49 BC: Gaius Julius Caesar, leading a huge army of Roman Legionnaires, crosses the Rubicon River into metropolitan Rome to confront the Senate. When he made the decision to cross, he became a de facto and de jure traitor to the Roman Republic. The laws of imperium gave provincial governors and generals the right to raise and use Roman armies, but they were forbidden to exercise imperium in Rome proper, defined as the region south of the Rubicon River. Any troops who accompanied their general in violating imperium were likewise guilty of treason. With full understanding of the ramifications of his action, Caesar made the decision on this day, saying, “The die is cast…” and there was nothing the Senate could do to stop him. The act triggered a civil war that forced the transition of Rome from a Republic to a Dictatorship, with Caesar himself as the first Dictator. “Crossing the Rubicon” remains in our language idiomatically to describe a decision passing the point of no return.
630: Arab warlord and putative prophet Mohammad, leading an army of some 10,000 soldiers from his hometown of Medina, conquers nearby Mecca in a nearly bloodless assault that puts the city at the heart of Mohammad’s burgeoning new religion.
1118: Alfonso the Battler, king of Aragon and Navarre, re-conquered the city of Zaragoza in north-east Spain from its Moslim occupiers. The campaign for Zaragoza was central to a Crusade called by the Council of Toulouse in dealing with various heresies on the European continent. Note: we often consider the era of the Crusades solely in terms of the campaigns into the Middle East, but they were also called and fought against non-Christian occupation of both the Iberian Peninsula and the region now known as the Baltic states.
1297: The Genovese warlord and leader of the Guelph faction, Francesco Grimaldi, disguises himself as a monk and ingratiates his way into the fortress at the Rock of Monaco, capturing it along with his cousin Rainier I and a small group of armed men. He held the citadel for four years, and on his death in 1309 deeded it back to his cousin Rainier I, from whom the current Grimaldi ruling family is descended.
1349: A pogrom sweeps through the Jewish sector of Basil, Switzerland, triggered by a panic over the onset of Black Death in the city. The Jews provided a convenient scapegoat to explain forces that were beyond people’s control. On this week, virtually the entire Jewish population of Basil is rounded up and taken to an island in the middle of the Rhine River, where the children are separated from their parents and forcibly baptized. The remaining Jews, more than 600 of them, are crammed into a specially built wooden barn, into which they are subsequently locked, and burned alive. The Basil pogrom is the first of a series of pogroms that swept through the Rhine valley in subsequent months, with massacres occurring even in towns where there was no Black Death.
1412: Birth of Joan of Arc (d.1431), the young French girl who rallied French troops at the siege of Orleans and found herself martyred by the British who eventually captured her.
1536: Death of Catherine of Aragon (b.1485) Henry VIII’s first wife, and mother of his first heir to the English throne.
1540: Henry VIII marries his fourth wife, Ann of Cleaves, a German princess whom he admired politically, but whom he found repellent physically. Their marriage was never consummated, and after four months was annulled. Ann remained in England, taking the title of Beloved Sister of the King, and was, in fact, beloved by the mercurial king as a friend and confidant until his death. She had the satisfaction of outliving all of his other wives, and the man himself.
1610: Galileo makes his first telescopic observation of the moons of Jupiter.
1735: Birth of John Jervis, 1st Earl St. Vincent, one of the Royal Navy’s greatest commanders, and primary mentor of Horatio Nelson.
1755: Birth of Alexander Hamilton (d.1804), on Nevis Island in the St. Vincent and Grenadines chain in the Caribbean, British Crown territory.
1776: American pamphleteer Thomas Paine publishes his magnum opus, Common Sense, 48 pages of clear reasoning and straightforward prose that laid out the case for American independence in a way that was not only heard, but understood by the common citizens of the British colonies. The pamphlet was a runaway best-seller, with the highest per capita sales and circulation of any publication in American history. Given the treasonous nature of the material, Paine published the book anonymously, but when independence came into the open at the Continental Congress, Paine contributed all of his earnings to the Continental Army, saying, “As my wish was to serve an oppressed people, and assist in a just and good cause, I conceived that the honor of it would be promoted by my declining to make even the usual profits of an author.”
1790: Under the requirement of Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, President George Washington delivers his first State of the Union address to Congress, at the time meeting in the temporary capitol in New York City.
1806: A State Funeral is conducted for Horatio Lord Nelson, killed at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st of October. More than 10,000 sailors surged into London to escort his casket from lying in state at Greenwich to the service at St Paul’s Cathedral, where he was entombed.
1815: Led by General Andrew Jackson, American forces decisively defeat an invading British force at the Battle of New Orleans, the largest and final land battle of the war of 1812, fought a month after the formal conclusion of peace at the Treaty of Ghent on December 24th. The lopsided victory helped propel Jackson into a political career that eventually led to the Presidency. The U.S. suffered 333 casualties (55 dead) against the British 2459 (386 dead).
1863: The Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama, under the command of Captain Raphael Semmes, attacks and sinks the USS Hatteras off the coast of Galveston, Texas.
1870: Convinced that there was a viable market for the black sludge oozing from the rocks of western Pennsylvania and elsewhere, the grocery wholesale businessman, accountant, careful investor and “early adapter,” John D. Rockefeller incorporates the Standard Oil Company of Ohio, headquartered in Cleveland. The company grew quickly and eventually dominated the oil industry, not only making Rockefeller the richest man in history, but also causing Congress to pass the Sherman Anti-Trust act in 1890, its first target being the company that made crude oil and its many derived products cheaper and more accessible to people and businesses nation-wide.
1873: Death of Napoleon III (b.1808), nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the only French leader to carry the titles of both Emperor and President of the Republic. He actively asserted French interests in Mexico.
1879: Opening moves of the Anglo-Zulu War, with the British crossing the Buffalo River to begin their invasion of Zululand.
1901: The first oil “gusher” at the Spindletop Field near Beaumont, Texas.
1905: Russian workers, infuriated by the slow pace of reform and brought to a fever pitch of discontent by communist agitators, storm the Czar’s Winter Palace in a short, sharp action now known as the Revolution of 1905. Order is restored by Czarist soldiers, but at the cost of scores of civilian lives. This short revolution resulted in the establishment of both a constitutional monarchy and of a Duma (representative assembly), and reforms to conscription and workers rights. The fact that changes could actually be forced on the Russian government opened the door for further agitation, particularly from the nascent communist movements.
1909: The Great White Fleet of the U.S. Navy transits the Suez Canal, marking ¾ of its politico-military circumnavigation of the globe. You can bet they burned a lot of coal on this trip.
1918: In southern Arizona, a detachment of U.S. Army troops exchanges fire with Yaqui Indians in the Battle of Bear Valley, the last battle of the U.S. Indian Wars.
1918: In his State of the Union message, President Woodrow Wilson introduces his 14 Points to guide postwar international relations, ten months before the actual armistice which halted the fighting. The Points will form the basis for the Versailles peace negotiations in the aftermath of The World War. I won’t go over all of them, but will highlight here several of the points that tend to come up from time to time:
1) “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at…” laying down the ideal of complete openness in international negotiations;
2) Absolute freedom of navigation on the high seas, with a caveat about closures in support of international covenants. Great Britain objected to the exception clause, and as the U.S. maritime power increased, we adopted the British position;
3) Free trade between nations as a foundation of peaceful relations.
The majority of the other points concerned disposition of territories displaced by the war, with final lines drawn under the principle of national self-determination, a term which came into prominence during the Conference. The 14th point opened the discussion of an international organization to enforce the peace.
1920: Two years after President Wilson announced his 14 Points, and 14 months after the Armistice ended the carnage of the Great War, the victorious Allies and vanquished Central powers formally sign the Treaty of Versailles. French Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch noted: “This is not a peace. It is a twenty year armistice.”
1940: The army of Finland halts a Soviet offensive along the Raate-Soumussalu Road. The Winter War between Finland and the USSR generated admiration for Finland’s continued fight in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Unfortunately for Finland, their opposition to Russian aggression put them on the same “side” as Nazi Germany, even though they never formed a formal alliance with Germany.
1941: First flight of the Avro Lancaster bomber. Its huge bomb bay and dependable flight systems made it one of the most useful machines of the Allied air fleet.
1942: The Japanese army, having swept virtually all of the Philippine Islands under its control in less than two months, opens its final siege on the remaining American forces on the Bataan Peninsula.
1943: Formal signing of a little-known, but far reaching agreement supporting the Allied effort during the Second World War. Under tremendous diplomatic pressure from the United States, Great Britain signs a treaty with the Republic of China to help ensure their continued combat participation against Japan. The high cost of this treaty was Britain’s eventual post-war position vis-a-vis their pre-war sphere of influence in Asia. The British-Chinese Agreement for the Relinquishment of Extra-Territorial Rights in China formally brought to an end the era of monopolistic trade concessions along with British (and U.S.) exemption from Chinese laws. The war not only fundamentally changed the relationship between China and the Western world (i.e. this treaty), but also among the Chinese themselves, as the Nationalists, with whom this treaty was made, found themselves increasingly at odds with the Communists as the war wound down
1947: Pan American Airlines begins scheduling full around-the-world service.
1960: Construction formally begins on Aswan High Dam, with Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser flipping a switch that detonated thousands of pounds of dynamite embedded in granite on the eastern shore of the Nile. Nasser exploited Soviet funding and construction assistance for the dam as a cudgel against the United States and the West, partly in response to the Suez crisis of 1956 and partly because as an avowed socialist, it allowed him to play the two sides of the Cold War to the advantage of Egypt.
1964: In his first State of the Union message, President Lyndon Johnson declares a “War on Poverty” that will eventually become the Great Society program he introduced the following year.
1968: NASA’s Surveyor 7 lunar lander makes a landing near the rim of Tycho crater, where it spends the next 42 (earth) days completing a thorough photographic survey plus multiple tests of the lunar soil. This was the last of the un-manned U.S. visits to the moon. Wikipedia:
The simple and reliable mission architecture was a pragmatic approach to solving the most critical space engineering challenges of the time, namely the closed-loop terminal descent guidance and control system, throttleable engines, and the radar systems required for determining the lander’s altitude and velocity. The Surveyor missions were the first time that NASA tested such systems in the challenging thermal and radiation environment near the Moon.
The machine was scheduled to be visited by the crew of Apollo 20 but that mission, along with Apollos 18 & 19, was cancelled for budget reasons.
1973: Opening arguments in the case of the nine Watergate conspirators.
1980: President Jimmy Carter signs a $1,500,000,000 bailout of Chrysler Corporation.
1991: United States Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Secretary Tariq Aziz meet in Geneva in a final attempt to find a diplomatic solution to Iraq’s August invasion of Kuwait, which Iraq still claimed as its “19th Province.”
2005: The nuclear powered attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN-711), making a high speed submerged transit in Pacific Ocean waters south of Guam, slams- at flank speed- into an un-charted seamount, crushing the sonar dome and bow compartment, and flinging crewmen against equipment and bulkheads as she comes to a sudden stop. Incredibly, the pressure hull is not breached, and the crew manages to get the ship to the surface despite the sudden loss of her forward ballast tank. One sailor was killed, and dozens injured with broken bones and lacerations. At the shipyard in Guam, the ship is fitted with a temporary bow and forward ballast tank in order to make a safe transit back to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where her entire bow section was removed and replaced with the bow section of the newly decommissioned USS Honolulu (SSN-718).