43 BC: Birth of the Roman poet Ovid
1314: Death of Jacques de Molay (b.1243), the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, burned at the stake. The Templars were a monastic military order that grew out of the First Crusade’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1096. Within a few years, Christian pilgrims again began arriving in the city, and two knights of the Crusade, Hughes de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer proposed establishing a monastic order that could protect them. They established their headquarters in what is now the Al Asqa mosque, which they called the Temple of Solomon, built on the ruins of the original temple, and from which they derived their name. The order quickly grew and was formally recognized by the Pope in 1129. For nearly 200 years the Templars epitomized knightly Crusading virtues, in addition to growing very wealthy*. Templar orders throughout Europe began functioning as banks, and because of the financial hold they had over many of the royal houses in Europe, and the secrecy of their proceedings, their power began to be seen as a serious political threat. By 1306, King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Templars as a result of his wars with England, began a systematic campaign to destroy the order. In concert with Philip, Pope Clement ordered all Christian monarchs to arrest the Orders and seize their assets. Philip devised a secret plan to arrest every Templar in France, including de Molay, and carried it out in a massive nighttime raid on Friday, the 13th of October 1307. The Templars were charged with numerous acts, including apostasy, idolatry, heresy, obscene rituals, homosexuality, financial corruption, fraud and secrecy. Under torture, many confessed their alleged crimes, and after they recovered, most recanted. Those who recanted were thence burned at the stake for relapsing into apostasy. The elderly de Molay, who had confessed only under torture, eventually retracted his statement. His associate, the Preceptor of Normandy, followed de Molay’s example and insisted on his innocence. Both men were declared guilty of being relapsed heretics, and they were sentenced to be burned alive at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314. De Molay reportedly remained defiant to the end, asking to be tied in such a way that he could face the Notre Dame Cathedral and hold his hands together in prayer. According to legend, he called out from the flames that both Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before God. Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died in a hunting accident before the end of the year.
1413: Accession of Henry V as King of England.
1556: Death of British Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (b.1489), burned at the stake for heresy and treason.
1607: Establishment of the Dutch East India Company.
1617: Death of Virginia native Pocahontas (b.1595), introduced to polite society in the Old Country as Mrs. John Rolfe.
1622: The first of the Powhattan Massacres at Jamestown. 347 settlers are slain, a full third of the colony’s population.
1685: Birth of Johann Sebastian Bach (d.1750).
1765: In an attempt to raise money to protect the vast territories recently gained during the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War), Parliament authorizes the Stamp Act.
1766: British parliament repeals the hated Stamp Act. They’ll get their taxes by other means later.
1815: After effecting his escape from the island of Elba and making a dramatic march northward from the coast of Alpes Maritimes and onward through the Alps themselves, Napoleon Bonaparte enters Paris, thus beginning the final period of his reign as Emperor, known as “The Hundred Days.” From Elba, Napoleon correctly deduced that, given the ongoing diplomatic conflict at the Congress of Vienna, his presence on the mainland would provoke an uprising for his restoration as Emperor of France. He arrived from Elba with only 600 loyal troops, but as word spread of his presence, thousands of volunteers flocked into his train, eventually swelling his army to 140,000 regular forces (turned from Bourbon armies) and over 200,000 volunteer militia irregulars. The drama of “La Route Napoleon” cannot be overstated: when Royalist troops attempted to stop him at Lyons, Napoleon stepped out in front of them and ripped open his jacket: “If any of you will shoot your Emperor, shoot him now!” Of course, no-one dared to shoot. On his arrival in the capital, he immediately re-established his imperial government. Louis XVIII already fled with his few remaining loyalists to the Vendee region, where he remained a thorn in side of the renewed Empire. Immediately after his escape from Elba, the Congress of Vienna declared war (The Seventh Coalition) on the French Empire, which eventually led to the final battle at Waterloo on the 18th of June.
1848: Birth of Nathaniel Herreshoff (d.1938). Known throughout the sailing world as “The Wizard of Bristol,” he was the brilliant naval architect who designed and built the defenders of Americas Cup through the 1930s. His yacht designs remain the gold standard for their blending of technical excellence, operational power, grace and beauty.
1850: Henry Wells and William Fargo start a new stagecoach line, called American Express.
1852: Publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
1858: Birth of Rudolf Diesel (d.1913). Born in Paris to a German family living in France, his family emigrated to London at the breakout of the Franco-Prussian war. After again emigrating back to Germany, the young Diesel at age 12 decided to become an engineer. Besides inventing the internal combustion cycle that bears his name, his disappearance off of an English steamer at sea in September of 1913 remains an unsolved mystery.
1863: The new Confederate raider and blockade runner SS Georgiana is destroyed on the night of her first run out of Charleston harbor. Built in Scotland, she is designed for speed with heavily raked masts, auxiliary steam propulsion, and a deep hold for cargo. She is also pierced for 14 guns to act as a privateer once clear of the Union blockade. After her loss, rumors abound about 300 gold bars lost in the wreckage, which is quickly buried by the shifting sands of the barrier islands.
1865: The Confederate Congress adjourns for the last time. After 10 months of unrelenting pressure on Petersburg by Lt Gen Ulysses S. Grant, the Confederate government recognized it would be in mortal danger if it remained seated in Richmond. They began an orderly evacuation of the government to Mississippi, but the civilian retreat became a rout over the course of the next two weeks.
1865: Battle of Bentonville, NC, the last major engagement between the Union army of William Tecumseh Sherman and the Confederates of Joe Johnson. The fight lasted through the night of the 21st, when Johnson pulled back his battered remnants across Mill Creek, burning the bridge behind him. Both armies subsequently worked their way northward toward Virginia in an attempt to join up with their respective commanders, U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.
1869: Birth of Neville Chamberlain (d.1940).
1871: Fresh from Prussia’s stunning victory over France, and on the heels of the long-awaited unification of the fractious Germanic states and principalities, Otto von Bismarck is designated Chancellor of the newly created German Empire.
1918: Congress authorize “Daylight Saving Time.”
1920: The actual geniuses in the U.S. Senate decisively reject- for the second time- the Treaty of Versailles.
1922: Commissioning of USS Langley (CV-1) at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. The world’s first aircraft carrier was converted from the collier USS Jupiter (AC-3), which was itself the Navy’s first electric-drive ship. To accommodate her new mission, Langley was fitted with a wooden platform for the flight deck, folding funnels (a.k.a., smokestacks) to keep the boiler gasses and the stacks themselves out of the airplanes’ way, a retractable navigation tower, and a trolley system suspended underneath the flight deck to move aircraft from the centerline elevators to the “hangar” areas in the former cargo holds. Langley served as a test bed for any number of seaborne aviation operations, including catapult launches and arrested landings, among others. She participated in all of the major fleet exercises of the inter-war years, first by simply providing spotters for the fall of battleship shot, but soon providing long range striking capability in her own right. Of particular note, Langley and the other carrier conversions Lexington (CV-2) and Saratoga (CV-3), conducted surprise aerial attacks on both the Panama Canal and Pearl Harbor during the mid-30’s, but the “White Cell” referees of the exercises negated the tactics as invalid.
1929: Death of General Ferdinand Foch (b.1851). One of the innovators of French military thinking in the post Franco-Prussian War (1876) era, he aggressively pursued doctrinal changes that inadvertently led to a French army pre-WW1 fetish of “L’attaque! Toujours l’attaque!” (“Always attack!”). Foch ended the Great War as the Allied Supreme Commander, and took the surrender of the German commander in November 1918. After the negotiations of the Versailles Treaty, Foch made the prescient comment, “This is not a peace, it is an armistice for twenty years.”
1931: Gambling is legalized in Nevada.
1933: Completion of the Nazi government’s first concentration camp, at Dachau, a suburb of Munich. If you’re ever in the vicinity, it is worth your time to visit the place, if only to absorb the starkness and sterility of its current condition, remembering full well its condition in 1945. You will not go away unaffected. [The infamous phrase, used at all the camps (Work makes you free); the Administration Building]. You may also find interesting the following contemporary press release that announced the opening:
“On Wednesday the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5000 persons. ‘All Communists and—where necessary—Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated here, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons, and on the other hand these people cannot be released because attempts have shown that they persist in their efforts to agitate and organize as soon as they are released.’”
1940: German Furher Adolf Hitler and Italian Duce Benito Mussolini meet at the Brenner Pass to form the Pact of Steel against France and Great Britain.
1944: Just outside the teeming city of bella Napoli, Mount Vesuvius erupts, killing 26 and sending thousands into panic.
1947: President Harry Truman, orders sweeping loyalty investigations on all federal employees (rooting out communism?).
1965: The wreck of SS Georgina is found and positively identified by salvage diver E. Lee Spence. He recovers many interesting artifacts from the wreckage, but no gold. The remains of the hull are in water shallow enough to be visited with only a snorkel.
1965: Christian minister and activist Martin Luther King, Jr., on his third attempt, successfully leads 3500 civil rights protesters on a march between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama.
1968:The U.S. Congress repeals the requirement for a gold reserve to back U.S. currency.
1980: In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter announces a boycott of the Olympic Games to be held in Moscow.
1982: Argentine armed forces invade the Falkland Islands, triggering a war with the United Kingdom.