1204: Armies of the Fourth Crusade enter the city and begin the Sack of Constantinople. The city that fell this day was the capital of the Byzantine Empire- stay with me- the Christian Byzantine Empire, headed by the Christian Emperor and the seat of the Christian Pope of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Plenty of infidel Moslems around, to be sure, but they were not (yet) anywhere near taking political power in Anatolia until the Christian Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade demolished the Emperor’s armies and gutted his city. Once the Crusade left town and continued on their way to the Levant, the way was now clear for the ever-restless Ottoman Turks to establish a Moslem caliphate.
1606: King James I grants a royal charter to the Virginia Company of London, a joint-stock company that will finance British colonization of North America north of Cape Fear–think Roanoke Colony and south of Plymouth (think Massachusetts Bay Colony).
1633: Galileo Galilei is convicted and sent into house arrest by the Holy Inquisition for publishing and then not recanting that the earth revolved around the sun. Over 350 years later, Pope John Paul II overturns the conviction.
1777: Birth of Kentucky Congressman and Senator Henry Clay (d.1852). Henry Clay was appointed Secretary of State by President John Quincy Adams on March 7, 1825. Clay entered his duties on the same day and served until March 3, 1829. Famous as the “Great Pacificator” for his contributions to domestic policy, he emphasized economic development in his diplomacy.
1778: Commanding his brig USS Ranger, Captain John Paul Jones departs Brest, France on a raiding mission against British interests in the Irish Sea. It is the first offensive naval action of the American Revolution, and the attacks take the British completely by surprise. In a particularly daring raid into his native Scotland, Jones sails into Kirkcudbright Bay with a view to abduct the Earl of Selkirk and hold him hostage for the release of American sailors held by the British. The earl is not at home but the crew takes the liberty to steal his silver, including his wife’s teapot, still warm and full of her morning tea. The raids continue for several more weeks, and after capturing HMS Duke, Jones returns to Brest where he will seek a larger ship and make plans for more raids as the year progresses.
1794: Birth of Rear Admiral Matthew Perry (d.1858). Perry was a commodore of the United States Navy who commanded ships in several wars, including the War of 1812 and the Mexican–American War (1846–1848). He played a leading role in the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854. Perry was interested in the education of naval officers and assisted in the development of an apprentice system that helped establish the curriculum at the United States Naval Academy. With the advent of the steam engine, he became a leading advocate of modernizing the U.S. Navy and came to be considered “The Father of the Steam Navy” in the United States.
1814: Napoleon Bonaparte abdicates as Emperor and departs for exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba.
1861: Colonel Robert E. Lee resigns from the United States Army.
1861: Under the command of P.G.T Beauregard, at 4:27 AM rebellious South Carolinians open fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. 34 hours and over 4000 artillery and mortar shells later, United States Army Major Robert Anderson surrenders the fort. Two days later President Lincoln asks for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion. The first lanyard of the Confederate barrage is pulled by the “rabid secessionist” Edmund Ruffin of Virginia.
1865: After his Appomattox meeting with Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, General Robert E. Lee, CSA, issues General Order #9, his last:
“After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them…I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen…I bid you an affectionate farewell.”
— Robert E. Lee
1865: At Appomattox, Confederate Major-General John Brown Gordon leads the march of the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia through the drawn-up ranks of Union soldiers under the command of Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, to stack their arms and return home. As General Gordon presents his lists to Chamberlain, the Union general calls his troops to attention and orders them to present arms as a mark of respect to their defeated foes. The ragged Confederates continue to march through the silent Union force until the disarming is complete, and the Civil War is over, four years to the day from when it began (there were, however, additional sea battles, and skirmishes).
1865: Shouting “Sic Semper Tyrannis*- the South is avenged!” actor John Wilkes Booth shoots President Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. He breaks his left leg leaping from the Presidential box onto the stage but succeeds in escaping Washington D.C. After getting his leg set by Dr. Mudd (‘your name is Mud’) he continues his flight but is cornered and killed in a burning barn near Bowling Green, Virginia. Lincoln dies the morning of the 15th at 7:22. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton is at the President’s bedside and declaims, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
1893: Birth of Dean Acheson (d.1971), Secretary of State for President Harry Truman, and the man most deeply engaged in bringing the Marshall Plan into practical operation.
1900: The U.S. Navy accepts delivery of its first submarine, USS Holland (SS-1).
1912: RMS Titanic sets out from Southampton, England on her first transatlantic voyage.
1912: Death of Clara Barton (b.1821), who achieved notoriety during the Civil War as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her efforts to ease the suffering of the wounded and dying. She went on to become the founder and first president of the American Red Cross in 1881.
1912: RMS Titanic strikes an iceberg and sinks. Over 1500 passengers drown in what remains the single biggest non-combat transportation disaster in history.
1918: San Francisco native Douglas Campbell (1896-1990) shoots down his fifth German aircraft to become the United States’ first combat ace.
1943: Katyn Forest Massacre: during their drive across Poland, the German army discovers a series of mass graves containing the bodies of over 20,000 Polish prisoners captured by the Soviets during the 1939 partition of that country. In a rare display of honest revulsion, the Nazis announce the finding to the world, convening an international panel of forensic experts and neutral journalists to document the breadth and scope of the massacre. Joseph Goebbels was frank about using the findings for anti-Soviet propaganda purposes; he recognized that if they didn’t get the story out first, the Soviets would certainly turn it around on the Germans in the event of Russian re-occupation of the site. The Soviets steadfastly denied their culpability until 1990, with the release of archival documents that vividly show how Beria, Khrushchev, and Stalin himself recognized significant post-war opportunities for the communist movement if they could decapitate the leadership of Poland during the cover of war. The final tally of the murdered victims includes over half of the Polish officer corps, including 14 generals, an admiral, and appropriately higher numbers of colonels and below, including as well doctors, police leadership, university professors and members of the technical elite.
1945: President Franklin D. Roosevelt (b.1882) dies at his home in Warm Springs, Georgia, three months into his fourth term.
1947: Jackie Robinson opens his major league career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
1951: President Truman fires General of the Army Douglas MacArthur from command of the forces fighting in Korea. MacArthur had made repeated calls to attack Red China if the communists would not lay down their arms. The President directly ordered MacArthur to cease making political statements. When the general ignored him and kept making public comments Truman relieved him of command saying, “The cause of world peace is more important than any individual.” MacArthur comes home to a hero’s welcome and an address to a joint session of Congress, where he gave his “Old Soldiers never die…” speech. LTG Mathew Ridgeway replaced him in Korea.
1961: The genocide trial of Adolf Eichman begins in Tel Aviv. Eichman escaped from Allied control in 1945 and re-surfaced in Argentina in 1950. Israeli agents kidnapped him in 1960 and brought him back to Israel for the trial. He was found guilty in December, 1961 and hanged the following June.
1961: After two years of secret training, the Soviet Union successfully launches Major Yuri Gagarin into orbit. He immediately becomes both an international hero and a propaganda icon for the Soviet state, too valuable to be allowed to make another space flight. He is killed under “suspicious circumstances” in a 1968 plane crash just outside of Moscow.
1963: On a test dive after a hastily completed major overhaul, USS Thresher (SSN-593) sinks 220 miles off of Cape Cod with the loss of all hands (112 crew and 12 civilian).
1964: Sandy Koufax pitches his 9th complete game without allowing a walk.
1970: At 13:13 Eastern Time, Apollo 13 launches for the moon.
1970: The Beatles last song, “Let it Be” rises to a #1 rating, where it remains for two weeks.
1970: Two days after launch, and halfway between the Earth and the Moon, an oxygen tank in Apollo 13’s Service Module explodes, causing the entire system to lose power and forcing the crew to complete the flight using the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat” for electricity, oxygen and trans-lunar navigation.
1975: The United States evacuates its last remaining personnel from the embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Genocide begins, with the communist government rounding up its own citizens and ends close to 2,200,000 intentional deaths later.
1976: Release of the Apple I personal computer. It went on sale in July for $666.66 (Steve Jobs reportedly liked repeating digits (not that an Apple is Satanic or anything)). Only 200 were built, of which reportedly only 40-50 remain. As a point of reference, in November of 2010, serial number 82 sold at Christie’s auction house for $178,000.
1981: The Space Shuttle program begins with the first launch of Columbia, piloted by astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen.
1988: USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) strikes an Iranian mine floating free in international waters. The blast tears a fifteen-foot hole in the hull, breaks the keel, and floods an engine room. The crew fought fire and flooding for over five hours, decisively saving the ship from otherwise certain destruction. Roberts was eventually lifted aboard a Dutch heavy-lift barge, the Mighty Servant 2, and returned to the United States for repairs. After forensics proved a direct link from the mine to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Navy launched Operation Praying Mantis, a one-day retaliation that destroyed two Iranian oil platforms they had converted to command and control stations, sank an Iranian frigate, heavily damaged another, and sank three Iranian high-speed patrol boats. None of Roberts’ crew was killed, although ten were injured as a result of the blast.
1990: Disguised as “oil pipeline equipment,” several shipments of Gerald Bull designed “Project Babylon” supergun parts are intercepted in Great Britain enroute to Iraq. Bull himself was found murdered in Brussels a week prior to the discovery of the gun components. (Note: as a point of reference, see DLH 3/10 Addendum on big German guns…)
1991: After 100 hours of ground combat, a cease-fire is declared in the Persian Gulf War. Note: A pre-correction is included here (culled from my original 2006 posting) to forestall any quibbling: Several eagle-eyed correspondents have patiently reminded me that the Persian Gulf War began in January, 1991 with the famous ground combat phase over by the first of March. The April 11th date here refers to the UN Security Council’s passage of a formal ceasefire resolution, not the end of the 100 hour ground phase. Thank you all for keeping me not only honest, but accurate.