303 A.D.: Death of George of Lydda, who became revered as Saint George, patron saint of ten countries (we’re most familiar with England), no fewer than 19 cities (including Moscow, Russia), and numerous professions, most notably soldiers. Son of a Roman proconsul and his Palestinian wife, both Christians, George was a successful Roman soldier until ordered by the Emperor Diocletian to renounce his Christian faith and make sacrifice to the pagan gods. He refused, and the example of his bravery during the subsequent torture and execution provided strength for a host of subsequent Christian conversions, most notably the Empress herself and a pagan priest of the court. His association with slaying the dragon stems from a legend where he came upon a dragon who made a nest over the water supply of the city of Silene. The citizens had to dislodge the beast draw water, so every day they offer a sacrifice of a sheep, or if none is available, a maiden. George appears as the maiden is about to be sacrificed; he gets between the dragon and the damsel and slays the beast, saving her life ending the dragon’s hold on the city. The grateful citizens abandon their paganism and embrace Christianity. The Union Jack of the UK is designed around the Cross of St. George- the red cross on a white field, with St. Andrew’s cross (white X on blue field) and the Cross of St. Patrick (narrow red X on a white field).
570 A.D.: Birth of the Prophet Muhammad (per the Shi’a calendar (others put it at April 20th)), (d.632).
1521: Three quarters of the way around the first circumnavigation of the world, Portuguese navigator and explorer Ferdinand Magellan is killed on Mactan Island in the Philippines, only three weeks after making peaceful and productive contact with the indigenous inhabitants. After his death, the expedition continued under the command of Juan Sebastian Elcano, who managed to extend the westward passage all the way back to Spain. Of the five ships and 234 men who departed three years earlier, Elcano finished with one ship and 18 men.
1558: At age 16, Mary, Queen of Scots, marries the Dauphin of France. This is the first of three marriages for the Catholic monarch who, you will recall, created no end of intrigue and real and implied threat to the (Protestant) English throne of her cousin Elizabeth I. TDespite her execution at age 45, in the end her son James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England, punctuating the extinction of the Tudor line when Elizabeth died.
1564: Birth of William Shakespeare (d.1616).
1599: Birth of Oliver Cromwell (d.1658), alternately remembered as: a) Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of Great Britain, Scotland and Ireland, or; b) Regicide for overseeing the execution of King Charles I.
1607: The English Virginia Company colonizing expedition led by John Smith makes its New World landfall at Cape Henry, Virginia (Beach).
1731: Death of Daniel Defoe (b.1659), novelist best known for his tale of the castaway, Robinson Crusoe.
1773: The Engish Parliament passes the Tea Act, lowering direct taxation on the East India Company and compensating by mandating a monopoly for their tea trade with America.
1789: After months of sailing under the leadership of Captain William Bligh, Masters Mate Fletcher Christian leads 25 crewmen in a mutiny aboard HMS Bounty. The mutineers set adrift Bligh and 18 loyal crew members in an open 23-foot longboat. They navigate their way across 3600 miles of ocean to safely arrive at Timor in the Dutch East Indies on the 14th of June. Christian and the rest of the mutineers scuttle around the South Pacific trying to figure out what to do next. They eventually settle on remote Pitcairn Island, burning the Bounty to ensure their commitment to their new colonial effort.
1791: Birth of Samuel F. B. Morse (d.1872), American painter and inventor. Morse’s work included portraits of the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington. After studying the work of American physicist Joseph Henry, Morse developed a prototype of the telegraph. In 1836, others in Europe were also working on the invention, and it is possible Morse knew about these, but no one had yet developed a fully operational device that could transmit over long distances. In 1838, Morse formed a partnership with fellow inventor Alfred Vail, who contributed funds and helped develop the system of dots and dashes for sending signals that would eventually become known as Morse code.
1792: Three years into the French Revolution, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle composes La Marseillaise, the new national anthem of the French Republic.
1798: Birth of French Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix (d.1863). Delacroix’s use of expressive brushstrokes and his study of the optical effects of colour profoundly shaped the work of the Impressionists, while his passion for the exotic inspired the artists of the Symbolist movement. A fine lithographer, Delacroix illustrated various works of William Shakespeare, the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, and the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
1805: Led by a United States Agent and Marine Lieutenant Wesley O’Bannon, a small force of Marines and Berber mercenaries capture Derna, Tripoli and overthrow the anti-American pasha.
1810: Ludwig van Beethoven composes Fur Elise.
1856: Birth of Henri Philippe Petain (d.1951), Marshal of France during the Great War and hero of the 9-month long Battle of Verdun in 1916, where he is credited with the inspirational quote: “Ils ne passeront pas!” (They shall not pass!”). Petain’s reputation was damaged in June, 1940 when he refused to countenance continued resistance to the German onslaught across the northern tier of France. He signed an armistice with the Germans and was elected to head the collaborationist French government, headquartered in the city of Vichy. His latent Fascist instincts then took over* as he set about abolishing what he considered the republican excesses and weaknesses of the Third Republic, which he believed led to the failure of the French army to halt the German’s Blitzkrieg at the Maginot Line.
1861: Birth of General Edmund Allenby (d.1936). The British general fought in the Boer War, and at the outbreak of the Great War, fought on the Western Front. In June of 1917 he took command of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) which fought the Ottoman Turks from Cairo in a campaign to dislodge them from their Middle Eastern empire. Allenby was the key supporter of Colonel T.E. Lawrence’s efforts with the Arabs in Sinai and the upper Arabian Peninsula. As Turkish resistance crumbled, Allenby specifically targeted the capture of Jerusalem as his key strategic goal, which he accomplished in December of 1917. Out of respect to the spiritual significance of the city, he and his staff entered through the Jaffa gate on foot, a display that paid huge dividends as he set about un-doing several centuries of Turkish domination.
1861: Less than three weeks into the open rebellion of the southern states, President Lincoln suspends the writ of habeas corpus.
1861: West Virginia secedes from Virginia to remain in the Union after the Old Dominion secedes from the United States.
1865: Two weeks after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Confederate General Joe Johnston echoes Lee’s decision and professionalism, surrendering the remnants of his army to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman at Bennett Place, near Durham, N.C.
1865: Cornered in a burning barn at Garrett’s Farm in rural northern Virginia, and refusing to surrender himself, John Wilkes Booth is shot dead by Union soldiers.
1865: The river steamer SS Sultana, crammed with over 2,400 former Union POWs, explodes, burns and slowly sinks, taking an estimated 1,700 lives to a watery grave on the Mississippi River. The ship was part of a process of repatriating Union POWs, having recently boarded the men in Vicksburg and thence ferrying them upriver to Saint Louis for repatriation and discharge. One family on board noted how the men were crammed in from rail to rail, a point to which the captain testified that the ship was “…over-crowded, not over-loaded.” One of the ship’s hastily repaired boilers exploded, igniting a fire in the engine room that quickly spread throughout the ship. Only 800 survived.
1874: Birth of Gugliemo Marconi (d.1937), Italian-born inventor and recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics for his studies of electromagnetic radiation. Marconi migrated to Great Britain and founded the radio manufacturing (now electronics) company that still bears his name.
1915: Opening of the amphibious ground assault on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula by a British Commonwealth force, primarily troops from Australia and New Zealand- “ANZACs” who took ferocious casualties during the course of the futile nine month campaign. The attack on the Bosporus and Dardanelles was the brainchild of First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill (the same), who believed the Central Powers could be defeated through the “soft underbelly” of their putative ally, the Ottoman Empire, also widely known as “The Sick Man of Europe.” After the initial landings, the Turks proved themselves not so sick after all, eventually forcing an ANZAC withdrawal under fire in January, 1916. The battle is credited with awakening the nationalist impulses of Australia and New Zealand, and is celebrated in those countries as ANZAC Day.
1916: The Easter Rising, a revolt against British rule in Ireland, begins in Dublin. The bombings and shootings are coordinated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, precursors to the Irish Republican Army.
1916: British explorer Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 5 depart in an open lifeboat from Elephant Island, Antarctica, on a rescue mission for the crew of their ice-bound ship Endurance. They row and sail across 800 miles of the stormy Southern Ocean in a feat of astounding seamanship, navigation and endurance, landing safely on the southern shore of South Georgia Island. Knowing there is a whaling station on the north shore, Shackleton and one other man hike across the island to alert the station. They spend only three days recovering, and then lead a volunteer expedition back around the island by ship to pick up the rest of their party. Only days later, they take another volunteer party back to Elephant Island where all of the remaining Endurance crew is rescued from their survival huts (built from their overturned lifeboats). Ernest Shackleton’s skills as planner and leader are at the center of it all. There were no fatalities.
1918: First direct tank-versus-tank combat, during the second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, France: three British Mark IV fought three German A7Vs.
1928: Birth of Shirley Temple (d.2014).
1937: Birth of Saddam Hussein (d.2006). After spending nine months on the run, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is captured on December 13, 2003. Saddam’s downfall began on March 20, 2003, when the United States led an invasion force into Iraq to topple his government, which had controlled the country for more than 20 years. Saddam Hussein was born into a poor family in Tikrit, 100 miles outside of Baghdad, in 1937. After moving to Baghdad as a teenager, Saddam joined the now-infamous Baath party, which he would later lead. He participated in several coup attempts, finally helping to install his cousin as dictator of Iraq in July 1968. Saddam took over for his cousin 11 years later. During his 24 years in office, Saddam’s secret police, charged with protecting his power, terrorized the public, ignoring the human rights of the nation’s citizens. While many of his people faced poverty, he lived in incredible luxury, building more than 20 lavish palaces throughout the country. Obsessed with security, he is said to have moved among them often, always sleeping in secret locations. In the early 1980s, Saddam involved his country in an eight-year war with Iran, which is estimated to have taken more than a million lives on both sides. He is alleged to have used nerve agents and mustard gas on Iranian soldiers during the conflict, as well as chemical weapons on Iraq’s own Kurdish population in northern Iraq in 1988. After he invaded Kuwait in 1990, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in 1991, forcing the dictator’s army to leave its smaller neighbor, but failing to remove Saddam from power. Throughout the 1990s, Saddam faced both U.N. economic sanctions and airstrikes aimed at crippling his ability to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. With Iraq continuing to face allegations of illegal oil sales and weapons-building, the United States again invaded the country in March 2003, this time with the expressed purpose of ousting Saddam and his regime. Despite proclaiming in early March 2003 that, “it is without doubt that the faithful will be victorious against aggression,” Saddam went into hiding soon after the American invasion, speaking to his people only through an occasional audiotape, and his government soon fell. After declaring Saddam the most important of a list of his regime’s 55 most-wanted members, the United States began an intense search for the former leader and his closest advisors. On July 22, 2003, Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay, who many believe he was grooming to one day fill his shoes, were killed when U.S. soldiers raided a villa in which they were staying in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Five months later, on December 13, 2003, U.S. soldiers found Saddam Hussein hiding in a six-to-eight-foot deep hole, nine miles outside his hometown of Tikrit. The man once obsessed with hygiene was found to be unkempt, with a bushy beard and matted hair. He did not resist and was uninjured during the arrest. A soldier at the scene described him as “a man resigned to his fate.”
After standing trial, he was executed on December 30, 2006. Despite a prolonged search, weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq.
1945: Westward rolling Soviet and eastward rolling American troops meet at the Elbe River in central Germany.
1945: Italian Fascist, “Il Duce” Benito Mussolini and his mistress are captured by Italian partisans, executed by firing squad, and their corpses displayed to the public: hanged by their heels on meat hooks in Milan’s main square.
1947: Death of Willa Cather (b.1873), American author of frontier life on the Great Plains. Her most popular novels include O Pioneers, My Antonia and The Song of the Lark.
1947: Norwegian explorer Thor Hyerdahl and a small international crew depart Peru on their balsa raft Kon Tiki to test his theory that ancient South Americans could have populated the islands of the South Pacific. They arrive in the Polynesian island of Raroia 101 days later.
1964: As part of the postwar surge of de-colonization, Tanganyika and Zanzibar merge to form Tanzania.
1965: Acting on President Johnson’s assertions that Cuba was behind the unrest that threatened to create another communist foothold in the Western Hemisphere, a force of 20,000 United States Marines land in the Dominican Republic to restore order. They remain for nearly 18 months.
1967: Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay) refuses his draft induction into the Army. He is stripped of his title but stays out of the Army anyway.
1986: Death of Wallis Simpson (b.1896), the American divorcee at the center of the British constitutional crisis of 1936, which led to King Edward VI’s abdication of the British throne so he could marry “the woman I love.” His brother, now suddenly King George VI, made him Duke of Windsor and Mrs. Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor, but without being styled “her royal highness.”
1986: International monitoring devices note the release of huge radioactive cloud near Kiev, in the Soviet Ukraine. The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR in the Soviet Union.It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history both in cost and casualties. It is one of only two nuclear energy accidents rated at seven—the maximum severity—on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The initial emergency response, together with later decontamination of the environment, involved more than 500,000 personnel and cost an estimated 18 billion Soviet rubles—roughly US$68 billion in 2019, adjusted for inflation.
The accident occurred during a safety test on the steam turbine of an RBMK-type nuclear reactor. During a planned decrease of reactor power in preparation for the test, the power output unexpectedly dropped to near-zero. The operators were unable to restore the power level specified by the test program, which put the reactor in an unstable condition. This risk was not made evident in the operating instructions, so the operators proceeded with the test. Upon test completion, the operators triggered a reactor shutdown. However, a combination of operator negligence and critical design flaws had made the reactor primed to explode. Instead of shutting down, an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction began, releasing enormous amounts of energy.
The core melted down and two or more explosions ruptured the reactor core and destroyed the reactor building. This was immediately followed by an open-air reactor core fire. It released considerable airborne radioactive contamination for about nine days that precipitated onto other parts of the USSR and Western Europe, before finally ending on 4 May 1986. Some 70% of fallout landed in Belarus, 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) away.[The fire released about the same amount of contamination as the initial explosion. As a result of rising ambient radiation levels off-site, a 10-kilometre (6.2 mi) radius exclusion zone was created 36 hours after the accident. About 49,000 people were evacuated from the area, primarily from Pripyat. The exclusion zone was later increased to 30 kilometres (19 mi) when a further 68,000 people were evacuated from the wider area, and later it became the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone covering an area of approximately 2,600 km2 (1,000 sq mi).
1989: Death of Lucille Ball (b. 1911), comedienne.
1993: An IRA bomb explodes in the Bishopsgate section of London.
2002: Last successful telemetry received from Pioneer 10, 39 minutes of clean data sent from 79.83 AU from the Blue Planet, enroute to interstellar space, making it the first man-made object to travel outside the Solar System. The probe launched in March, 1972, crossed the Asteroid Belt in July, and in December of 1973 began transmitting the first close-up pictures of Jupiter.