into a near-phonetic transliteration of the Polynesian Hawai’i, which is itself derived from O-havai’i.
1786: The Virginia General Assembly accepts the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson, as part of the supreme law of the Commonwealth. Jefferson was so pleased with this concise document that he insisted it be included in his epitaph, which it is.
1794: Death of British historian and man of letters, Edward Gibbon (b.1737), best known for his seminal work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His research and subsequent publication of this true magnum opus sets the standard for scholarly work to this day.
1815: The frigate USS President, under the command of Commodore Stephen Decatur, is captured by a squadron of four British frigates as it tries to break out of its year-long blockade of New York harbor.
1848: James W. Marshall finds gold at Sutter’s Mill near Coloma, California, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. News of the discovery triggered a massive Gold Rush, bringing over 300,000 prospective miners to the Golden State.
1833: Birth of Charles “Chinese” Gordon (d.1885), one of the British generals from the heyday of Victorian colonial expansion. He had a long and colorful career, which is reflected in his nickname, to say nothing of all the schools and roads named in his honor. Gordon was killed by an onslaught of Mahdi forces on the steps of the palace in Khartoum.
1862: Death of the 10th President of the United States, John Tyler (b.1790), who became the first to arrive at the office by succession from the Vice-Presidency, on the death of President William Henry Harrison. Tyler was born into the “Virginia aristocracy” but served out a relatively nondescript presidency, highlighted by his entire cabinet resigning in protest of particular veto, and a subsequent near-impeachment. Declining to run for a second term on his own, he retired back to his Virginia estate, Sherwood Forest, where he stayed away from politics until being elected to the Confederate House of Representatives in 1861. He died before being seated in Richmond, but his reputation was permanently stained by his overt association with the Lost Cause.
1871: As the Franco-Prussian War reaches is culmination with his armies having recently captured the French Emperor Napoleon III and with Paris under siege by German guns, King of Prussia Wilhelm I is proclaimed Emperor of the German Empire, beginning an era known as the Second Reich. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck exploits a newly available venue to publicly reinforce Germany’s position of dominance over its western rival: the proclamation ceremony is held in Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, with virtually the entire leadership of Bismarck’s government, the General Staff and the Hohenzollern royal family in attendance.
1889: In Atlanta, incorporation of the Pennington Medicine Company, which became famous and wealthy from their premier retail product. The company eventually changed its name to match that product, Coca-Cola.
1890: Birth of Robert Stroud (d.1963), convicted of manslaughter of a love rival, and later the murder of a prison guard, before becoming The Birdman of Alcatraz. Twice sentenced to death, he spent his entire bird-raising career at Leavenworth Prison, in Kansas, not Alcatraz, which kind of begs the question of why he was called that.
1899: The United States takes possession of Wake Island.
1904: Birth of actor Cary Grant (d.1986).
1911: Taking his naval aviation demonstrations to their next step (the first occurring with his takeoff from USS Birmingham (CL-2) here in Hampton Roads in November), Eugene Ely lands his Curtis Pusher aeroplane on a platform built aboard USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4), anchored in San Francisco Bay. After a light meal, and with the crew having turned the machine around, Ely fires up the engine and takes off again, demonstrating- at least in theory- a viable capability for launch and recovery of airplanes aboard ship.
1919: Death of Rosa Luxemburg (b.1871), a Marxist absolutist who played a crucial role in agitating German workers during the 1918 revolution through her pamphleteering and communist agitation in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. With the functional dissolution of the German government, bands of vigilante enforcers known as the Freicorps roamed the cities and countryside, enforcing a harsh German nationalism against the untrammeled influences of outside forces. Rosa Luxemburg found herself increasingly harassed by the Freicorps and finally on this day, she was arrested, tortured, and murdered- her corpse thrown into the Landwher Canal. Since her death, the international communist movement has worked to beatify her as a martyr for the Marxist-Socialist movement.
1919: British aircraft engine manufacturer Walter Owen “WO” Bentley, founds Bentley Motors Limited. The company immediately begins production on series of cars that were notable for their speed and reliability. A group of “gentleman racers” coalesced around the Bentley marque and began winning races at Brooklands and soon thereafter, the great 24 Hours of Le Mans, where the Speed 6 model won the endurance classic four years in a row, 1927-30. The company went through several ownership periods, most notably by Rolls Royce in mid-century, who used the marque as a lower-cost alternative to its other models. In the late 1990s, both the Rolls Royce and Bentley companies were objects of a bidding war between Volkswagen and BMW. In the end, BMW took control of Rolls, and VW took control of Bentley.
1924: The beautiful Russian city of Petrograd, nee St. Petersburg, is re-named Leningrad by the Soviet government in honor of the communist cretin who died two days before.
1929: Birth of Civil Rights activist and Baptist preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr.
1942: Birth of Cassius Clay (d.2016)
1943: Opening day for The Pentagon, at the time and for decades afterward, the world’s largest office building. A person can walk from any office to any other in 12 minutes or less. Its hubs and spokes provide for a straightforward office numbering system. The hot dog stand in the middle of the courtyard has more nuclear weapons targeted on it than any other hot dog stand in the world.
1943: Start of the First Warsaw Uprising in the Jewish Ghetto. After four years of sullen acceptance at being crammed into a single ghetto, the Jews of Warsaw begin a clandestine revolt against their Nazi overseers. Armed only with a few pistols, rifles and Molotov cocktails, the fighters seek to forcibly oppose the renewed transports of the Jewish population to the death camps. The rising lasted through May, when the Germans make a full-on military operation against the rag-tag irregulars of the Ghetto.
1945(a): The Red Army captures what’s left of Warsaw, Poland. After six years of war, the city is reduced to essentially little more than heaps of rubble, with a population struggling for subsistence.
1945(b): With Soviet forces bearing down on them, the Nazi overlords of Auschwitz begin to evacuate the death camp.
1945(c): The Soviet sweep into Eastern Europe, keeping its long-term political goals in the forefront of its decision-making, arrests Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg off the streets of Budapest, where he established a “Swedish Cultural Zone” to protect the Jews of Budapest from Nazi deportation.
1958: Lego Corporation patents its design for locking bricks.
1961: President Dwight D. Eisenhower gives his farewell address to the nation.
1965: Death of Sir Winston Churchill (b.1874).
1966: An armed B-52 on a routine deterrent patrol suffers a mid-air collision with its KC-135 tanker over Palomares, Spain. Both planes break up in flight, and three of the four B-28 thermonuclear bombs on board the B-52 fall onto farmland near the tiny coastal Spanish town. Two of them detonate conventionally, spreading nuclear material over a wide area. Cleanup efforts involved removing some 1,400 tons of dirt, and transporting it back to the Savannah River Plant in the United States for burning and disposal. The fourth bomb fell into the sea just offshore but remained unlocated for over three months. During the massive (34 Navy ships) search effort, which finally succeeded with the deep submersible Alvin. U.S. press briefings, unable by security rules to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons, at one point the spokesman carefully explained, “I don’t know of any missing bomb, but we have not positively identified what I think you think we are looking for.”
1967: The Green Bay Packers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10 in the first Super Bowl.
1986: Space Shuttle Challenger blows up 73 seconds into launch, killing all 7 astronauts aboard.
1991: At midnight local time, the United States-led coalition opens fire in Operation Desert Storm. President George H.W. Bush, in his Address to the Nation, puts it very simply: “The liberation of Kuwait has begun.”
1991: Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, attempting to negate politically the devastating air strikes of the Desert Storm coalition, orders the launch of eight SCUD missiles into Israel in a vain attempt to widen the war into a full-blown Arab-Israeli affair. Coalition members Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan do not enter the conflict.
2001: The estimable Wikipedia goes online.