1314: First day of the two-day Battle of Bannockburn, a major victory of Robert the Bruce over England’s Edward II. Bruce distinguished himself at the outset of the battle when he was surveying the potential battleground alone on horseback, un-armoured and armed only with an axe. Paraphrasing from the inestimable Wikipedia: “He was identified by Henry de Bohun, nephew of the Earl of Hereford, who immediately lowered his lance and charged the Scottish king. As the great war-horse thundered toward him, Bruce stood his ground, watched with mounting anxiety by his own army. With the Englishman only feet away, Bruce turned aside, stood in his stirrups and hit the knight so hard with his axe that he split his helmet and head in two. This small incident became in a sense a symbol of the war itself: the one side heavily armed but lacking agility; the other highly mobile and open to opportunity. Rebuked by his commanders for the enormous risk he had taken, the king only expressed regret that he had broken the shaft of his axe.”
1639: Birth of Massachusetts Puritan minister Increase Mather (d.1723), a key figure in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, where he preached moderation in the use of “spectral evidence” and other non-standard items in the increasingly frenzied trials.
1812: The War of 1812- Under increasing pressure created by Parliament’s trade restrictions against Napoleonic France, Royal Navy impressments of American seamen, and British agitation of Indian tribes in the old Northwest Territories, Congress declares war on the United Kingdom. The two-year-long war was mostly fought at sea, with periodic sharp skirmishes along the frontier with Canada and in the Ohio River watershed. Britain made several strong raids into the former colonies, including an attack on Washington, DC that forced President Madison* to flee the White House within the sound of the advancing British guns. The British sacked and burned both the White House and the Capitol before withdrawing back to their ships. For Great Britain, faced concurrently with essentially a catastrophic world war against Napoleon, this war with its former colonies remained something of a side-show. From the American perspective though, it became a matter of life and death. It brought out the best in the American fighting spirit, including:
1) The successful defense of Fort McHenry in Baltimore that inspired our National Anthem;
2) Colonel Andrew Jackson’s successful defense of New Orleans late in the war, and;
3) Significant individual defeats of Royal Navy ships by the new, heavily-gunned American frigates Constitution, Congress, and United States, in addition to the smaller Essex. Constitution, in particular, distinguished herself with stunning defeats of HMS Java and HMS Guerrierre, earning the nickname “Old Ironsides” in the process. The RN followed these losses with a decree that the three American heavy frigates could only be engaged by a ship of the line, or with squadron-level numbers of smaller ships. The war ended with the Treaty of Ghent, which essentially returned territorial changes (primarily in Canada) to status quo ante, and did not address the trade and impressments issues, since they were mooted by the end of the fighting with France.
1812: Having subdued virtually the entire continent of Europe under his rule, Napoleon invades Russia.
1815: Battle of Waterloo. Two days after the battles of Quatre Bras and Ligny, Napoleon Bonaparte continues on his northward march toward Brussels. His approach is halted, however, just outside the town of Waterloo, where the Duke of Wellington has arrayed a significant blocking force of artillery and massed infantry in defilade behind a low ridgeline south of town, straddling the main road.The defensive arrangement forces Napoleon into a predictable and narrowing line of approach, which Wellington exploits with well-directed artillery and flanking attacks on both sides of the French army. Late in the afternoon Napoleon orders what should be the piece de resistance- a massed cavalry charge to overwhelm the Allied artillery. One observer reported that the horses were so tightly packed across the field that the ones in the center could not touch the ground. Wellington, for his part, countered by bringing out from defilade his crack infantry troops, which he formed up into squares, bayonets fixed outward in three ranks. With cavalry restricted to close-range sabers, and the natural refusal of horses to press into frieze of bayonets, the British infantry methodically from inside the squares shot the circling horses and riders until the attack completely collapsed.As the remaining cavalry withdrew, Napoleon ordered his crack Imperial Guard into the fray. But as the French approached the now-exhausted squares across a mile of muddy battlefield, and with the approaching Prussian army of von Blucher in sight on his far left, Wellington unleashed a fresh division of infantry again out of defilade in a bayonet charge that shattered the Imperial Guard and triggered a general rout of the entire French army. Recognizing a major defeat, and with only his personal guards in company, Napoleon leaves the battlefield to return to Paris.
1830: The French Republic invades Algeria.
1848: The beginning of the “June Days Uprising” in Paris, the culminating event in what is more widely recognized as the European Revolutions of 1848. The Paris revolts were characterized by left wing students rioting in the streets, setting up barricades to fight the police and army troops sent in to break up the violence. The proximate trigger for the event was the government shutting down the “National Workshops,” make-work programs* set up earlier in the year in response to radical agitating for a “right to work.” The uprising was eventually suppressed by a re-invigorated conservative government under Louis Napoleon, who deposed the constitutional monarch Louis XVIII and established the Second Empire under himself as Napoleon III. This revolt was the background for Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.
1850: Birth of Herbert Kitchener (d.1916), who rose to prominence in British arms after capturing the Sudan at the Battle of Omdurman, near Khartoum. As second in command during the Boer War he planned and executed a literally scorched earth campaign against Boer farmers, which included the round-up and internment of their families in concentration camps, where the death rate approached 35% . At the turn of the century, he became Commander-in-Chief, India, after which he became Council-General of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. At the start of WWI Kitchener was brought back to England as Secretary of State for War, focusing his attention on recruitment for the titanic struggle that lay ahead. He is the face behind the famous recruiting poster.
1865: Two years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in Galveston, Texas are formally informed that they are free. They begin an annual celebration known as Juneteenth.
1897: Birth of Harry Moses Horowitz, better known as Moe Howard of the Three Stooges (d.1975).
1898: The U.S. Marines land on Cuba to begin the conquest of that island.
1898: Three months into the “Splendid Little War” with Spain, the United States captures the Spanish Pacific island of Guam in a bloodless takeover. The US force, led by Captain Henry Glass, USN, consisted of the cruiser USS Charleston and three auxiliary ships. Stopping in Honolulu enroute between San Francisco and Manila, Captain Glass received the following sealed orders:
Washington, May 10, 1898.
Upon the receipt of this order, which is forwarded by the steamship City of Pekin to you at Honolulu, you will proceed, with the Charleston and the City of Pekin in company, to Manila, Philippine Islands. On your way, you are hereby directed to stop at the Spanish Island of Guam. You will use such force as may be necessary to capture the port of Guam, making prisoners of the governor and other officials and any armed force that may be there. You will also destroy any fortifications on said island and any Spanish naval vessels that may be there, or in the immediate vicinity. These operations at the Island of Guam should be very brief, and should not occupy more than one or two days. Should you find any coal at the Island of Guam, you will make such use of it as you consider desirable. It is left to your discretion whether or not you destroy it. From the Island of Guam, proceed to Manila and report to Rear-Admiral George Dewey, U.S.N., for duty in the squadron under his command.
JOHN D. LONG
[to]Commanding Officer U.S.S. Charleston
Steaming into Apra harbor, Charleston fired 17 rounds at the Spanish fort guarding the entrance, and receiving no return fire, dropped anchor in preparation for a landing party. A boatload of Spanish officials immediately rowed out to the cruiser, apologizing for not having any powder with which to return the salutes. They were astonished to learn that the US and Spain were actually at war, their last communication with Spain having been in early April before hostilities began. The next day the governor and 67 officials surrendered and the US flag was raised over the fort. Captain Glass designated Guamanian native and naturalized American Francisco Portusach as Acting Governor. Portusach supervised the US ships’ complete re-bunkering with coal, and on the 22nd, the squadron steamed away to join Commodore Dewey in Manila.
1905: Birth of Jean-Paul Sarte (d.1950), one of the key 20th-century expositors of the Existentialist philosophy.
1915: First operational flight of the radical Fokker Eindecker. The German fighter’s single wing, powerful engine, and its highly innovative synchronization cam (that allowed its guns to shoot through the arc of the spinning propeller) gave the Germans a technical step up that proved devastating to the Allied air forces.
1916: The British Expeditionary Forces fires the opening salvo of what will be a continuous, week-long artillery bombardment of German positions along the Somme River.
1916: Death of German fighter ace and innovator Max Immelmann (b.1890). The aerobatic maneuver that bears his name is a 180-degree change of direction, done vertically. It is basically half of a loop and was particularly useful during the early years of air combat when the pilots were still learning to understand the dynamics of three-dimensional combat.
1919: German Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, after surrendering the German High Seas Fleet to the Royal Navy in Scapa Flow anchorage in the Orkney Islands, scuttles the entire fleet under the noses of the British. 52 of the 74 interned vessels go to the bottom, and 9 German sailors are killed by British fire as they try to halt the sinking.
1940: General Charles du Gaulle broadcasts from London a radio address called L’Appel du 18 Juin, in which he declared that even though the Germans had signed an armistice with the French “Vichy” government of Marshall Petain, the war for France was not yet over and would continue as an underground resistance movement. The speech heralded the beginning of the French Resistance, which played a huge role in easing the preparations for the Normandy landings, among other anti-German works. It also made du Gaulle the presumed and de facto leader of any postwar French republic.
1940: After the collapse of France to the Germans, and with the reckoning of the Dunkirk evacuation in hand, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives his famous “Finest Hour” speech to the House of Commons. This is a third of the trilogy of defiant speeches over the course of the last month which would define both his Prime Ministership and the strategic vision of the British Empire. The first was, “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears, and sweat…” on 13th May; the second, “We shall fight them on the beaches…” on 4th June as the German juggernaut cornered the Allied forces against the North Sea.
1940: Near the eastern village of Compiegne, French government leaders are forced to sign an armistice with Nazi Germany in the same railroad car in which the Germans capitulated in November 1918
1941: The German army invades Russia in Operation Barbarossa. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin is so shocked by Hitler’s betrayal of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, that he retreats to his private dacha, where he paces around muttering incoherently for nearly a week.
1942: A Japanese submarine surfaces and fires multiple rounds at Fort Stevens, at the mouth of the Columbia River, one of a handful of such attacks on the US mainland during WWII.
1942: A new German Focke-Wulf 190 fighter (DLH 6/1) mistakenly lands at RAF Pembrey, in Wales. You may correctly assume that the Allies thoroughly tested its flight characteristics.
1942: Birth of Beetle Paul McCartney.
1945: Final day of the 82-day Battle of Okinawa, one of the most costly of all WWII battles in both theaters. Japanese casualties numbered over 100,000; Japanese civilian casualties numbered 142,000, with a large proportion being suicides induced by Japanese propaganda on the expected results of coming in contact with Americans. US casualties topped 50,000, including over 12,000 KIA. Okinawa also saw the use of large-scale kamikaze attacks: 1465 of them during this battle caused massive damage to the US fleet. The tenaciousness of the Japanese defenses and the scale of the casualties in taking this outlying Japanese home island figured strongly in the planning underway for Operation Olympic later in the year and Operation Coronet in 1946.
1948: As post-war tensions between the victorious Allies continue to mount, the Soviet Union establishes a land blockade of West Berlin in an attempt to force the western Allies to accept Soviet supply of the western zones of the city, thus giving them de facto control of the entire capital. The plan does not work: instead of Western capitulation, the Russians watch as the Berlin Airlift moots their initiative.
1969: In Cleveland, Ohio, the Cuyahoga River catches fire and burns. The blaze becomes emblematic of the pollution problems rampant during that period and spurred the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
1972: Talking together in the Oval Office less than a week after the Watergate break-in, President Richard Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman discuss ways they might use the CIA to obstruct the FBI’s investigation.
1997: On the 40th anniversary of the arrival of extraterrestrials, the United States Air Force releases a 231-page report entitled “The Roswell Report, Case Closed.” 2019 UPDATE: you may recall that on the 25th of April that year, the U.S. Navy officially re-opened an ongoing study on “unexplained aerial phenomena”.
2006: Death of Harriet (b.1830), the Galapagos tortoise collected by Charles Darwin on his famous voyage aboard Beagle, and long-time resident of the Australia Zoo.