1054: A supernova appears in the sky, its presence recorded by both Chinese and Arab scholars. For several months it remained bright enough to be seen in daylight. Its remains are today known as the Crab Nebula.
1099: The First Crusade– Low on supplies, and finding themselves encamped on arid ground after they failed to initially breach the fortified walls of Jerusalem, the 15,000 men of the First Crusade respond to a vision by the priest Peter Desiderius to purify themselves by a three day fast, and then make a pious demonstration of marching barefoot around the city, mimicking the Hebrews’ actions at Jericho. This day saw both the completion of the fast and the demonstration around the city, and stimulated a public rapprochement between bickering factions in the Crusader army. One week later, the final assault on Jerusalem will begin.
1189: Richard the Lionhearted is crowned King of England. The son of French King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, he also ruled as Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Ireland, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany. You will note that the vast majority of these realms are in France: Richard (in this context pronounced Ree-shard’ (with your eyebrows slightly arched and a Gauloises dangling from your lips)) spent only six months or so on the Auld Sod, complaining that it was “always rainy.” Britons remained proud of his military prowess and continued to hold him up as the embodiment of British virtues, even as they were perpetually taxed to pay for not only his crusades, but also his literal King’s Ransom, which finally freed him from imprisonment in Austria on return from the Holy Lands.
1415: Death of Bohemian religious reformer Jan Hus (b.1369), burned at the stake for heresy. An early precursor to the great Protestant Reformation that began a century later, Hus was deeply influenced by the teachings of Briton John Wycliffe, and brought back to Bohemia new religious thinking that shocked the established church with its emphasis on the individual over the institution in salvation. Hus played a central role during the papal schism between Rome and Avignon. He wrote against the European* papal crusades and the sales of indulgences. He was excommunicated by Pope Alexander V in 1409, but the Bohemian government took his side against the pope. Tensions continued over the next several years, until Prince Sigsmund of Hungary convened the Council of Constance to settle the dispute once for all. Despite promise of safe passage, Hus was arrested and imprisoned. During his trial he was read 39 charges against him, all derived from excerpts from his and Wycliffe’s writings, but framed in the context of their threat to the authority of both church and state. Repeatedly asked to recant, he refused, denying that anything written was contrary to the Bible. His fate thus sealed, he was on this day taken to the cathedral in Constance, dressed in priestly vestments. He was repeatedly asked to recant, and with each denial a part of the vestment was torn from his person. His degradation continued to the point of being shorn and stripped, then tied to the stake with a massive pile of straw heaped around him. At the final request for recantation, he declined with the words, “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.” After his death, his bones were dug up and re-burned, and his ashes scattered at sea.
1535: Death of Sir Thomas More (b.1478), executed for treason against King Henry VIII. The brilliant humanist philosopher and the king’s recent Lord High Chancellor refused to countenance Henry’s annulment from Catherine of Aragon, and denied the king’s recently assumed role as head of the Church in England, writing, “No temporal man may be the head of the spirituality.” More’s strong defense of papal authority in matters spiritual put him deeply at odds with the mercurial king and led to his removal from office and subsequent trial and execution. In a nominal commutation of his sentence, Henry averred that More’s earlier status permitted he be beheaded rather than hanged, drawn and quartered as the punishment for treason. When he mounted the execution scaffold he turned to the sheriff: “I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, seem me safe up; and for my coming down, I can shift for myself… I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” His body was buried in an unmarked grave in the Tower of London, his head fixed on a pike over London Bridge for a month after the execution, then rescued by his daughter and buried in the Roper family vault in Canterbury. More’s death was (and is) widely seen as a travesty of justice. Winston Churchill wrote, “The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a noble and historic stand. They realized the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom…Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counselor, but a system, which…had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.” More was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1886 and was canonized, along with John Fisher, in 1935. He is remembered in the literary world as A Man for All Seasons.
1775: Three months after Britain clamped martial law on Boston and the Massachusetts Militia fought back at Lexington and Concord, General George Washington arrives at Cambridge to assume command of the fledgling Continental Army.
1775: Nearly four months after the breakout of open conflict, and a day after George Washington took command of what passed for a Continental Army, the Second Continental Congress approves the “Olive Branch Petition,” appealing to King George that the American colonies are not really seeking independence, and recommending that the Crown and colonies negotiate tax and trade policies in order to avoid war. John Adams is against it, reasoning that war is essentially inevitable, but the petition couldn’t hurt, so he didn’t block its passage.
1776: The Continental Congress receives and votes on the draft Declaration of Independence, produced over the last 17 days by the “Committee of Five” who were tasked to explain clearly and completely the rationale for the thirteen English colonies’ formal and irrevocable break with the mother country. The committee consisted of John Adams (MA), Benjamin Franklin (PA), Thomas Jefferson (VA), Robert Livingston (NY), and Roger Sherman (CT). Jefferson, as we all know, provided the bulk of the draft, including the stirring preamble and the intellectual underpinnings describing a free people creating a self-governing society. The vote on this day was 12 in favor and one abstention (NY- the government of which was nominally opposed to independence, but allowed for its delegation to abstain pending lack of instructions from Albany). The political maneuvering and deal-making had been going on since early June, when Virginian Richard Henry Lee submitted the first- very terse– resolution of independence, from which the Committee of Five based much of their work. The Congress spent the next two days modifying the text of the Declaration, including removing a significant section on the British imposition of slavery, which bothered Jefferson greatly. The final version was approved and sent to the printers on the 4th. John Adams believed that July 2nd would be a day celebrated throughout history as our national birthday; on this score, he was mildly mistaken.
1776: The Continental Congress adopts the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. 56 leaders from all thirteen colonies sign their names to the formal parchment document, pledging their lives, their fortune, and their sacred honor on behalf of this new experiment in self-government. By the letter of the law, they had committed themselves- and by extension the rest of the colonies– to treason. Benjamin Franklin summarized their new plight: “We must, indeed, now all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
1798: The Quasi-War with France– After four years of increasing tensions between the United States and the revolutionary French Republic, including repeated capture of American merchant ships by French privateers, Congress on this day repeals all treaties with France. This includes cancelling our Revolutionary War debt to France, justified on the basis that the money was owed to the Crown and not the Republic. The action infuriated the French government, who increased its issue of Letters of Marque in order to continue harassing American shipping. With its entire navy in layup after the war, the American coastline is completely naked to attacks. President Adams re-activated 25 ships, who go on to distinguish themselves by capturing 22 privateers and deterring hundreds of attacks on American shipping. The conflict lasts nearly two years, until Napoleon Bonaparte takes control of the French Directory and focuses French attentions elsewhere.
1826: Death of Thomas Jefferson (b.1743), on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of his magnum opus.
1826: Death of John Adams (b.1735), on the very same day. His dying words were, “Jefferson lives!” The two fathers of the American Revolution became estranged during the tumultuous presidency of Adams, but became reconciled after Jefferson’s retirement to Monticello. Their correspondence during their late years provides a treasure trove of insights into their dramatic lives and times.
1839: Birth of John D. Rockefeller (d.1937): Cleveland native, oil man, industrial titan, and philanthropist.
1846: U.S. troops occupy Monterrey and Yerba Buena (San Francisco), beginning the American conquest of California.
1853: Commodore Matthew Perry, with a United States Navy fleet dubbed the “Black Ships” by the Japanese, steams into Tokyo Bay to begin negotiations to open trade relations between the United States and Japan.
1863: The United States authorizes its first military draft to fill the ranks of the Union army. Exemptions and substitutions may be purchased for $300. A lucrative black market follows.
1863: Second day of the Battle of Gettysburg– after the initial combat of the 1st and the Union’s southward withdrawal though town, the armies from both sides are this morning fully positioned and facing each other across a broad front. The Union army occupies a fishhook-shaped, reinforced line on high ground: from Culp’s Hill on the north (the Union right) running southward down Cemetery Ridge to an anchor position on the far left at Little Round Top, a steep and rocky slope over a mile away. Mead’s dispositions allow for relatively short internal lines of communication that permit quicker assignment of reserves to weakening spots along the line. Lee arrayed his substantial forces against the complete Union line in the hopes that a general assault would create a systemic collapse of the Union defenses. He also hoped to make a substantial turn against what he thought* was an unprotected Union left flank. General Longstreet’s brigades expected to move stealthily through a peach orchard and the rocks of Devil’s Den to sweep behind the Federals on Cemetery Ridge. But unknown to both Lee and Longstreet, the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment under Colonel Joshua Chamberlain was positioned at the very end of the Union line on flanks of Little Round Top, where they held commanding heights above both the peach orchard and Devil’s Den. Chamberlain is instructed by General Sickles, “You must hold your position at all costs. You are the very end of the line- do I make myself clear? The very end of the line.” Furious fighting took place throughout the day along the entirety of the front, with most of the Confederate efforts against the end points: Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top. Chamberlain’s well-defended position held against two concerted attacks by Hood’s infantry, who were also being mauled in the orchard and the rocks of Devil’s Den. But after nearly five hours of continuous battle, the Mainers were essentially out of ammunition. When Chamberlain realized late in the afternoon that a third Confederate attack was coming back up the hill, he ordered his men to fix bayonets, and with an impeccable sense of timing, ordered a screaming bayonet charge directly into the face of the Southerners. The charge startled and shattered the Confederate offense and saved the weakening Union line from a devastating sweep of its rearward reserves and supporting forces. Similarly, the Culp’s Hill battle repeatedly blunted the Confederate assaults. Casualties were high on both sides, but neither side was defeated as night fell. Both sides again reinforced their positions, the Union filling in around both Little and Big Round Tops, and improving their artillery positions all along Cemetery Ridge, while the Confederates re-grouped behind a line of trees to the west of the Union line.
1863: Third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. The opening guns sounded at dawn, as Union artillery in the northern sector fired on Confederate positions on Culp’s hill, followed by repeated infantry attacks against the moderately reinforced sections of the Confederate lines. The sudden intensity of the fighting forced Lee to alter his initial day’s strategy of following up yesterday’s unsuccessful attempt to turn the Union left at Little Round Top with a similar, but larger effort there accompanied by general assaults across the remainder of the Union line. Accordingly, Lee shifted Longstreet’s command back to the north, to combine his troops with Major General George Pickett’s Virginia infantry, and to make a concentrated effort against the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. As the fighting at Culp’s Hill wound down late in the morning, Lee repositioned his artillery to support Longstreet’s expected movements. Knowing he was running low on artillery ammunition, Lee at 1:00 in the afternoon ordered a tightly coordinated barrage against the center of the Union defenses. Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, who commanded the entire Union left, also sensed the parlous state of Confederate artillery and intentionally held back his counter-fire for fifteen minutes. The two hour Confederate barrage was the largest to date, and survivors remembered how the already phenomenal noise rose to an unprecedented level when the Union artillery finally opened up in return. Unfortunately for Lee, the noise did not translate into military effect, as the distance to the Union line was at the extreme range of his artillery. At 3:00 in the afternoon, Pickett’s division stepped out from behind the trees and formed into attacking formation. The Confederate fire then lifted, and the Virginians began their march across three quarters of a mile of open field, directly into the face of well-ranged Union artillery and infantry forces shielded behind a low stone wall. Compounding their vulnerability was interlocking crossfire from elevated Union artillery on the Round Tops. The 12,500 Confederates in nine brigades were under withering Federal fire from the moment they stepped out, hampered yet again about halfway across the ground by a rail fence that forced an entangling pause in their movements. In the end, they suffered over 50% casualties. A significant number of Virginians fought their way to an angle in the stone wall near the “little copse of trees” that was the initial goal of the assault. But Union forces quickly reinforced the gap and counter-charged against the deeply depleted and now retreating Rebel forc Lee, seated on Traveler, met the remnants of his once-powerful army as they straggled back to their staging ground. His repeated lament, “It is all my fault, It is all my fault” was met by cheers and denials by his men. But when he saw Pickett and ordered him to rally his division to stand against an expected Union counter-attack, Pickett replied, “General Lee, I have no division.” The fighting at the angle in the stone wall became known as “The High Water Mark of the Confederacy,” and their success there- such as it was- was a credit to the leadership of the mortally wounded Confederate Major General Lewis A. Armistead, who led from the front with his hat stuck on the point of his sword. On the Union side, the successful defense of Cemetery Ridge is credited to Armistead’s best friend, Union General Hancock who rallied his troops for the entirety of the fight from a highly exposed position on horseback. In one of the more memorable quotes from the battle, he was cautioned by one of his subordinates that, “General, the corps commander ought not to risk his life that way,” Hancock is said to have replied, “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count.”
1863: After 47 days of an increasingly bitter siege by Union forces under Major General Ulysses S. Grant, the river fortress of Vicksburg, Mississippi capitulates, thus opening the entire Mississippi River basin to Federal traffic. The news of the fall, coming the same day as reports of Lee’s withdrawal from his Pennsylvania campaign, electrified the North, coming particularly as it did after two years of pretty much continuous setbacks on the battlefield.
1863: Aftermath of Gettysburg- Despite the devastating loss of the flower of his army, Robert E. Lee is able to effect an unopposed withdrawal out of Pennsylvania to cross the Potomac River ahead of Meade’s desultory pursuit. On the battlefield itself, the Union victors and local townspeople begin the gruesome job of policing the battlefield of human corpses and dead horses, whose bodies are already putrefying in the 80 degree heat and humidity. Casualty figures from the battle underline the Civil War’s shockingly high butcher’s bill: Union forces over 23,000 casualties- 3,155 killed, over 5,000 missing; Confederate casualties 23,231 casualties- 4,708 killed, 5,800 captured or missing.
1864: President Abraham Lincoln signs into law a bill setting aside Yosemite Valley in California for “…public use, resort and recreation,” creating the nation’s first national park, albeit without the National Park designation, which goes to Yellowstone several years later.
1865: At the Navy Yard in Washington, four conspirators convicted in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln are hanged by the neck until dead, three months after the President’s shooting by John Wilkes Booth. Mary Surratt was the first woman executed in the United States.
1883: Birth of cartoonist Rube Goldberg (d.1970), designer of thousands of very practical machines.
1886: Birth of Raymond A. Spruance (d.1969). The USNA 1906 graduate went on to command the Navy’s 5th Fleet in WWII. “The Quiet Warrior’s” unerring instincts were the key to the Navy’s strategic victory at Midway in June, 1942.
1890: The great state of Idaho is admitted as the 43rd State of the Union.
1908: A massive airborne explosion, later estimated the equivalent of ~15 megatons, sears the morning sky over a remote Siberian forest, completely flattening an estimated 80 million trees over 830 square miles of the Tunguska region. There are no known human casualties, but the blast and its immediate aftermath provide a singular shock to nearby tribesmen. Because of its remoteness and the social turmoil of the Great War, the Russian Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War, the first scientific expedition to the area isn’t made until 1927 by Leonoid Kulik.
1917: Under the leadership of Colonel T.E. Lawrence, troops from the Arab Legion capture the Ottoman port of Aqaba as part of the British-inspired Arab uprising against the Turks, whose empire was regularly referred to during the Great War as “The Sick Man of Europe.” Given Turkey’s alignment with the Central Powers, both Britain and France looked eagerly to the post-war dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and their eventual participation in the spoils.
1918: Taken to the basement of the house where they are being held, Czar Nicholas and his entire family- even Anastasia- are murdered by Bolshevik thugs, acting on Lenin’s orders. Their corpses are taken to a shallow pit in the woods outside Ekatrinanberg, where they are burned and buried.
1930: Under the guidance of industrialist Henry Kaiser, construction begins on Boulder Dam in southern Nevada. You may recall back in March when Nevada legalized gambling almost concurrently with the announcement of the project.
1934: Consolidating his position within the National Socialist Workers Party, the recently elected German Chancellor Adolf Hitler orders the arrest and execution of the entire leadership of the SA “Brownshirts,” the paramilitary thugs who catapulted him to power and provided a near-terroristic backdrop to the accelerating implementation of the Nazi political program. Hitler personally arrested the head of the SA, his friend, and colleague Ernst Rohm, and ordered him shot if he would not commit suicide. The purge became known as The Night of the Long Knives.
1937: Aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan make their last radio transmission, somewhere in the South Pacific, presumably somewhere near Howland Island. They are never heard from again, nor was any trace of them found after an unprecedented Navy search.
1937: That lunchmeat SPAM is introduced by Hormel meat packing company.
1941: German troops reach the shores of the Dnieper River, deep in the Soviet Union.
1942: Birth of deep diving oceanographer Robert Ballard, discoverer of the sunken USS Scorpion, RMS Titanic, USS Yorktown, the German battleship Bismarck, and many other underwater treasures.
1943: First day of the Battle of Kursk, which will end up becoming the largest tank battle in history.
1946: In an exuberant display of post-war joy, the bikini “swimsuit” is re-introduced to the fashion world in Paris. French engineer Louis Reard and fashion designer Jacques Heim combine their talents for this event. Reard took credit for the name, likening the reaction to the swimsuit to the atomic explosions being tested on the Bikini atoll in the western Pacific. Interestingly, the style is not a new idea.
1946: Birth of George W. Bush.
1947:The AK-47 rifle goes into production in the Soviet Union. It remains the most widely produced and distributed firearm in the world.
1950: The 500 American soldiers Task Force Smith become the first U.S. troops to directly engage with 5,000 troops of the onrushing North Korean army at the Battle of Osan, just south of Seoul. In a textbook example of how the Army no longer* does business, the commander of the battalion was issued the following orders:
“When you get to Pusan, head for Taejon. We want to stop the North Koreans as far from Pusan as we can. Block the main road as far north as possible. Make contact with General Church. If you can’t find him, go to Taejon and beyond if you can. Sorry I can’t give you more information—that’s all I’ve got. Good luck, and God bless you and your men!” –Major General William F. Dean’s orders to Colonel Smith. They successfully blocked the Norks for over three hours before being overrun, buying critical time for the continuing U.S. troop debarkation at Pusan.
1951: The city of Paris, France celebrates its 2000th birthday.
1952: The steamship SS United States, built just up the James River from us at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, sets out on its maiden voyage from New York to Southampton, England. She shatters the transatlantic record, making the run between the Ambrose Light and Bishop Rock off Cornwall in 3 days, 12 hours and 12 minutes- an average speed of 35.59 knots (~41 mph).
1960: Two months after being shot down on a U-2 reconnaissance mission over Russia, the Soviet Union formally charges Francis Gary Powers with espionage. He is convicted in August and spent two years in prison before being part of a prisoner exchange with the U.S. for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.
1964: President Lyndon Johnson signs into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
1972: The first “leap second” is added to the UTC, also known as Coordinated Universal Time, defined by the moment the sun reaches its zenith over the 0’00” meridian (which, you’ll recall, passes through the observatory at the Royal Dockyards in Greenwich, England.
1985: Birth of swimmer Michael Phelps, who as of the 2016 Rio Olympics, became one of fewer than 500 athletes since 1896 who competed in 5 Olympiads.
1988: The USS Vincennes (CG-49), cruising in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, shoots down Iran Air flight 655, killing all 290 souls aboard.
1996: The Stone of Scone is returned to Scotland. The block of red sandstone was used for centuries as the coronation seat of Scottish kings. In 1296 the stone was captured by Edward I of England, who mounted it under the seat of his coronation chair, symbolizing England’s dominance over its northern rival. The stone’s history provides employment for a cottage industry of folklore enthusiasts, but the whole point of this entry is to say that England wanted to quit hurting Scottish feelings in the late 1990s, and they thus returned the stone to its “rightful” place in Edinburgh Castle.
1996: Birth of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal.
2002: Adventurer Steve Fosset becomes the first man to fly a balloon solo around the world. He died in a private airplane crash in September 2007.
2009: Death of Robert Strange McNamara (b.1916). Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he was one of General Curtis LeMay’s planners who designed the incendiary bombing campaign against Japan during the latter stages of the war, when they applied numerical analysis processes to measure the effectiveness of the bombing. He went on to become CEO of Ford Motor Company during the 1950s, and was brought into President Kennedy’s cabinet with the specific task of bringing organizational rigor to the Pentagon’s planning, programming and budgeting processes.