1533: Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro and his army arrive in the Inca Empire. As with his more famous (in the U.S.) compadre Hernando Cortez, he is not scouring the Andean empire for its archeological treasures per se, but for its incredible treasures, period. The Incas are particularly rich in silver, and the quantity of plunder that makes its way back to enrich the coffers of Spain also sets in motion an inflationary spiral that nearly wrecks the economies of Europe.
1719: Birth of Leopold Mozart (d.1787), father of the child prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus.
1763: Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon begin surveying the line that now bears their name. The survey was a Crown solution to a long-simmering border dispute between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Its primary goal was to clearly define the demarcation between Maryland the Pennsylvania in the western watershed of the Chesapeake, and to separate out the “south counties” of Pennsylvania that then became the separate colony of Delaware. When Pennsylvania abolished slavery, the Mason-Dixon Line and the Ohio River became the de facto border between slave and non-slave states. At that issue heated up in the mid-19th century, the line also came to represent the cultural divide between North and South. This survey was a direct result of Creasap’s War (also known as the Conojocular War) between PA & MD thirty years prior.
1775: American Revolutionary hero and Colonel of New Hampshire’s Green Mountain Boys, Ethan Allen leads a night attack against Montreal. Unfortunately for Allen, not only did the commander of the British garrison get early word of the attack, but half of the American force fails to cross the St. Lawrence River in execution of their plan. Outnumbered, out-gunned, and out-foxed, Allen was compelled to surrender, remaining imprisoned through 1778.
1777: 16 months after declaring independence from Great Britain, the Continental Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation as its governing document.
1840: Birth of French sculptor August Rodin (d.1917).1864: After evacuating all the civilians who will leave the city, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman orders all government and war-related buildings in Atlanta to be burned to the ground. From this day he sets in motion his March to the Sea, ordering his army’s supply trains and casualties to return to Tennessee, while his now-lightened forces will forage across a wide swath of Georgia and South Carolina in a vivid demonstration of the Union’s reach and power. Before setting out, he notified the War Department that he would no longer be sending telegraphic updates on his campaign: “I expect the Richmond papers will keep you fully informed.”
1851: Publication of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick.
1862: Acting in his legal capacity of Commander and Chief, President Lincoln personally approves General Ambrose Burnside’s plans to capture Richmond; in particular, Burnside’s line of attack across the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg.
1866: Birth of Sun Yat Sen (d.1925), Chinese revolutionary whose pursuit of “nationalism, democracy, and the people’s livelihood” led to the final overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912. He is one of the few post-dynastic Chinese who remains not only respected but revered on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. His chief protégé, Chiang Kai Shek carried his legacy into the 1970s. Both the Nationalists and Communists claim him as the founder of the modern Chinese state.
1884: The Berlin Conference opens. Beginning as a forum to establish trade regulations in Africa, it quickly turned into a scramble to define Europe’s burgeoning colonial interests in the continent. The conference’s General Act focused on the territories in and around the Congo River and marked out distinct spheres of influence and control for the colonial powers. By the end of the 19th Century, only Liberia, Orange Free State, Transvaal and Abyssinia remained independent from direct colonial rule.
1889: Birth of Jawaharlal Nehru (d.1964), first Prime Minister of India. Much of the leadership of today’s Congress Party are direct descendants of Nehru.
1891: Birth of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (d.1944), the Desert Fox.
1901: The Riker Torpedo Racer sets a world speed record for electric cars at 57 mph.
1910: Aviation pioneer Eugene Ely makes the first takeoff of an aeroplane from a ship, launching off of a specially constructed wooden platform over the forward turrets of USS Birmingham (CL-2) right here in Hampton Roads, in the anchorage just off of the Hampton Bar.
1918: After four years of unremitting death and destruction, and a scale of warfare never before seen, Imperial Germany signs an armistice with the Allied powers, ordering the fighting to stop on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. Although the terms were technically neither a capitulation nor a surrender, Germany was clearly facing an increasingly bleak prospect toward anything resembling renewed success in combat. Further, the suddenly headless Imperial government (DLH 11/9), facing a legitimate political crisis in the homeland and uncertain of the continued loyalty of its troops in the trenches, chose to stop the shooting on the condition that its soldiers could simply return home. The Allies agreed, and the formal documentation was signed in a railroad car in the French forest region of Compiegne. Suddenly, the Great War was over. The Germans climbed out of their trenches and walked east; the French climbed out and walked west, the British climbed out and walked north to the Channel ports, and almost immediately, the diplomats went to work to put together the terms of the peace to follow. Very little ground changed hands along the Western Front to justify the unspeakable carnage that proceeded the armistice: France got back the provinces of Alsace and Lorainne, Germany proper lost nothing east of the Rhine, Italy took some of Austria’s southern provinces. Mirror Note: This war shattered an entire generation of the three most populous nations of Europe; it destroyed the bonds of trust between the people and their governments, it destroyed the very societies that launched the war itself, it destroyed three historic empires and set in motion the unraveling of the two victorious ones; it triggered a revolution that destroyed one of Europe’s oldest monarchies, and it created the rationalization for an entirely new class social engineering and ideological violence whose effects linger to this day. And from the personal perspective, it transformed the nature of warfare from the already brutal drama of human combat into a machine that simply consumed everything that crossed its path. And in the end, it solved nothing: when the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were released in 1919, the great French Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch spoke with eerie prescience: “This is not a peace. This is a twenty year armistice.”
1920: First General Assembly meeting of the League of Nations.
1920: The “Free City of Danzig” is formed under the protection of the League of Nations. The Free City of Danzig was a city-state under the protection of the League of Nations between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig and nearly 200 other small localities in the surrounding areas. Wikipedia
1921: President Warren G. Harding presides over the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery.
1940: The Royal Navy executes the first aircraft carrier strike in history, an attack on the Italian fleet anchored at Taranto, using as its main battery the already obsolete Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber.
1940: The Coventry Blitz– over 500 Luftwaffe sorties throughout the night pulverize the ancient factory town of Coventry, including its famous Cathedral.
1944: After thirteen attempts over the preceding five years, British forces finally sink the German battleship Tirpitz, anchored in a Norwegian fjord. The ship was sister to the Bismarck, and was expected to perform the same commerce raiding mission, but it only engaged in a single offensive combat action, a shore bombardment. After the loss of the Bismarck, Hitler lost faith in the surface navy and confined the ship to the safety of occupied Norway’s fjords. Even though it rarely moved, the ship remained a force in being that demanded a significant portion of the Royal Navy be dedicated to keeping it blocked in the fjords or, in the event of a breakout, taking her under fire and sending her to the bottom. As the war played out, Tirpitz took multiple hits over the years from a variety of bombs, torpedoes and mines, but was always repaired, moved, and re-camouflaged, necessitating another round of reconnaissance and subsequent attacks. The strike that finally put her under came from 24 Avro Lancaster bombers flying from a base in Scotland. The ship capsized but stayed afloat long enough for rescuers to cut out and save 80 of the 1000 men trapped in the hull.
1945: Working under the cover of secrecy, mostly to avoid the awkwardness of having formerly mortal enemies working for the US Government, 88 German rocket scientists are spirited from their cells in occupied Germany and into the United States. US officials remain cagey about where they went, saying things like, “They volunteered to come here,” and avoiding mention that they remained in “protective custody” while they performed work on technology of “vital national interest.” The scientists were specifically tasked to develop a rocket program faster, farther and better than the Soviets could get with their captured Nazis.
1960: USS George Washington (SSBN-598) submerges to begin her first Polaris deterrent patrol. She rises to the surface again 66 days later, having not fired a shot.
1961: President John F. Kennedy, in order to avoid an open-ended commitment of combat forces, orders an increased contingent of military advisors to aid the government of South Vietnam.
1969: Launch of Apollo 12, with astronauts Pete Conrad, Richard Gordon and Alan Bean. The Saturn V rocket was hit by lightning during the ascent phase, tripping a circuit breaker and leaving the command module without power for a short time.
1981: Space Shuttle Columbia launches on STS-2, its second mission and the first time a man-rated spacecraft is used twice. The ship went on to fly a total of 28 missions, logging 300 days on orbit, 4808 revolutions, before disintegrating during re-entry, February 1, 2003.
1990: Newly reunited Germany signs a treaty with Poland confirming the post-WW2 Oder-Neisse Line as the permanent border between the two countries.