43 BC: Birth of the Roman poet Ovid
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 and English social sensation, 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).
1743: The English premier of George Fredrick Handel’s Messiah. Handel wrote the original score during a frenetic 24 days in the late summer of 1741, and it premiered in Dublin the following April. The libretto is taken completely from the King James Bible, primarily the books of Isaiah (chapters 40-53), Psalms, and Revelation. King George II attended the London premiere and was so moved by the Hallelujah chorus that he stood for the entire section, initiating a tradition that remains active to this day.
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. The legislation is not well-received by the American colonies.
1775: In a speech before the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry gives voice to the greatest quote from the American Revolution: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
1806: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark reach the Pacific coast at the mouth of the Columbia River. From their journal, “Ocean in view- oh the joy!”
1813: Birth of David Livingstone (d.1873). David Livingstone was a Scottish medical missionary, explorer, and avid anti-slavery advocate who believed that the development of regular commercial trade relations along Africa’s major rivers would bring an end to the slave trade. His missionary zeal and lucid writings about mapping of Africa’s great rivers made him something of a 19th century media superstar. On his final trek to find the source of the Nile, he lost contact with his lines of support, and ended up being sustained by the very slavers whom he was trying to obliterate. After nearly six years of being “lost,” Henry Stanley, a British newsman, set out on a trek of his own to find the missing explorer. When the search reached its climax, Henry walked carefully into the camp, doffed his cap, and as he approached the only other white man within a thousand miles politely said, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume.”
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 his perch on 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. 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!” 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.
1820: Death of naval hero Stephen Decatur (b.1779), killed in a duel with disgraced Commodore James Barron. The duel grew out of festering discontent from a court-martial that faulted Barron for his actions in surrendering his ship, USS Chesapeake, after a short action with HMS Leopard off the coast of Norfolk in June of 1807. The British captain refused Barron’s surrender and boarded Chesapeake to look for deserters from the Royal Navy. He took four crewmen off the ship, one of whom was hanged, the other three sentenced to 500 lashes. The incident inflamed Americans over both the high-handedness of the British, and also the apparent fecklessness of Barron, who only got off one shot before he surrendered. At the subsequent court-martial, Barron was convicted of not preparing his ship in advance for possible action and was suspended for 5 years without pay. Captain John Rodgers was the president of the court-martial, and Decatur was a member. When Barron finally returned to duty, he remained controversial and was greatly criticized in and out of the Navy. Decatur, once a former subordinate, was one of the most vocal critics. Barron finally challenged him to a duel with pistols, which they fought on March 22, 1820 at Bladensburg Dueling Field in Bladensburg, Maryland. After his suspension for dueling, Barron remained in the Navy on shore duty as commander of the Gosport Naval Shipyard over in Portsmouth, becoming the Navy’s senior officer in 1839. He died right here in Norfolk, Virginia on April 21, 1851.
1852: Publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
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: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.
1871: Fresh from Prussia’s 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.
1891: Birth of Earl Warren (d.1974), 14th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
1903: The Wright brothers patent their airplane, specifically the wing-warping control mechanism.
1912: Birth of German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (d.1977).
From his teenage years, von Braun had held a keen interest in space flight, becoming involved in the German Society for Space Travel (VfR) in 1928. As a means of furthering his desire to build large and capable rockets, in late 1932 he went to work for the German army to develop liquid-fuel rockets. Based on his army-funded research, von Braun received a doctorate in physics on July 27, 1934.
The V–2 ballistic missile, the antecedent of U.S. and Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles, was the primary brainchild of von Braun’s rocket team. After 1937 they worked at a secret laboratory at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast. A liquid propellant missile 46 feet in length and weighing 27,000 pounds, the V-2 flew at speeds in excess of 3,500 miles per hour and delivered a 2,200-pound warhead to a target 200 miles away. First successfully launched in October 1942, it was employed against targets in Western Europe beginning in September 1944. The V-2 assembly plant at the Mittelwerk, near the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, used slave labor, as did a number of other production sites. Von Braun was a member of the Nazi Party and an SS officer, yet was also arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 for careless remarks he made about the war and the rocket. His responsibility for the crimes connected to rocket production is controversial.
By late 1944, it was obvious to von Braun that Germany would be destroyed and occupied, and he began planning for the postwar era. Before the Allied capture of the V–2 rocket complex, von Braun was sent south, eventually to Bavaria and surrendered to the Americans there, along with other key team leaders. For fifteen years after World War II, Von Braun worked with the U.S. Army in the development of ballistic missiles. As part of a military operation called Project Paperclip, he and an initial group of about 125 were sent to America where they were installed at Fort Bliss, Texas. There they worked on rockets for the U.S. Army, and assisted in V-2 launches at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. In 1950 von Braun’s team moved to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, where they designed the Army’s Redstone and Jupiter ballistic missiles, as well as the Jupiter C, Juno II, and Saturn I launch vehicles. A Jupiter C orbited the first U.S satellite, Explorer I, in 1958. Von Braun also became one of the most prominent advocates for space exploration in the United States during the 1950s, writing numerous books and several articles for magazines such as Collier’s. Von Braun also served as a spokesman for three Walt Disney television programs on space travel, Man in Space.
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), 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 other. 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 great thinkers and 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!” (…like it sounds: “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. [The infamous phrase, used at all the camps (Work makes you free); the Administration Building]. 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.’”
1947: President Harry Truman orders sweeping loyalty investigations on all federal employees.
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.
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.