1655: Death of Cyrano de Bergerac (b.1619), French dramatist, poet and duelist whose actual life was the basis for the 1897 play bearing his name by Edmund Rostand.
1715: A Spanish treasure fleet of 11 ships departs Havana, stuffed to the gunwales with gold, silver and precious stones from the New World. Seven days later, the entire fleet founders and is lost in a hurricane off the coast of southern Florida. Treasure hunters have long sought the wrecks, without success. This is not to be confused with entrepreneur and explorer Mel Fisher’s 1985 discovery and excavation of the wreck of the Senora de Atocha, which was not from this fleet, but was lost under similar circumstances in 1622.
1725: Birth of John Newton (d.1807), English slave ship captain, redeemed Christian, priest, hymnist who wrote Amazing Grace, and spiritual mentor to the great English Parliamentarian William Wilberforce.
1750: Death of Johann Sebastian Bach (b.1685). The German composer created “…what may be the most celestial and profound body of music in history,” and was the patriarch of 20 children between his two marriages, a clan of whom 10 survived to adulthood, four of whom became great composers in their own right.
1778: First Battle of Ushant– The French government, taking an early opportunity to confront “L’Albion perfide” in support of their new American ally, sends a fleet of twenty-nine ships to do battle with the Royal Navy. They meet thirty British ships, with HMS Victory in the vanguard, off the French island of Ushant near the western approaches of La Manche (the English Channel). Although no ships were captured or sunk on either side, the British suffered over 1100 casualties, including 407 killed, compared to just over 500 casualties in the French fleet.
1794: After a year in office as head of the ill-named Committee of Public Safety, during which he instigated the frenzied bloodletting of Le Terreur, Citizen Maximilian Robespierre is arrested by what passes as responsible authorities in the French Revolutionary government. What finally ended Robespierre’s reign was not just the 17,000+ heads he ordered lopped off already, it was the sudden increase of executions that came from his brainchild, Law of 22 Prarial (10 June). The law established a tribunal that was no more than a court of condemnation which dispensed with the bothersome trouble of evidence and procedures and witnesses: it permitted executions to be carried out under the simple suspicion from any citizen of anti-revolutionary activity by any other citizen. As a result, the intervening six weeks between its passage and his own execution on the 28th saw Robspierre’s new law responsible for 1285 new guillotine deaths.
1834: Death of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (b.1772), English poet, literary critic and debater, best known as the author of epic poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. His writings profoundly influenced both the Romantic movement in Europe and the Transcendentalist movement in the United States.
1890: Death of Vincent van Gough (b.1853). The Dutch painter’s work defines the beginning of the post-impressionistic movement.
1847: Mormon pioneers under the leadership of Brigham Young arrive in the Salt Lake Valley, where they end their flight from Illinois to create a new society in the Utah territory.
1848: Birth of Arthur Balfour (d.1930), 33rd Prime Minister of Great Britain, and author of the Balfour Declaration.
1866: Birth of Beatrix Potter (d.1943), author of the Peter Rabbit and friends book series.
1897: A company of 20 black “Buffalo Soldier” infantrymen stationed in Fort Missoula, Montana, successfully arrive in Saint Louis after a grueling six-week march- on bicycles- across the vastness of Montana (including a stop at Little Big Horn battlefield), Wyoming, Nebraska, and Missouri. The bicycle corps was an experimental group formed a year earlier to test the military viability of bikes to speed infantry movements.
1898: Continuing the earlier success of forcibly evicting Spain from her worldwide island empire in Cuba, Guam and the Philippines, the United States invades Puerto Rico, landing at Guanica after two months of preparatory shelling of San Juan.
1903: The Ford Motor Company sells its first car, a “quadracycle.”
1907: Sir Robert Baden-Powell sets up the Brownsea Island Scout Camp on south coast of England. The Boer War hero kept it open the entire month of August; the opening is considered the birth of the Scouting movement.
1909: French aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot, flying a machine of his own design and construction, takes off from a field in Calais, and 33 minutes later, becomes the first man to fly across the English Channel
1914: The Empire of Austria-Hungary issues an ultimatum to the Republic of Serbia to allow Austria to conduct the investigation and trial of whomever it was that shot Archduke Ferdinand last month. To no-one’s surprise, Serbia rejects the demand, setting in motion Austrian plans that have been in place since 1912 to once and for all crush Serbian nationalism and its constant interference in Bosnia. During the post-assassination dragnet, one of the conspirators spills his guts, leading not only to the arrest of several more conspirators, but also to six bombs built by the Serb arsenal, four pistols, training documentation, suicide pills, and a map, annotated with locations of the Gendarmerie and escape routes out of Sarajevo. Leading up to this ultimatum were a series of diplomatic notes and tense diplomacy between Austria and Germany, the bottom line being that Germany needed to goad Austria into declaring war in order to trigger a wider war with France and Russia for which they were much better prepared than either. From the Austrian perspective, it was crucial to ensure Germany would support an Austrian mobilization for yet another Balkan war, particularly since Russia had signaled its support for Serbia. Germany, in fact, gave a Austria a famous diplomatic “Blank Cheque” to destroy Serbia. To help prop up the façade that Germany was caught completely unawares by the ultimatum, the entire General Staff, the Kaiser, and the majority of his ministers went on vacation on the 23rd.
1914: Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.
1929: The Fascist state of Italy bans the use of foreign words in the Italian language.
1932: President Hoover orders the US Army to remove by force the Bonus Army which has been encamped in the flats of Anacostia since late May, and campaigning and protesting in the Capitol district almost every day since mid-June. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas McArthur took personal command of the 12th Infantry Regiment from Fort Howard, Maryland, supported by 3rd Cavalry Regiment with six tanks commanded by Major George Patton. The Army formed up on Pennsylvania Avenue at 4:45 in the afternoon, while thousands of civil service personnel were streaming out of their offices at the end of the work day. Tradition says that the Bonus Marchers thought the Army was being formed in their honor, but what actually happened was a cavalry sweep directly into the protesters. Following close on their heels were the infantry marching with fixed bayonets, clearing out all the shanties littering the route. The veterans fled back across the Anacostia River to their largest “Hoovertown” settlement. Hoover then ordered the assault stopped, but General McArthur, believing the Bonus Marchers were part of a larger Communist plot to overthrow the government, ignored the President and ordered another assault across the river to clear the marchers out for good. Hundreds of vets were injured and several killed. The Bonus movement lingered through 1933, when newly-elected President Roosevelt dragooned thousands of them into the Civilian Conservation Corps during the early stages of the New Deal.
1935: Peak temperature for the Dust Bowl period- 109 degrees recorded in Chicago, 104 in Milwaukee.
1935: First flight of Boeing’s B-17 prototype heavy bomber.
1938: Birth of Gary Gygat (d.2009), inventor of Dungeons and Dragons.
1942: The National Socialist German government opens the Treblinka extermination camp.
1948: Birth of 1968 Olympic Gold Medalist Peggy Fleming.
1948: After a twelve year hiatus since the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the XIV Olympiad opens in London.
1956: Forty-five nautical miles south of Nantucket Island, the Swedish liner MS Stockholm collides with Italian luxury liner SS Andrea Doria in a heavy fog, destroying the bow of Stockholm and fatally puncturing the hull of Andrea Doria, which capsizes and sinks the next day. 51 people die in the collision. The tragedy sparked a number of safety improvements for the shipping industry, not the least of which was mandating that a functioning radio be installed for use on the navigation bridge, instead of in its own space elsewhere. In 1956, Radio Rooms delivered notes to the navigation bridge by pneumatic tubes. The wreckage is a popular and dangerous dive site, considered by many to be “the Mount Everest of diving” because of its depth (~160 feet at the top) and the strong currents that surge through the sound.
1965: President Lyndon Johnson steps up U.S. combat engagement in Vietnam, boosting our troop commitment from 75,000 to 125,000.
1967: French President Charles de Gaulle, on an official State visit to Canada, gives a rousing speech to over 100,000 French Canadians in Montreal, during which he proclaims: “Vivre le Quebec libre!” (Long live Free Quebec!). The rest of Canada was not happy with the proclamation.
1967: At 10:50 in the morning aboard USS Forrestal (CVA-59), while conducting Vietnam combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin, a 5” Zuni rocket from a just-starting F-4 Phantom aircraft suddenly fires from its launching tube and streaks into the full external fuel tanks of two A-4 Skyhawks on the other side of the fantail. The fuel bursts into flame under the aircraft, one of which is piloted by LCDR John McCain, USN. In the tense minutes that follow, the entire aft section of the flight deck becomes an inferno of burning jet fuel and detonating ordnance. 131 sailors are killed, 161 injured, and the ship suffers $73 million in damage, not counting the loss of the aircraft. Nine bombs exploded in the flames, the ones under the A-4s ripping gaping holes in the armored deck. The flight deck fire was finally brought under control at 12:15; the fires below decks continued until 13:45, and flare-ups continued until 04:00 the next morning. There is a Navy training movie called Trial By Fire that narrates the PLAT camera footage and other combat photography of the event.
1969: The crew of Apollo 11 splashes down in the Pacific Ocean, completing President Kennedy’s goal of sending a man to the moon and safely returning to Earth. Over an unknown threat of extraterrestrial infection, the crew are required to don Biological Isolation Garments before opening the hatch to the Command Module, and a disinfectant crew follows them all the way to an Airstream trailer outfitted as a biological isolation living space, where they remain with a flight surgeon for 21 days.
1973: Death of Eddie Rickenbacker (b.1890), pioneering race car driver, World War I fighter ace (26 confirmed kills), owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and CEO of Eastern Airlines. Rickenbacker also acted as President Roosevelt’s personal courier during World War II, commandeering a B-17 to transport him to meet with General Douglas MacArthur on a subject that remains unknown to this day. During the trip across the Pacific, the crew became lost, and the pilot was forced to ditch the aircraft at sea, which led to an ordeal of survival for 26 days in a rubber raft. Rickenbacker would always credit God-directed miracles for their survival, most notably the time when a seagull alighted on his head and remained there for nearly an hour while Rickenbacker slowly reached up and captured it. They carefully divided all the parts evenly, which kept them alive for several more days. During his time at the helm of Eastern, he wrote in his autobiography what many of us in the aviation world believe is a fundamental truth: “I have never liked to use the word ‘safe’ in connection with either Eastern Airlines or the entire transportation field; I prefer the word ‘reliable.’” There’s something charming about that sentence, but I may be biased. His military awards include the Medal of Honor and Seven Distinguished Service Crosses.
1981: Charles, Prince of Wales, marries Lady Diana Spencer in a televised wedding estimated to have been watched by 750,000,000 people worldwide. Believe it or not, the British press had lip readers in place to record the comments of the royals while they were on display at Buckingham Palace prior to a little wedding banquet inside. The crowd along the fence began chanting “Kiss her!” as soon as they came out. Charles looked at her: “They are trying to get us to kiss.” She looked back, “Well, what about it?” After a pause, Charles relented with, “Why ever not?” The crowd goes wild.
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