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.
1506: The first contingent of Swiss Guards arrives in Vatican City to provide security for the Pope. Swiss mercenaries were legendary for their loyalty to their leadership and ferocious effectiveness in battle. Their appearance at the Holy See during the early rumblings of the Reformation was a perfectly logical extension of their long-running mercenary role on the European military scene. They remain the core of the Vatican’s security.
1564: Pope Pius IV issues the decree Benedictus Deus, ratifying the findings of the long-running Council of Trent. The Council was first seated in 1545 to begin a process of answering the practical and theological issues raised by the burgeoning Protestant movement, in particular the aggressive growth of Lutheranism in Germany, much of which was co-opted and exacerbated by the political struggles between Rome and the Empire. Over the course of its eighteen years, the Council of Trent conducted three major sessions and issued numerous canons and decrees, the vast majority of which remain in force to this day. While confirming some level of reform from the more egregious practices of the Church (i.e. indulgences), its primary products clarified and confirmed the beliefs and historical practices of Roman Catholicism, providing a stable catechism of faith for over three hundred years. The next ecumenical council after Trent took place in June 1868 at the First Vatican Council. The Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 is the most recent convocation of this stature.
1579: Three northern provinces of the Spanish Netherlands sign the Union of Utrecht, pledging to help defend each other from Spanish suppression of Reformation elements in the Low Countries. By early summer, 8 more provinces and city-states attached themselves to the Utrecht group, forming the nucleus of an independent and Protestant Netherlands that would in 1581 declare themselves free from Spanish rule under the Act of Abjuration. The Union signed today put Great Britain into play as the guarantor of the Netherlands’ independence from Spain.
1595: Death of Sir Francis Drake (b.c1540), of dysentery while anchored off the coast of Portobela, Panama. After a swashbuckling and heroic career at sea, which included significant harassment of Spanish treasure fleets, secret surveys, a circumnavigation of the globe, and the destruction of the Spanish Armada, Drake’s life ended while engaged on yet another crusade against the treasures of Spanish America. He requested to be buried in his full armour, and was buried at sea in a lead coffin, which is today the object of regular treasure hunts.
1759: Birth of Scottish poet laureate Robert Burns (d.1796). Burns’s best-known poem is the mock-heroic “Tam o’ Shanter,” published in 1791. He is also well known for his contribution to over three hundred songs that celebrate love, friendship, work, and drink such as “Auld Lang Syne.”
1787: In the final battle of what today is an obscure incident, an unauthorized militia aligned with Massachusetts farmer Daniel Shays conduct a short, sharp battle with the legitimate Massachusetts Militia at the Springfield Armory. Four of Shays’ men are killed, twenty are wounded, and the rebels flee north, totally disbanded. Shays’ Rebellion grew out of attempts to collect debts left over from the Revolution. European investors were putting the squeeze on Boston business owners, demanding payment in specie. The businessmen, in turn made the same demands on their debtors, mostly small freehold farmers in the central part of the state. The collections quickly descended into complete seizures of properties, including houses of the farmers, who felt helpless to resist. Finally, in August of 1786, Bunker Hill veteran Daniel Shays had had enough, and under the rubric of revolution, organized his first band of militia to force the issue at the Springfield courthouse. The situation festered through the Fall and Winter, leading to the climactic battle this day, where the Massachusetts militia, without authorization, drew weapons and ammunition from the Federal Arsenal to prevent Shays’ group from expropriating it first. The threat of further actions of this nature underscored the fundamental weakness of the Articles of Confederation, and spurred calls for a constitutional convention to draft a more effective form of national government, which we now know as the Constitution.
1832: Birth of belle epoch French painter Edouard Manet (d.1883), whose style of relatively rough brushwork on the subjects of everyday life marked the transition between the vivid realism of the early 19th century and the Impressionist period.
1832: Birth of British author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his nom du plume, Lewis Carroll (d.1898). His artistic bent was toward word-play and nonsense literature, most famously his Alice books and the Snark and Jaberwocky poems. He also spent his final 25 years mastering a new art form, photography.
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.
1879: Final day of the two-day Battle of Rorke’s Drift in the Anglo-Zulu war. In this battle, 150 British soldiers ostensibly performing civil engineering functions (kind of a 19th Century “nation-building” exercise) held off multiple waves of over 4,000 Zulu warriors, with only a brief respite from the fighting during the darkness of night. The Zulu leaders halted their attacks after a brief feint just after dawn, leaving behind them nearly a thousand dead and wounded warriors. When the battle ended, the defenders had only 900 rounds of ammunition remaining from the 20,000 rounds stockpiled beforehand. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the British defenders, the highest-ever number for a single battle.
1880: Birth of Douglas MacArthur (d.1964), American General, Medal of Honor recipient, Army Chief of Staff, Governor of the Philippines, chief executive of occupied Japan.
1887: Birth of Marc Mitscher (d.1947), American Admiral who led his carrier strike groups through wide-ranging and brutally effective campaigns against Japan’s South Pacific empire. He earned particular distinction when, after ordering a follow-on strike late in the day after the Marianas Turkey Shoot, he subsequently ordered his carriers to brightly illuminate their ships and the skies around them in order that his returning fighters could find and land aboard their carriers in the dark. Early in his aviation career, Mitscher piloted the NC-1 flying boat in the Navy’s first attempt to cross the Atlantic by air. He and the NC-1 made it as far as the Azores, while NC-4 continued on to Portugal to complete the mission. The hazards of the mission cannot be overstated, and for his role in it, Mitscher was awarded the Navy Cross.
1901: Death of Alexandrina Victoria of the House of Hanover, better remembered* for nearly 64 years as Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, and after 1876, Empress of India.
1919: The delegates meeting at the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles approve a motion to develop a League of Nations, based on President Wilson’s 14 Points.
1924: The Russian city of Petrograd, or St. Petersburg, is renamed Leningrad by the Soviet government in honor of Joseph Stalin who died two days before.
1924: Opening day in Chamonix, France of the first Winter Olympics.
1938: First flight of Lockheed’s P-38 Lightning twin-engine fighter. The airplane was the machine that later carried Major Richard Bong, USAAF to 40 victories in the Pacific theater of WWII, making him the United States’ all-time fighter ace.
1941: Aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, having recently visited Germany to inspect its aviation industry and capabilities, testifies before Congress in favor of a neutrality treaty with the Nazi government. Lindbergh believed the Nazi’s program of centralized economics and strident nationalism was a healthy and correct answer to the problems of society. He became increasingly distrusted by the US government and opinion makers in the popular press.
1943: The U.S. Army’s 8th Air Force launches its first raid into Germany, sending 91 B-17s and B-24s against submarine construction yards in Wilhemshaven.
1944: After 872 days of creating unrelenting shelling and misery for the population of the former Saint Petersburg, the German Wehrmacht lifts its Siege of Leningrad and withdraws, finally allowing the opening a broad corridor for the Soviet government to re-arm and re-supply the citizens and armed forces of that beleaguered city.
1945: The Red Army liberates the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.
1947: Death of Chicago mobster/businessman/politician/ Ward Chairman / political mentor… Al Capone (b.1899).
1951: The U.S. begins nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Range, using a B-50 bomber (a modified B-29) to drop a Mk-4 device, approximately the same size and weight of the Fat Man used at Nagasaki but with new triggering mechanisms and a modified nuclear pit. The vast majority of the 1,054 U.S. live tests were conducted at the Nevada site.
1960 – The Bathyscaph Trieste descends to the deepest part of the ocean — the Marianas Trench, 36,000 feet down.
1965: Death of Sir Winston Churchill (b.1874).
1967: The crew of Apollo 1, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, are killed when a fire sweeps through their Command Module during a routine rehearsal prior to the scheduled launch. The ignition source was not conclusively discovered, but the flaws inherent in the initial design were exacerbated by the module being pressurized with pure oxygen to 16 psi to simulate structural pressures in space. Redesign efforts put the program on hold for 20 months.
1968 – While operating in international waters in the Sea of Japan near the Korean coast, USS Pueblo (AGER 2) is seized by North Korean naval vessels. This is the first U.S. warship captured by an enemy since we were fighting the British. Commander Lloyd Bucher and his crew are imprisoned by the NORKs for nearly a year.
2005: Death of President Nixon’s long-serving secretary, Rose Mary Woods (b.1917). During the Watergate hearings, she achieved notoriety, if not fame, for her tortured depiction of how a crucial section of the secretly recorded Oval Office tapes was “inadvertently” erased. By all accounts she was effective, efficient and loyal in her work, but it became painfully clear that her loyalty put her in a very bad spot.
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