267 (or 306*) AD: Traditional date of the martyrdom of Saint Barbara. Although her actual provenance was suspect enough to be removed in 1969 from roster of official Saints, she remains the Patron Saint of artillerymen, miners, explosive workers, and others whose jobs carry with it the risk of sudden and violent death.
771: Death of Carloman I (b.751), younger brother of Charlemagne, who held half of the Frankish kingdom on the death of their father. The brothers did not get along well, and when Carloman died- rather conveniently, but not the result of foul play– Charlemagne forcefully annexed the region to become the sole king of the Franks.
1492: Continuing his initial exploration of what he still thought were the Spice Islands of Southeast Asia, Christopher Columbus lands on the largest of the Windward Islands, which he names Hispaniola. In the subsequent colonial dash, the island was eventually split between Spain (Dominica (now Dominican Republic)) and France (Haiti). Over the course of the next ten years from this day, the Admiral of the Ocean Seas made three more voyages of discovery throughout the Caribbean basin and along the coast of Central America. His reputation was tarnished by administrative abuses committed in his name by the Spanish colonial authorities in Santo Domingo, of whom he was Governor of the Indies. That said, Columbus remains in my mind one of the greatest seamen of all time: a man whose vision, leadership, audacity and religious faith pointed the way to a fundamental re-ordering of how Europeans viewed the world.
1703: The Great Storm… A powerful extra-tropical cyclone lashes the south of England for three days, toppling thousands of chimneys in London, peeling the lead-shingled roof off of Westminster Abbey, tearing scores of ships from their moorings and onto the rocks of the lee shore, where they and their crews were destroyed by the pounding surf, suffering a loss of over 1,500 seamen. One Royal Navy flagship, HMS Association, broke free at Harwich, on the east coast north of London, and was driven by the wind and wave across the North Sea all the way to Gothenburg, Sweden, before the crew could control the ship enough to turn around and make their way back to England. Over 4,000 trees were downed in the New Forest. The original Eddystone Lighthouse was swept from its treacherous rocks, killing all six in residence, including its builder, Henry Winstanley, who intentionally made a trip out to the light the day prior in order to confirm its strength during a storm.
1763: Dedication of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, the oldest such assembly in the United States.
1768: Publication in Edinburgh of the first edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, a systematic attempt to categorize and explain in English the world’s catalog of knowledge.
1775: Lieutenant John Paul Jones hoists the Grand Union Flag aboard USS Alfred, a Philadelphia-built merchantman, converted to a 10-gun warship under the command of John Barry. Jones, recently commissioned as First Lieutenant aboard Alfred, had the honor of ordering the new national flag raised on the new national warship.
1775: The 25 year old bookseller, and recently commissioned Colonel in the Continental Army, Henry Knox arrives at Fort Ticonderoga to begin transporting its captured artillery to support General George Washington’s forces arrayed around Boston. Knox’s keen intellect and organizational skills accomplished this strategically crucial mission through the dead of a New England winter, arriving within a short ride of Washington’s camp on January 25th. The Knox Expedition is also widely known as “The Noble Train of Artillery.” Wikipedia quotes historian Victor Brooks, who called the operation, “one of the most stupendous feats of logistics” in the entire Revolutionary War.
1776: At the College of William and Mary, the first college fraternity is chartered: Phi Beta Kappa.
1783: With the Revolutionary War successfully concluded, General George Washington bids farewell to his military staff at New York City’s Fraunces Tavern.
1787: The sovereign state of Delaware ratifies the new Constitution of the United States of America, the first of the Several States to do so. Their license plates still read ‘The First State’.
1790: The United States Congress moves the capital of the country from New York City to Philadelphia.
1804: Fresh from his consolidation of dictatorial power as First Consul of the Directory, and fresher still from his recent gutting of a major Jacobin-inspired coup d’etat plot, Napoleon Bonaparte crowns himself Emperor of the French, the first since the demise of the Charlemagne’s dynasty a thousand years earlier. Napoleon assumed the title and crown as a specific means to re-establish a hereditary monarchy without the complications of getting the Bourbons back in the mix. After crowing himself, the new Emperor then crowned as Empress, his wife Josephine.
1815: Death of Michel Ney, Marshall of France (b.1769), one of the brightest of Napoleon’s team of brilliant subordinate commanders, whose loyalty to France and its leadership not only drove him to his greatest battlefield victories, but also to his final political defeat and execution on this day.
When one reads of Napoleon’s multiple victories across the continent, Ney is always in the thick of it. As a measure of France’s perpetual war with the other countries of Europe, ponder this: between 1787 and this day, 28 years on, Ney fought in 36 major named battles across six “Coalition” wars, the Peninsular War in Spain and the invasion of Russia. It was Ney who led the massive but ultimately unsuccessful cavalry charges at Waterloo against Wellington’s infantry squares, actually having five (!) horses killed from under him. After Napoleon’s final exile to St. Helena, Ney was arrested and charged with high treason. Although his lawyer tried to prove Ney was actually a Prussian by birth, Ney interrupted and sealed his fate by declaiming, “I am French, and I will remain French.” Wikipedia notes that at his execution, he refused to wear a blindfold, and was permitted to give the order to fire, saying: “Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her … Soldiers, fire!” They obeyed, one last time.
1823: During his annual State of the Union address to Congress, President James Monroe outlines a new doctrine that asserts a fundamental change in the relationship between the United States and the nations of Europe. It boils down to two parts:
1) European colonization of the Western Hemisphere is over, and the United States will actively resist any further European military intrusion on this side of the Atlantic, and;
2) The United States will remain studiously neutral across the full range of real and potential European conflicts. The Monroe Doctrine was essentially the bedrock foreign policy of the U.S. through the Great War and well into the 1930s.
1829: British Governor-General of India, Lord William Benetick issues an edict that all who abet suttee will be guilty of Culpable Homicide. British administrators in India were disgusted and vexed by the seemingly intractable practice of new widows being burned alive on their husband’s funeral pyre. Nearly thirty years later, General Charles Napier, serving as Commander-in-Chief India, was quoted with a thought that should remain front and center when arguments move towards multi-culturalism and political correctness: “You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”
1831: Former President John Quincy Adams takes his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, as the delegate from Massachusetts, serving seventeen years in 8 consecutive terms. In 1847 Adams met Abraham Lincoln when he came to the House for his sole term in Congress; he thus can be considered “the sole major figure in American history to have personally known [both] the Founders and Abraham Lincoln.”
1857: Birth of Josef Teodor Konrad Natecz Koreniowski (d.1924), the Polish mariner better known by his English pen name, Joseph Conrad. Even with English as his second language, Conrad’s finely crafted prose is widely acknowledged among the best of the late 19th and early 20th Century. His novels plumb the depths of the human spirit, casting his characters within the venue of a sea voyage or river exploration that leads to ultimate truth. His long professional association with the sea, including duties as a captain, gave him an unparalleled eye for detail, and his own restless spirit, torn between his native Poland and his adopted Great Britain, sought meaning and truth from much of the ugly realities of life at sea. You probably read Lord Jim in high school, and perhaps Heart of Darkness; the latter provided the basic story line for the anti-war film, Apocalypse Now.
1859: Rabid abolitionist John Brown is hanged by the neck until dead for his role in fomenting the bloody raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia back in October (DLH 10/16). Last I heard, his body is still “…moldering in the grave.”
1862: Just outside of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, a force of over 9,000 Union soldiers under the command of Brigadier General James Blunt squared off against some 11,000 Confederates under Major General Thomas Hindman in a short, sharp battle that saw the combined use of very accurate Union artillery fire against specific Confederate artillery batteries, followed by an infantry attack that was met by Confederate cavalry on one side and charging Rebel infantry on two other sides. The Federals retreated back towards their lines, where Union artillery was re-loaded with canister shot that devastated the Confederates. By nightfall, Union reinforcements began to arrive, and Hindman, recognizing his depleted ammunition supplies and exhausted troops could not withstand another similar day of battle, withdrew what remained of his forces towards Van Buren, Arkansas, essentially opening the door for the ultimate Union occupation and control of northwest Arkansas. Casualty count was 1,200 Union, 1,300 Confederate. With essentially no change in the opening positions, the battle was technically a draw, but in reality was a strategic victory for the Union.
1865: The legislature of the former Confederate State of Georgia votes to approve the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, providing the final ratification of the end of slavery in the Supreme Law of the Land.
1869: Outlaw Jesse James robs his first bank, a branch in Gallatin, Missouri.
1904: President Theodore Roosevelt issues what he calls a “corollary” to the Monroe doctrine, stating that it was the policy of the United States to affirmatively intervene in the affairs of Latin American governments if they show themselves incapable or unstable in their governance. The policy underlay the next three decades of U.S. military intervention in the multiple “banana wars” throughout the Caribbean and Central America.
1912: Birth of Medal of Honor and Navy Cross awardee, Greg “Pappy” Boyington (d.1988), Marine Corps aviator and skipper of the famous Black Sheep squadron that chewed up Japanese forces throughout the Pacific theater in World War II. He recorded 26 confirmed kills before being shot down himself, spending the final 20 months of the war in Japanese POW camps.
1917: In Halifax, Nova Scotia, a French ammunition ship, SS Mont-Blanc, suffers a slow-speed collision with an empty Norwegian freighter, SS Imo, and catches fire. The crew is unable to contain the blaze, and they abandon ship, leaving the ship to drift toward the Richmond district of the city. Twenty minutes later, the cargo detonates and completely flattens everything within a half mile of the ship, and creates havoc throughout the rest of the city. The explosion remains the largest non-nuclear detonation in history, estimated at 2.6 kilotons of TNT. Over 2000 Halifax residents die in the blast and its immediate aftermath
1917: The new communist government of Russia signs an armistice with the Central Powers. The cease-fire leads immediately to negotiations for a separate peace, ratified in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March, 1918. The cessation of hostilities allowed the Bolsheviks to concentrate their energies on their own increasingly bloody civil war, and gave the Germans in particular a boost of forces back into the Western Front.
1918: President Woodrow Wilson departs by ship to participate in the Versailles Conference, becoming the first President to travel to Europe while in office.
1921: The government of the United Kingdom and representatives of the nascent Republic of Ireland sign an agreement establishing the Irish Free State as a self-governing state within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and ending the shockingly vicious civil war that wracked the island for the last five years. The pact gives the counties of Ulster the right to opt out of the agreement, a right they immediately exercised in order to remain part of the United Kingdom.
1922: The Irish Free State is formally established per the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of the year prior. The counties of Ulster re-affirmed their legal option to not be a part of the Irish state.
1927: After 19 continuous years of Model T production, Ford Motor Company begins sales of its next design, the Model A.
1941: The Empire of Japan launches a flawlessly planned and executed attack on the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet moored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Despite disparate indications that something was afoot, the attack comes as a complete surprise, and obliterates the main striking force of the Navy in a single stroke.
1945: A U.S. Navy formation of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, known by their callsign as Flight 19, vanishes without a trace on a routine navigation training mission flown from Naval Air Station Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Later in the day, one of the PBM-5 patrol aircraft sent up to search for the missing crews explodes in mid-air, killing all 13 on board, adding to the 14 lost from the TBM flight.
The mystery of the TBM’s disappearance has never been conclusively solved, although transcribed radio transmissions from the doomed flight suggest that soon after becoming lost, the flight lead mistakenly identified an island in the Bahamas chain as one in the Florida Keys, and made a decision to fly the formation northeasterly in order to find the Florida mainland. If you’re familiar with your geography, you’ll recognize that a northeasterly course from the Bahamas will take you into the central Atlantic and the Bermuda Triangle (queue up the creepy music). Several attempts in recent years to find the lost flight have, in fact, recovered scores of crashed TBMs and other aircraft on Florida’s continental shelf, but none of them match the serial numbers of the five TBMs.
1949: As the Chinese Civil War collapses under pressure from the communists of Mao Tse-Tung, the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-Sheck abandons Nanjing and sets up its “provisional capital” in Taipei, on the Chinese island of Taiwan. 74 years later, they’re still there: They still claim to be the legitimate government of China, and the United States still promises to assist in the defense of the island in the event of an invasion by mainland forces, and there’s still a high level of anxiety any time it appears there’s a change in the status quo vis-a-vis the United States- witness the (2016) phone call by the President-elect.
1961: Two years into his Cuban Revolution, strongman Fidel Castro admits what everyone could plainly see: that he was a Marxist-Leninist, and that Cuba under his rule would be built into a communist state.
1964: 800 protesters from the Berkeley Free Speech Movement are arrested on Sproul Plaza and the Administration Building at UC Berkeley, where they occupied the building and staged a “sit-in” to protest the UC Chancellors’ decision to limit protests on campus. The OWS, BLM, Antifa, and other leftist goombahs over the past couple years are attempting to duplicate this movement, but without the internal fire and, probably more importantly, the fear of being drafted to go to Vietnam.
1970: Under Republican President Richard M. Nixon, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)is created.
1972: Apollo 17 launches from the Kennedy Space Center. After cancellation of Apollo 18 for budgetary reasons, this flight becomes the United States’ final manned mission to the moon. NASA’s science community made a powerful and successful effort to re-arrange the crew flight assignments so that an actual geologist would make the trip to the moon’s surface, rather than another pilot trained in geology. Accordingly, the final crew became Flight Commander Gene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ron Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot (and geologist) Harrison Schmidt. The planned landing area in the Tarus-Littrow Valley and the use of the lunar rover vehicle promised to return a wide variety of lunar rock and soil samples.