1146: The monk Bernard of Clairvaux preaches an impassioned sermon in a field at Vezelay, forcefully laying out the rationale for a second crusade to the Holy Lands.
1204: Death of Eleanor of Aquitane (b.1122), Queen of France and England, and mother of Richard Coeur de Lion. Eleanor was renowned for her great beauty, wealth, vivacity and political drive, but is perhaps best remembered today for her time developing “The Court of Love” in Poitiers, where she oversaw the full flowering of knightly chivalry and courtly love.
1513: Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon in search of the Fountain of Youth discovers Florida. He still ages and dies.
1533: King Henry VIII divorces his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, widowed wife of Henry’s older brother, Arthur.
1533: Thomas Cranmer is made Archbishop of Canterbury. The two items from 1533 are related. Cranmer worked the previous five years as part of the ecclesiastical legal team that developed the justification for Henry’s eventual divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The Boleyn family lobbied hard in favor of Cranmer’s accession to Canterbury to ensure his role in sanctifying their daughter Anne as Henry’s bride. Cranmer’s position, as head of the English Church, and his kindred intellectual-spiritual relationship with Erasmus and other key reformers, put him in the thick of changes to church doctrine that remain to this day, including the widely used Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer was caught on the wrong side of the Catholic restoration that began after the death of Henry during the short reign of his son Edward VI. He was tried for treason under a papal court and sentenced to death under English law. In the months prior to his scheduled death, he published six recantations of his “heresies.” At the pulpit on the day of his execution, he opened with a prayer and an exhortation to obey the king and queen, but he ended his sermon totally unexpectedly, deviating from the prepared script. He forcefully renounced the recantations that he had written or signed with his own hand since his degradation, and as such, he stated his hand would be punished by being burnt first. He then proclaimed, “And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine.” Crown bailiffs pulled him from the pulpit and took him to where his colleagues Latimer and Ridley had been burnt six months before. As the flames drew around him, he fulfilled his promise by placing his right hand into the heart of the fire. His dying words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
1727: Death of Isaac Newton (b.1643).
1773: Birth of Nathaniel Bowditch (d.1838), American mathematician and navigator, whose books on celestial navigation remain the standard to this day.
1775: In his continuing pursuit of effective colonial management, King George III endorses the New England Restricting Act. In a nod to colonial “self-rule” the act removes direct taxation to support the British military presence in New England, and replaces it with a billing invoice for New Englanders to pay. It further stipulates that the New England colonies may only conduct commercial trade with England and adds a provision that will, as of July 20th, prohibit New Englanders from fishing in North Atlantic waters.
1794: Congress authorizes the construction of six frigates, one of which, USS Constitution, is still afloat and in good sailing condition. Their expense caused critics to question the need for a “six-ship navy.” Note: USS Constellation, now on display in Baltimore, was for years billed as one of these original frigates. However, the original frigate of that name was completely disassembled in 1853 and eventually re-built in the Gosport Navy Yard down in Portsmouth. The ship in Baltimore is, in fact, the final sail-only warship designed by the Navy, but is not Constitution’s sister-ship.
1814: Death of Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotin (b.1738) who was a long-time foe of capital punishment. Dr Guillotin, as a member of the new French National Assembly in 1791, introduced a six-point legislative package he thought would rationalize the justice system and lead to the eventual end of executions. Only one part of his reform plan was adopted, with the result that the machine now bearing his slightly modified name- guillotine– was quickly designed and built to administer a fast and painless death to anyone, regardless of age, sex or wealth. The machine thus embodied the Revolution’s rational concepts of equality and humanity. In the hands of the revolutionary French government, it eventually killed over 15,000 people between 1792 and the close of the French Revolution in 1799, and remained in regular use through 1930. Dr. Guillotin’s original reform package: 1) Capital punishment shall be standardized throughout the country; 2) There shall be only one method of execution, decapitation by a machine that is quick and painless; 3) The victim’s family shall not be harmed; 4) The victim’s family shall not be discredited; 5) The victim’s property shall not be confiscated; 6) The corpse shall be returned to the family for burial.
1836: Birth of Beer Meister Frederick Pabst (d.1904).
1847: After a 20-day siege, General Winfield Scott captures the Mexican port city of Veracruz. The battle was the first large-scale amphibious assault in American arms, and to a certain extent was what we would now call a “combined arms” joint operation, using both military and naval forces simultaneously. Scott’s systematic planning and execution skills established uncompromising standards for military operations, standards that were seen again fourteen years later during the War Between the States under the leadership of the scores of junior officers who learned their trade under Old Fuss ‘n Feathers himself during the Veracruz campaign and the subsequent march to Mexico City.
1848: An ice jam blocks Niagara Falls for 30 hours.
1853: Birth of Vincent van Gogh (d.1890).
1854: Commodore Matthew Perry signs the Treaty of Kanagawa, opening ports in Japan to American commerce. Japanese cultural memory of the visit of the Black Ships remains a very positive piece of U.S.- Japan relations.
1865: In the opening move of the last great campaign of the Civil War, General Grant orders Phil Sheridan’s cavalry to sweep around the southwestern flanks of the Petersburg siege line to block Lee’s expected retreat toward his remaining rail supply line in Lynchburg. A short, sharp fight at Lewis Farm forced the initial turning of the larger Confederate flank.
1866: President Andrew Johnson vetoes a civil rights bill. After his impeachment, Congress sends the same legislation to the States to become the 14thAmendment to the Constitution.
1867: Secretary of State William Seward signs a treaty with Russia purchasing the Alaska territory for $7,200,000.00, about $.02 per acre.
1879: Birth of photographer Edward Steichen (d.1973). By profession an artist and curator, Steichen applied his artistic sensibilities to the relatively new medium of the camera and soon became the photographer of choice for American high society.
1886: John Pemberton brews his first batch of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia.
1889: Inauguration of La Tour Eiffel. Gustave Eiffel was a French structural engineer who achieved fame for his innovative use of iron in construction. Although the tower that bears his name is his most prominent legacy, he earlier became famous for his bridge-building and other engineering feats before raising the tower in Paris. He also played a major role in the unsuccessful French efforts to build a canal across the isthmus of Panama
1899: Birth of Beer Meister August Anheuser Busch Jr. (d.1989).
1874: Birth of Robert Frost (d.1963), American poet laureate.
1902: Death of Cecil Rhodes (b.1853), the Briton who founded the DeBeers diamond mines, and whose name still defines the peak of scholarship. The fertile country north of South Africa was for decades named for him, although today it is divided between Zambia and Robert Mugabe’s basket case of socialist irresponsibility, Zimbabwe. Rhodes was a lifelong proponent of the virtues of British colonialism: “Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.”
1911: The U.S. Army formally adopts the M1911 .45 ACP as its standard sidearm. The pistol was designed around two primary requirements: 1) to be self-loading, and; 2) to use a heavy enough projectile to stop the charge of a highly agitated and drugged-up Moro tribesman the Army had been fighting for the last twelve years.
1912: The first of 3,020 Japanese cherry trees are planted on the north bank of the Potomac River near the planned site of the Jefferson memorial.
1917: Birth of Man O’War (d.1947), often considered the greatest racehorse of the 20th century, with a W-L record of 20-1-0, the single loss being a second-place deriving from a particularly poor start. Man o’War’s grandson, Seabiscuit, carried on his legacy into the 1940s.
1918: Birth of Wal Mart founder Sam Walton (d.1992).
1923: Death of Sarah Bernhardt (b.1844), Over the course of a long stage and screen career, “The Divine Sarah” defined the term “drama queen.” Mark Twain described her thusly: “There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses— and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.”
1939: The Spanish Civil War ends when Madrid falls to Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
1945: Last launch of the Nazi V-2 ballistic missile. Under development since late 1942, its first launch in combat occurred on 6 September 1944. More than 1,100 missiles were fired in the next six months, killing over 2700 Britons. Captured V-2 parts and engineers formed the core of the space programs for both the United States and Soviet Union for the next 25 years. It remains the core technology for the widely deployed SCUD ballistic missile.
1951: Julius and Ethel Rosenburg are found guilty of espionage- giving nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. They are both executed by electric chair at Sing-Sing prison two years later. Their two sons, aged 6 and 10, are adopted by family friends under assumed names.
1964: The strongest earthquake in American history strikes Alaska at 8.4 on the Richter scale. A 100 foot tsunami devastates coastal towns all around the Gulf of Alaska.
1969: Death of Dwight D. Eisenhower (b.1890), USMA class of 1915.
1977: A KLM 747 collides with a Pan Am 747 on the foggy runway at Tenerife, Canary Islands killing 583 souls. It remains the single worst disaster in aviation history.
1979: Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Meacham Begin and U.S. President Jimmy Carter sign the Camp David Accords, the first formal peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948.
1979: A series of serious but solvable water system malfunctions, combined with human error, act to prematurely shut down the cooling system in Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island reactor, raising internal core temperatures to over 3000 degrees and releasing a moderate amount of radioactive steam into the atmosphere. No one dies, although some workers inside the plant are exposed to “unhealthy” levels of radiation. The ensuing public hysteria, unconstrained by logic, reason or engineering expertise, completely forecloses the construction of new nuclear power plants in the United States to this day.
1981: John Hinkley shoots President Ronald Reagan and three others in his entourage in Washington D.C. A .22 caliber bullet buried itself within an inch of his heart, but Reagan’s confidence and sense of humor carried the day. To his wife Nancy, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” To the doctors who were about to operate, “Please tell me you are all Republicans.” And as he came out of anesthesia, a note to his aides: “All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” Hinkley is eventually found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI) and remained mostly confined to a mental institution. In late 2016 the court granted him a bit more freedom to leave the hospital campus, with many conditions. As of this writing (2022) Hinkley will be completely released from court supervision in June of this year.
1997: The United States’ last active WWII battleship, USS Missouri (BB-63) is decommissioned in Long Beach, California. After a cosmetic overhaul, she is towed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where she serves as a memorial to World War II, directly adjacent to the entombed hull of USS Arizona (BB-36). Note: contrary to urban legend, a battleship does not slide sideways 3 feet when firing a broadside: the shock wave roils the water near the hull, giving the illusion of sideways motion, but the 58,000 ton ship remains laterally stable); In Tokyo Bay, September, 1945 as flagship of the Allied armada USS Missouri received the Japanese surrender, ending WW II.