69 A.D.: Roman Legions in Germania Superior (present-day Alsace region) refuse to swear allegiance to Emperor Galba, instead casting their support for the accession of Vitellius, whose short reign (April-December of this year) made him the third in a uniquely turbulent period of Roman history known as The Year of Four Emperors, all of whom were powerful generals, and all vying for control of the post-Nero Roman throne by the power of the armies they commanded in the far-flung provinces of the Empire.
406 AD: Traditional date for the beginning of the great Barbarian invasion of the Roman Empire, with waves of Vandals, Alans, and Suebians crossing the un-bridged but frozen Rhine River to begin a massive campaign of pillage along a broad front of Roman Gaul.
1066: In Grenada, the capital of the recently conquered al-Andalus region of the Iberian Peninsula, an enraged Arab mob storms the royal citadel and murders the Grand Vizier of the realm, locally born Joseph ibn Naghrela, son of Granada’s rabbi and, until this point, the second most powerful man in the Moslem kingdom. With blood on their hands, the mob then surged down into the city and conducted a brutal pogrom against the rest of the Jewish population there, killing upwards of 4,000 of them. It was not the first mass murder of its kind, and it wasn’t the last, but it was seared into European memory by the character of its initial attack against a very well-respected and highly placed Jew serving in the heart of the Moslem court.
1229: James I of Aragon enters the port city of Palma de Majorca, completing the reconquista of the Baleric Islands from the invading Moors of North Africa.
1460: The War of the Roses, a long-running English civil war fought between the ruling Lancaster family (the then-current King Henry VI) versus the house of York (Richard Duke of York, who had a legitimate claim to the throne)–Five years into the scheming and periodic violence of the conflict, this week was fought the Battle of Wakefield, where York sallied from his castle against what he thought was a middling Lancaster army, but was actually a force twice his size, the bulk of which was concealed in the woods abutting the field of battle. York himself was killed, as were over 2,500 of his soldiers and noble retainers. But the victory did not seal the end of the conflict, as the bloodletting from this moment increasingly began to include the non-combatant family members of the vanquished leaders who fell over the next 21 years.
1492: Formal relinquishment and abandonment of Grenada, the final remaining stronghold and capital of Moslem Al-Andalus, to the Spanish thrones of Castile and Aragon, Ferdinand and Isabella. The act of surrender completed the requirements of the Treaty of Grenada, negotiated the previous November, which lifted the Spanish siege of that citadel and completed the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula from over 400 years of Moorish conquest and occupation. It consolidated Western Europe under a single major religion, however, significant tensions remained between the Church and Spain’s extensive Jewish populations, and cultural tensions remained between Portugal and the dominions of Castile and Aragon. The final expulsion of the Moors from Grenada confirmed the concept of Europe for Europeans.
1527: The city government of Zurich arrests Felix Manz, co-founder of the Swiss Brethren Anabaptist movement (precursors to the Mennonites), and finds him guilty of heresy by his refusal to recant his demand for adult re-baptism after conversion. He suffers the prescribed punishment for the offense: death by drowning. The city authorities truss up his arms behind his back, tying them to a long stick lashed to his legs. They then row out into Lake Zurich and throw him over the side to his watery fate. Once dead, Zurich confiscated all his property and buried his body in a local cemetery. Manz became the first martyr of the Radical Reformation, the movement that believed the Reformation was not moving fast enough or far enough. The irony of his death at the hands of other Protestants should not be lost.
1600: Queen Elizabeth I grants a Royal Charter to “Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies” better known today as the British East India Company. The charter awarded a monopoly on all trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Strait of Magellan. Wikipedia summarizes: “Any traders, in breach of the charter without a license from the Company, were liable to forfeiture of their ships and cargo (half of which went to the Crown and the other half to the Company), as well as imprisonment at the ‘royal pleasure’.”
1642: England’s King Charles I, concerned about the restiveness of his increasingly recalcitrant Parliament, surrounds himself with soldiers and enters the Chamber to arrest key Members, all of whom slipped away before the arrest could be made. The act infuriated a broad swath of the nobility and is considered the opening act of the English Civil War.
1687: The first organized group of approximately 180-200 French Huguenots, fleeing the continuing religious persecution of Cardinal Richelieu and the Edict of Fountainebleau, set sail for the Cape of Good Hope, where they are warmly welcomed by their coreligionist Dutch settlers in the Cape Colony. They eventually settled in the area of West Cape in an area quickly known as le Coin Francais (i.e., the French Quarter) and within a generation, Franschhoek, the Dutch version of the same name. Not surprisingly, the region is one of South Africa’s premier wine districts, with many places retaining their original francophone place names.
1759: Virginia planter and surveyor George Washington exchanges nuptial vows with Martha Dandridge Custis.
1772: The world’s first traveler’s cheques, are issued by the London Credit Exchange Company, for use in 90 cities in Continental Europe. I suspect that the rise of ATM usage worldwide has cut back some on the use of these instruments, but they are pretty much like a tuxedo or a heavy armor division: you don’t need them very often, but when you do, nothing else will suffice.
1775: The Battle of Quebec. Fought by an American army under the command of General Richard Montgomery and supported by Colonel Benedict Arnold, who had just completed an astonishing forced march through the Maine wilderness with about 1,100 veterans of the Siege of Boston, 600 of whom completed the trek. The two forces combined at the base of the city walls, and on this night initiated an attack on the fortified British Canadian redoubt of Quebec, with the intention of driving the British away from the Saint Lawrence River and claiming Canadian lands for the nascent United States. The night attack in a blinding snowstorm seemed like a good idea and might have even worked if the plan wasn’t betrayed to the British garrison, who set up a devastating ambuscade that shattered any hope for a concentrated offense. 34 Americans were killed, including General Montgomery, and another 50 wounded and 431 captured, against 19 casualties for the British, who not only successfully defended their position, but also captured virtually the entire American force, keeping them out of the fight for the remainder of the hostilities.
1776: Incensed by his being run out of his royal colonial capitol in Williamsburg, John Murray, the 4th Lord Dunmore and last Royal Governor of Virginia, orders the three ships of his refugee fleet to set fire to the waterfront buildings of Norfolk, Virginia. Using a heated shot, the mission was a complete success, made even more successful by rebel forces finishing the job to prevent the seaport’s continued use by royalist forces. By the end of the day, virtually the entire city had burned to ashes. One of the few buildings that remained standing after the fire was Saint Paul’s Church, whose three-foot thick masonry walls simply absorbed the shot and withstood the flames all around. One of Lord Dunmore’s cannonballs remains lodged in a corner wall of the church.
1778: Birth of explorer Zebulon Pike (d.1813). American brigadier general and explorer for whom Pikes Peak in Colorado was named. As a U.S. Army officer he led two expeditions through the Louisiana Purchase territory, first in 1805–1806 to reconnoiter the upper northern reaches of the Mississippi River, and then in 1806–1807 to explore the southwest to the fringes of the northern Spanish-colonial settlements of New Mexico and Texas. Pike’s expeditions coincided with other Jeffersonian expeditions, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Red River Expedition in 1806. Pike’s second expedition crossed the Rocky Mountains into what is now southern Colorado, which led to his capture by the Spanish colonial authorities near Santa Fe, who sent Pike and his men to Chihuahua (present-day Mexico) for interrogation. Later in 1807, Pike and some of his men were escorted by the Spanish through Texas and released near American territory in Louisiana. In 1810, Pike published an account of his expeditions, a book so popular that it was translated into several languages for publication in Europe. He later achieved the rank of brigadier general in the American Army and served during the War of 1812 until he was killed during the Battle of York in April 1813, outside the British colonial capital of Upper Canada.
1777: Building on his recent Christmas Eve success at Trenton, the Continental Army under General George Washington attacks and decisively defeats British Regulars at the Battle of Princeton (NJ). The battle is notable for two points in particular:
1) Washington himself, fearlessly rallying his faltering militia troops under withering fire until they slashed their way into the thick of the British contingent, shattering their effectiveness;
2) The post-battle decision by Lord Cornwallis to abandon southern New Jersey and fall back into the safety of New York.
Although Great Britain considered Trenton and Princeton as only minor losses, they in fact invigorated the army and citizens of the nascent American republic into believing the war could be won.
1781: The Pennsylvania contingent of the Continental Army, suffering in winter quarters near Morristown, New Jersey, mutinies against its officers and General “Mad” Anthony Wayne over not only the dire living conditions in camp but also the failure of Pennsylvania legislature to provide current and adequate pay and some positive indication concerning the legal status of their enlistments, whose supposed three-year term was long expired. Other regiments sent in to suppress the insurrection agreed with their grievances and instead of suppressing, joined them instead. During negotiations between the mutineers and Pennsylvania authorities, British Commanding General Sir Henry Clinton sent over an emissary who offered immediate full back pay to the Americans if they would join forces with the British army. Clinton, however, misjudged the nature of the Continentals: they arrested the British delegation and sent them packing with the message that there was no way they would defect to the British side. By the end of the month, enlistment contracts were re-negotiated and the regiment marched to Trenton, where they were either discharged with back pay or re-enlisted for a $20 bounty. The Pennsylvania Line Mutiny was by far the most dangerous insurrection of the entire war, but its conclusion reinforced the resolve of Americans continuing fight for independence. Two of the formerly mutinous and re-formed Pennsylvania regiments participated in General Washington’s siege and victory at Yorktown, Virginia in October.
1795: Death of Josiah Wedgwood (b.1730), the British potter who pioneered not only the use of high-quality glazes on his works but also direct marketing and factory production of his product lines. He was also a prominent abolitionist whose efforts laid much of the groundwork for the ultimately successful efforts of William Wilberforce in 1807
1804: After an uprising against their French masters, and supported in part by the infant United States, the former plantation colony of Haiti declares its independence from France, becoming the Western Hemisphere’s second independent state and the first one governed as a free black republic.
1809: Birth of Louis Braille (d.1852), blinded in an accident as a child, Braille developed an alternative alphabet that enabled the blind to “read” with their sense of touch.
1823: Continuing the former Spanish government’s policy of emprasario land grants to encourage colonization of its Texas territory, the newly independent government of Mexico renews the grant of the late Moses Austin, in the name of his son, Stephen F. Austin. Austin receives title to a huge swath of land between San Antonio and the Gulf coast on the condition he will bring at least 300 families with him. He does, and The Old 300 becomes the leading edge of a flood of American immigrants into the Texas territory.
1833: Great Britain re-asserts its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands by landing a permanent colonizing population.
1853: Less than five years after annexing by conquest a massive swath of Mexico’s North American territory, the United States completes the Gadsen Purchase, adding nearly 30,000 square miles of railroad-friendly geography to the southern tier of the Arizona and New Mexico territories. It is the final annexation of new continent-spanning United States, specifically negotiated with the government of Mexico to create a viable transcontinental railroad route that could service the economies of the southern states. Final cost was $10,000,000.00. Railroad interests aside, the purchase became yet another flashpoint in the increasingly bitter sectionalism that was dividing the country into explicit slave and free states. James Gadsen, you should know, was the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.
1857: Britain’s Queen Victoria, easing her Canadian subjects towards a velvety independence from the Mother Country, selects the trading village of Ottawa as the capital of the British Dominion of Canada. It’s still the capital, and still an active trading city, but the trade is now mostly with those pesky Yanks south of the border.
1862: President Abraham Lincoln signs an enabling act that admits West Virginia into the Union as a Free State.
1863: Three months after announcing his intent to do so, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation, legally freeing slaves from their servitude in the states still in rebellion on this date.
1865: Birth of English author Rudyard Kipling (d.1936. Much of his writing came as a direct result of his journalistic adventures in Great Britain’s far-flung south-Asian empire… The Jungle Book, The Story of Rikki-Tiki-Tavi, and scores of other paeans to the harsh reality of the British imperial project: “For it’s Tommy this and Tommy that and father, guard the door, but it’s ‘savior of the country’ when the drums are sounding war…”
1870: Construction begins on the Brooklyn Bridge.
1879: Inventor Thomas Alva Edison publicly demonstrates the incandescent light bulb in his Menlo Park laboratory.
1884: Birth of Hideki Tojo (d.1948), Prime Minister of Japan during World War II. He assumed the Prime Ministership from the top ranks of the army as a direct result of his negotiations with the Vichy French government that allowed Japanese soldiers to be stationed in French Indo-China, all the while expanding Japan’s brutal war against China, and exacerbating tensions with the United States. It was Tojo who gave the execution order for the attack on Pearl Harbor. In US propaganda, Tojo’s face became the leering caricature of Japanese militarism. After Japan’s surrender, Tojo was arrested, tried and convicted for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and on December 23rd, 1948, was hanged by the neck until dead.
1884: In London, founding of the Fabian Society, a collection of intellectuals who sought to create a socialist society by all means short of violent revolution. They named themselves after the Roman General Fabius, who used delaying tactics and attrition to wear down and defeat Carthaginian General Hannibal. The Fabians function as a left-wing think tank today, closely aligned with Britain’s Labour Party.
1885: Twenty-five industrialized nations adopt the concept of “standard time,” which we now know as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or “Zulu” time, from which all other clock times are derived, basing their local times on the concurrent establishment of 24 time zones worldwide.
1895: Birth of aeronautical engineer and industrialist Leroy Grumman (d.1989) whose company built some of the most legendary aircraft in U.S. Navy history, including the F-6F Hellcat of WWII fame, and the A-6 Intruder and F-14 Tomcat that spearheaded Naval Aviation during the Cold War. The planes’ reputation for toughness earned them the nickname “Grumman Ironworks.”
1903: Death of Topsy the Elephant (b.(c)1870), electrocuted by Thomas Edison, using alternating current (AC-DC). The circus elephant had in the preceding year killed three men and grievously wounded another, and the circus was concerned about how to safely put her down. Edison fed her a dose of 460 grams of potassium cyanide before sending 6,600 volts of electricity into her. She died in seconds, witnessed by around 1,500 people. Edison also made a short movie of the event, which is currently online.
1904: Death of Confederate General James Longstreet (b.1821). One of Robert E. Lee’s most trusted subordinates, Longstreet played a pivotal role in Confederate operations in both the Eastern and Western Theaters of the war.
1909: Birth of Arizona Senator and 1964 Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (d.1998). An unapologetic conservative, particularly when it came to the Cold War, he was viciously lambasted by the Democrats as an “extremist” in foreign policy and by extension, domestic policy as well. His retort still rings true: “Extremism in defense of Liberty is no vice!” Lyndon Johnson’s campaign countered with the infamous “Daisy” commercial, in which a sweet little girl in a meadow full of daisies is the victim of a nuclear attack, launched on America by a Soviet leadership unduly agitated by Goldwater’s pugnacious rhetoric. Goldwater lost in a crushing landslide, but continued in the Senate as a distinguished elder statesman.
1909: The South American nation of Columbia recognizes the independence of its breakaway province, Panama.
1914: Industrialist Henry Ford announces that Ford Motor Company will initiate an 8-hour work day, with a minimum wage of $5.00 per day.
1919: At the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles, where the newly victorious Allies were carving up the shattered Ottoman Empire, Emir Faisal, king of Greater Syria and Iraq, signs an agreement with the head of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann, supporting Zionist efforts to create a Jewish homeland on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. Wikipedia extracted some key quotes below:
“The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organization to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper.” (Letter by Emir Faisal to Felix Frankfurter, March 1919)
“The two main branches of the Semitic family, Arabs and Jews, understand one another, and I hope that as a result of interchange of ideas at the Peace Conference, which will be guided by ideals of self-determination and nationality, each nation will make definite progress towards the realization of its aspirations. Arabs are not jealous of Zionist Jews, and intend to give them fair play and the Zionist Jews have assured the Nationalist Arabs of their intention to see that they too have fair play in their respective areas. Turkish intrigue in Palestine has raised jealousy between the Jewish colonists and the local peasants, but the mutual understanding of the aims of Arabs and Jews will at once clear away the last trace of this former bitterness, which, indeed, had already practically disappeared before the war by the work of the Arab Secret Revolutionary Committee, which in Syria and elsewhere laid the foundation of the Arab military successes of the past two years.”
1933: Construction begins on the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco to Marin County, California. The bridge was the brainchild of Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss, who envisioned a design costing less than a fifth of the initial $100M (in 1916) estimate.
1951: After a four-year expenditure of just under $13,000,000.000.00 on rebuilding the business and infrastructure needs of the shattered societies of Western Europe, the European Recovery Program, a.k.a. the Marshall Plan, is terminated.
1962: Pope John XXIII excommunicates Fidel Castro from the Roman Catholic Church.
1964: Birth of Norfolk native Pernel “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, recently named as #10 in a list of the 100 greatest boxers of all time.
1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson gives his State of the Union speech, in which he announces a legislative program he dubs “The Great Society.” Johnson insisted this massive expansion of federal social programs could be accomplished simultaneously with a massive expansion of U.S. engagement in the Vietnam War, a guns-and-butter decision that set the country on an unsustainable financial course.
1968: First flight of the Tupolev TU-144 Charger supersonic transport aircraft. Its basic design echoed the Anglo-French Concorde, but in typical Russian fashion, the machine’s designers met their most intractable problems with predictable brute force, including a massive steel (yes) plate shielding the underbody from runway debris. After its 1977 commercial introduction, the plane saw the majority of its service on the domestic Moscow-Vladivostok run, which makes sense if your country is 11 time zones wide. It had a miserable mishap rate and pathetic reliability record, which only hastened its commercial demise in 1983 after only 55 (yes**) paying flights. As a point of reference, the Concorde dropped its landing gear for the last time in 2003. One of the last flyable TU-144s was offered to NASA & Boeing as a supersonic test bed by an independent contractor. It made 27 flights in 1996-97 before losing funding.
1970: At 00:00:00 GMT, time began for the UNIX computer system.
1974: In response to an Arab (OPEC) oil embargo, President Richard Nixon issues an Executive Order mandating a national speed limit of 55 mph in order to “save gas.” Correct: this “Republican” President threatened Several States with a loss of federal highway funding unless they complied. The “double nickel” was purported to reduce consumption by 2.2% but the actual reduction was closer to 0.5%. Although the embargo was lifted after 5 months, the 55 mph limit lived on and on at the behest of the insurance industry, the highway safety lobby, and their regulatory bodies until it was finally rescinded by Congress in 1986.
1983: Formal break-up date for AT&T – Bell Labs regulated monopoly, an act that freed AT&T to exploit all of its lab work into the burgeoning field of digital telecommunications, to say nothing of personal computing.
1989: Two F-14 Tomcats flying from the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), intercept and shoot down two Libyan MiG-23 Floggers in international airspace over the Gulf of Sidra.
1992: Death of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, USNR (b.1906), one of the visionary thinkers who ushered the U.S. into the computer age. In the early 1950s, she worked on the design team for the original UINVAC 1 system, which included her particular input, a functional compiler, a capability long considered beyond the reach of computing machines. Ten years later, she spearheaded the design and application of COBOL, the first computer language designed around more natural English as opposed to machine language. She retired in 1986, the oldest commissioned officer in the Navy at 79 years of age. USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named in her honor.