203A.D: Death of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, one of the Fathers of the Church, whose incisive writings on the false teachings of the Gnostic sect played a primary role in establishing the canon of the New Testament.
1098: Three years into their campaign to re-capture Jerusalem from its Moslem occupiers, knights of the First Crusade win a strategic victory during the siege of Antioch, when they defeat a powerful Saracen relief army led by Kerboghan of Mosul. The subsequent victory at Antioch itself frees the Crusaders to continue their march toward the Holy City.
1284: A piper dressed in multi-color (“pied”) clothing lures one hundred thirty children away from Hamelin, Germany. They are never heard from again. The roots of this story are deep and persistent, and although the details vary, there are many constants: the town itself (Hamelin), the number (130), the date (Feast of St. John and Paul (June 26th)), the sudden disappearance, and a nefarious, colorful “leader” who takes them all away. Scholars through the centuries have proposed any number of theories as to what really happened: options include a bout of Black Death, an actual mass kidnapping by a real rat-trapper (consistent with both the basic rat story and the Black Death), mass kidnapping by a murderous pedophile, participation in the infamous Children’s Crusade (which actually occurred in 1212), or recruitment by the medieval equivalent of a land speculator (a “lokator”). The latter theory is supported by known emigration patterns into eastern Europe during this period, after the fall of the Mongol invasions into the region. The “children” in this case could be young adults recruited to start a new life in now-open land. Consistent with this is a pattern of Hamelin- derived family surnames living in a corridor running between Hamelin, northern Berlin and Polish Pomerania.
1358: Establishment of the Republic of Dubrovnik. The walled city was conquered by Venice during its march of conquest to the Fourth Crusade in 1205, and for a hundred fifty years afterward served as a naval base protecting Venice’s Adriatic approaches, in addition to providing substantial raw materials in support of Venetian trade. Today’s establishment was an unintended consequence of the Fourth Crusade’s fatal weakening of the Byzantine empire: the rising Ottomans took control of the Dalmatian coast, and while they extracted a substantial level of tribute from the city, they also gave it free rein to develop its own commercial interests, essentially permitting it to become a perpetual rival to Venice during the height of the Spice Trade in the 15th and 16th centuries. Fast forwarding to today, the historic city suffered substantial damage from Serb shelling during the Yugoslav Civil War in 1991-92. I was privileged to visit the city in 1985 and can confirm its ancient beauty and worthiness as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1519: Charles V is elected Holy Roman Emperor. His election signals the high water mark of the Hapsburg dynasty in terms of territory under a single ruler: essentially all of civilized Europe, a feat not seen since Charlemagne, nor again until Napoleon. The Hapsburg dynasty continues to this day. The most recent leader in the public eye was Otto von Hapsburg (1912-2011), legitimate heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary from his father’s death in 1922 to his own death ten years ago. Hapsburg was president of the “International Pan-European Union” from 1973-2004, and a prominent Member of the European Parliament, consistently speaking out on the need for a viable political union for the nations of Europe. this family represents over 500 continuous years of actual and potential leadership over a unified Europe. The current head of the family is Otto’s son, Karl von Habsburg (b.1961), an Austrian politician.
1613: William Shakespeare’s stage the Globe Theatre burns to the ground, a victim of a malfunctioning stage cannon that ignited the building during a performance of Henry VIII.
1778: The Continental Army, after wintering over in Valley Forge and six months of intense military training under the tutelage of Baron von Steubin, intercepts the British army of Sir Henry Clinton en route to New York. The Battle of Monmouth (NJ) is the first real force-on-force action between the Continentals and the British, and ended in a draw in terms of ground taken or lost, and also in casualties. General George Washington distinguished himself halfway through the battle as he rallied his men to regroup and press forward with the attack. Monmouth also saw Carlisle, Pennsylvania native Molly Pitcher in action, swabbing out guns and providing water to the exhausted Americans.
1782: An American force of 170 men aboard six privateer vessels slip out of Boston harbor under cover of darkness to raid Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, an important shipbuilding center in British Canada. They make a coordinated land and seaward attack, capturing one of the two blockhouses in town, including the leadership of the Lunenburg militia. After looting the town and burning a cache of military stores, the Americans return to their ships and withdraw back to Boston just as a small British relief squadron arrives in the harbor. The privateers easily outrun the British ships.
1788: The Commonwealth of Virginia becomes the 10th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
1852: Birth of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi (d.1926).
1863: First day of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg. The titanic clash between Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union General George Meade was a continuation of Lee’s strategy of bringing the war home into the Northern states, the first iteration of which culminated in the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland nine months earlier. Lee believed that if he could force the Army of the Potomac away from Washington to defend Union territory, he could weaken them enough and create enough civilian panic to strengthen the growing Northern anti-war movement and force the U.S. government to negotiate a peace with the Confederacy. After his victory in at Chancellorsville in early June, Lee saw his opportunity to move north. He was able to break contact with Joe Hooker’s Union forces on the 3rd of June, and made a rapid march up the Shenandoah Valley, crossing the Potomac at mid-month to advance into Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, where his troops lived of the bounty of the yet-untouched farms and towns along the way. Union forces began a parallel movement north, but remained largely uninformed of the Confederate positions except by way of refugee reports. Lee lost close track of Union movements when his cavalry commander, J.E.B. Stuart made an excessively ambitious move eastward and was blocked by Federal infantry. This decision by his subordinate forced Lee to continue moving his army northward into unfamiliar territory, essentially blind. He realized though, that the two armies would eventually meet, and he chose the crossroads at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as the place where he would make his stand. Lee halted the march to allow his army to concentrate near Cashtown, just west of Gettysburg. Union cavalry under Brigadier General John Buford had similarly scouted Gettysburg as good ground for combat and established an initial defensive perimeter around the northern and western outskirts of the town. At 7:30 in the morning, Confederate corps under General A.P. Hill began attacking Buford along the Chambersburg Pike, and although the initial attack was repulsed, Confederate reinforcements continued to fill in along a semi-circle running west to north. Union reinforcements, arriving later in the afternoon, filled in the original defensive arc, but as the battle progressed they could not hold, retreating through city streets to a position on the higher ground of cemetery ridge on the southeast section of the town. Confederate General Richard Ewell chose not to pursue the Union forces, and as night settled over the battlefield, the two armies continued to fill in their defensive and offensive positions in anticipation of the fighting to come on July 2nd.
1870: Christmas is officially declared a U.S. Federal Holiday.
1872: Birth of French aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot (d.1936), who became the first to fly across the English Channel (ou La Manche, si vous preferez) in 1909.
1876: Under the leadership of George Armstrong Custer, the United States Army Seventh Cavalry suffers a shattering defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The coalition of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes under Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Chief Gall annihilated 5 of the Seventh’s companies, killing all its key leadership including Custer himself. US casualties numbered 268 killed of approximately 700 engaged; Indians suffered approximately 130 killed of the nearly 1500 engaged. The battle is carefully studied to this day by students at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA.
1885: Birth of Helen Keller (d.1968), the blind-deaf-mute woman who became an outspoken advocate for a variety of causes.
1898: Birth of the great German aircraft designer Willy Messerschmidt (d.1978) His more memorable designs- the ME-109 that wreaked havoc on Allied bomber forces and the ME-262, the world’s first operational jet fighter.
1898: A week and a day after landing in Cuba, U.S. Army troops under the command of Major General William Shafter launch an attack on the Spanish-defended San Juan Heights above the city of Santiago de Cuba. 15,000 U.S. troops, which included two black infantry battalions, fought against 800 fortified Spanish soldiers in the blistering tropical heat. The eventual American victory came at the cost of 205 dead and over 1,100 wounded. At a crucial point in the fighting, the “Rough Riders” dismounted the cavalry regiment under Colonel Theodore Roosevelt broke cover and charged into the teeth of Spanish fire to force them from the “Kettle Hill” section of the heights.
1898: Canadian-American seaman and writer Joshua Slocum (1844-1909) arrives in Newport, Rhode Island, completing the first solo circumnavigation of the world.
1900: Birth of Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten (d.1979), last Viceroy of India. Uncle of Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, and mentor to Charles, Prince of Wales; killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb while boating at an Irish resort.
1914: On the final day of a State visit to his restive Balkan provinces, Austro-Hungarian archduke and heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie are shot and killed by Bosnian Serb anarchist Gavrilo Princip. Princip was part of a cabal of conspirators trying to goad Austria-Hungary into another brutal suppression of Balkan nationalism. Two Balkan wars had already been fought since the turn of the century, and Serbia was keen to get going on a third one in the summer of 1914, this time with more overt support from Russia. The relationship between Princip’s group and the Serb government had the same basic goal in mind to shake off their Austrian overlords. Austria, for its part, was in the midst of a coordinated campaign to re-assert its authority and concern for its Balkan territories and was confident of diplomatic and potential military support from its alliance with Germany. Princip had earlier positioned himself along the planned motorcade route, where he might get a clean shot and a clean getaway. But the motorcade never passed his position. He had already given up on the attempt when he learned that the royal motorcade was delayed and disoriented in the narrow streets of Sarajevo. As Princip made his way back to his hideout, he stumbled on the Archduke’s car driving right past him. He took the renewed opportunity and fired.
1916: After a week of Allied artillery bombardment- over a million shells expended against the entrenched and fortified German positions- “Zero hour” of the Battle of the Somme comes with a sudden silence as artillery shifts its aim-points, and whistles sound up and down the trench lines to send British forces “over the top” in what was to become one of the largest battles in the history of warfare.
The Germans, though battered by the artillery siege, rose from their highly reinforced fortifications to re-establish their defensive positions and systematically begin to savage the British offensive. On this day alone, British losses were 19,240 killed, 35,493 wounded, 2,152 missing and 585 captured for a total loss of 57,470…a full 20% of the entire British fighting force on the Continent. The battle continued to rage for nearly five months until it finally ended from exhaustion, having failed to achieve any of its planned objectives.
1917: The first U.S. troops arrive in France to begin training for their part in the Great War.
1918: Final day of the three-week-long Battle of Belleau Wood– the final surge by the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines that eliminated the remaining German forces in the forest. The end was signaled by a laconic report: “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.” U.S casualties were 9,777 of which 1,811 were fatalities. The Marine Corps wasted no time in adding the German moniker “TefelHunden” to their recruiting pitch.
1919: Five years to the day after the murder of Archduke Ferdinand, and with the shock of the Great War still roiling the continent, the Allied and Central powers sign the Treaty of Versailles, the terms of which were immediately used to stoke simmering resentment in Germany that it was not a true defeat of arms. French Field Martial Ferdinand Foch was not impressed with the work of his diplomatic colleagues: “This is not a peace- it is a twenty-year armistice.”
1945: The United Nations Charter is signed in San Francisco.
1950: Two days after the armies of North Korea pour across the 38th parallel, President Truman orders U.S. Navy and Air Force support to the disintegrating South Korean army. In the United Nations, the Security Council unanimously votes that member nations should assist South Korea in repelling aggression. One of the Permanent Members of the Security Council, the Soviet Union, did not vote, oddly enough, because they were boycotting the Council in protest of the UN’s interest in the Taiwan Straits earlier in the year.
1950: The North Korean army captures the South Korean capital of Seoul.
1959: Opening day of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, linking the Great Lakes with ocean-going ships.
1963: President John F. Kennedy makes one of the most famous speeches of the Cold War, in which he proclaims: “Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum’ [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”
1997: Death of French diver, explorer, and inventor of the aqua-lung, Jacques-Yves Cousteau (b.1910).
2007- On the anniversary date of Steve Wozniak’s applying power to his first Apple prototype computer, Apple, Inc., releases its first IPhone.