1502: Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Christopher Columbus, departs Spain on his fourth and final voyage to the New World.
1647: Peter Stuyvesant arrives in Nieu Amsterdam to serve as governor of the Dutch New Netherlands colony, a 17th-century colonial province of the Dutch Republic located on the east coast of what is now the United States. The claimed territories extended from the Delmarva Peninsula to southwestern Cape Cod, while limited settlements were in parts of the U.S. states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut, with small outposts in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The colony was originally conceived by the Dutch West India Company (GWC) in 1621 to capitalize on the North American fur trade.
1655: The island of Jamaica captured by a 50 ship British fleet under Admiral William Penn.
1664: Louis XIV, France’s “Sun King,” opens the Palais du Versailles, originally the site of a small royal hunting lodge about 20 km outside of Paris. May 7th was the first day of a week-long fete (i.e., a massive party) that doubled as not only a fund-raiser but also foreshadowed the opening moves in Louis’ concentration of political power by bringing the regional nobility quite literally under his roof. During this first use of the palace, it was large enough to comfortably house all 600 of his invited guests.
1752: Benjamin Franklin tests his first lightning rod. He somehow survives the strike.
1775: Led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, American militia crosses Lake Champlain to capture Fort Ticonderoga from the British.
1775: The Second Continental Congress names Virginian George Washington as Supreme Commander of the newly formed Continental Army.
1824: World premiere of Ludwig von Beethoven’s Symphony Number 9, in Vienna.
1840: Birth of the Russian composer Pytor Ilych Tchaikosvsky (d.1893).
1856: Birth of Robert Peary (d.1920), American arctic explorer and the first man to reach the North Pole.
1861: In recognition of Virginia’s secession from the United States, the Confederate States of America name Richmond as its capital.
1862: As the War Between the States (War of Northern Aggression) heats up, the United States Naval Academy moves from Annapolis, Maryland to Newport, Rhode Island.
1863: Stonewall Jackson dies of pneumonia, contracted subsequent to his Confederate-inflicted wounding. When he first heard of Jackson’s wounds, General Robert E. Lee said, “Jackson has lost his left arm; I have lost my right.” His loss will be particularly felt when the Army of Northern Virginia begins its northward march next month.
1864: The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the third sequential battle in U.S. Grant’s Overland Campaign to capture Richmond. Coming a week after the Wilderness fight, the battle was characterized by horrific bloodletting and unprecedented firepower that flattened the landscape and destroyed every tree and bush in the battle area. The battle’s climax occurred at the Bloody Angle, where hand-to-hand fighting occurred back and forth across trench lines and muddy fields completely filled with the corpses of the fallen. The mud was so thick that men who lost their balance were trampled and drowned before they could get back up. Because Lee was able to hold his position, and because the number of casualties was heavily weighted against the Union, it was technically a Confederate victory. But the battle was so costly to Lee that he was never able to re-gain the initiative against Grant, who continued to shift his army to the left and continue to probe and plunge against Lee’s ever-weakening right flank, eventually leading to the establishment of the siege line around Petersburg.
1865: U.S. Army soldiers capture Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Irwinville, Georgia. He spends two years in custody at Fortress Monroe in Hampton. You can visit his cell today in the Casemate Museum inside the fort.
1877: Chief Crazy Horse of the Oglala Sioux nation surrenders to the US Army in Nebraska. Crazy Horse built his reputation as a warrior during multiple fighting seasons against Sioux’s traditional enemies, the Crow, Shoshone, Blackfoot, and Pawnee, among others. He first fought against the US Army in 1864 to avenge the Sand Creek Massacre of the nearby Cheyennes, and then continued to lead raids and attacks, culminating in the Great Sioux War of 1876-77, where he played a leading role in the defeat of the 7th US Cavalry at Little Big Horn (June 1876). His tribe suffered greatly through the ensuing winter. Recognizing the inevitable, Crazy Horse finally led them from Montana to the Red Cloud Agency in Nebraska to surrender and settle into Reservation life. He was killed under “mysterious circumstances” in September of 1877.
1869: Meeting at Promontory Point, Utah, the nation’s first transcontinental railroad is completed with a golden spike. The ceremonial hammer and spike are connected to telegraph wires that relay the historic impacts back to Washington, DC. The three-year project of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads was largely financed by generous federal land grants.
1871: The Treaty of Frankfurt am Main ends the Franco-Prussian war. In addition to ceding to Germany the German-speaking French provinces of Alsace and Loraine, France is saddled with reparations of 5 billion Francs. German forces remain in strategic occupation positions across the north of France, right up to the outskirts of Paris, until September of 1873 when the last payment is finally made. The crushing German victory at the Battle of Sedan (DLH 9/1) triggered the overthrow of the French government, and set the stage for the simmering resentment and thirst for revenge that exacerbated the onset of the Great War in 1914.
1879: Death of John Stuart Mill (b.1806), the brilliant English parliamentarian and philosopher of individual liberty against the “tyranny of political rulers.” He was an outspoken advocate of free markets and free speech, among other causes, and became an early proponent of women’s rights.
1884: Birth of Harry S. Truman (d.1972).
1888: Birth of Irving Berlin (d.1989). The Russian immigrant became the quintessential American songwriter, producing over 1500 pieces over a 60 year career, including Alexander’s Ragtime Band (his first song (1911), Easter Parade, White Christmas, and God Bless America (1938).
1889: Death of John Cadbury (b.1801), English grocer whose temperance beliefs led him to explore cocoa and chocolate as an alternative to the alcohol he saw ravaging the lives of the poor. Cadbury PLC is now one of the world’s premier chocolate manufacturers.
1902: Mount Pelee, on the Carribean island of Martinique, erupts, killing over 30,000 souls.
1933: Mohandas Ghandi begins a 21-day fast against British rule in India, done in the name of the Untouchable caste, whom he named “Harijans, the Children of God.”
1933: Birth of Johnny Unitas (d.2002), often regarded as the greatest NFL quarterback of all time, although with you-know-who retiring after the 2017 season. Unitas’ record of throwing TD passes in 47 straight games (1956-60) stands to this day.
1937: After a trans-Atlantic flight from Europe, including a photo fly-over of Manhattan, the hydrogen-filled German zeppelin Hindenburg bursts into flame and is completely destroyed in less than a minute as it makes its initial mooring in Lakehurst, NJ. Death toll was 36, including 35 of the 97 on board and one on the ground. Controversy over the disaster continues to this day, with no fewer than 10 competing theories about the ignition source. The dramatic newsreel footage of the crash is highlighted by announcer Herbert Morrison’s running commentary as it burns and falls to earth, punctuated by his plaintive cry, “Oh, the humanity!”
1941: A Royal Navy corvette*, HMS Bulldog, captures the German submarine U-110, including its current code books and most importantly, its Enigma coding machine. British intelligence is able to keep the capture secret for over seven months; Prime Minister Churchill did not disclose it to President Roosevelt until January, 1942. You would be correct in assuming that this windfall gave the code-breakers at Bletchley Park gainful employment for the rest of the war.
1941: Nazi Deputy to the Fuhrer, Rudolf Hess, parachutes into Scotland to attempt peace negotiations with the government of Great Britain. The flight, staged just prior to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, continues to stir controversy over whether this was an official, but clandestine attempt by Hitler to make peace with his “natural ally” in England. Hess remained in British custody throughout the war, and was convicted at Nuremberg for crimes against the peace and conspiracy. After the 1966 release of Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach, Hess remained imprisoned at Spandau- the only prisoner in the facility- at the insistence of the Soviet Union- until his death in 1987.
1942: After six months of nearly continuous siege and direct combat with the invading Japanese army, LTG Jonathan Wainwright surrenders the remaining U.S. forces on Corregidor Island in Manila harbor. In a final radio message to President Roosevelt, Wainwright stated, “There is a limit to human endurance, and that point is long past.”
1945: German Field Marshall Alfred Jodl signs unconditional surrender documents in Reims, France, formally ending the Second World War in Europe.
1947: Scuderia Ferrari makes its independent racing debut with the revolutionary V-12-powered Tipo 125 sports car. The car leads the race until the fuel pump failed with two laps to go. Enzo Ferrari creates a Formula 1 derivative for the 1948 season. The company continues its exceptional success in racing including sixteen Formula 1 World Championship titles, including four in a row (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004) with German driver Michael Schumacher, and more recently in 2007 with Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonan.
1949: Frustrated by the success of the nearly year-long Berlin Airlift (where air deliveries of food and supplies eventually surpassed pre-blockade rail shipments) the Soviet Union ends the Berlin Blockade, which is now recognized as the first battle of the Cold War. The success of the airlift compounded the political failure of the Soviets to intimidate the Western powers and led to the establishment of a separate West Germany on the 23rdof May.
1954: Final day of the 8-week Battle of Dien Bien Phu, a catastrophic French defeat that sealed the loss of their colonial holdings in Indo-China. It was fought between the French Union’s colonial Far East Expeditionary Corps and Viet Minh communist revolutionaries. The United States was officially not a party to the war, but it was secretly involved by providing financial and material aid to the French Union, which included CIA-contracted American personnel participating in the battle. The People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union similarly provided vital support to the Viet Minh, including most of their artillery and ammunition.
1955: West Germany joins NATO.
1974: The House Judiciary Committee opens formal impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon.
1981: Death of Jamaican Reggae icon Bob Marley.
1988: Death of Kim Philby (b.1912), British spy who served the Soviet Union as a mole in the British government from the mid-1930s until his eventual defection to Moscow in 1963. He was the infamous “Third Man” at the heart of the mid-50s spy scandal that exposed compatriots Donald McLean and Guy Burgess as Soviet agents. Among the positions he held in British Intelligence (MI-6) was the head of “Section IX,” from which he had access to the names and locations of all British intelligence agents operating abroad, and hundreds of classified documents from the Foreign Office, the War Office and the Admiralty. He was honored by the Soviet Union in 1990 on a stamp.
1992: Death of Marlene Dietrich (b.1901). The German actress, who defined the genre of “platinum blonde,” became an American citizen in 1939 after publicly rejecting Nazi attempts to bring her back to Germany, and making a particular point of her disgust with their anti-Semitism.
1994: Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as the first black President of South Africa.
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