1343: An underwater earthquake in the Tyrrhenian Sea initiates a tsunami that devastates Naples and much of the low-lying Amalfi coast.
1491: Opening guns in the Siege of Granada, where the combined forces of Aragon and Castile begin their final push against the stronghold of the Emirate of Granada, last remaining vestige of the 780 years of the Moslem empire of Al-Andalus.
1594: Death of Martin Frobisher (b.1539), an English sea-dog contemporary of Francis Drake. Frobisher made three trips to the New World, landing principally in Canada, where he explored for both the fabled Northwest Passage, and for the elusive mother lode of gold that was always just one more day away. He was one of the key English leaders during the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
1718: Death of Edward Teach (b.1680), better known as the fabled pirate Blackbeard, who terrorized the southern seaboard of the English colonies, at one point blockading Charleston, South Carolina for ransom. He spent the majority of his pirating career based out of Ocracoke Inlet in North Carolina, using its strategic location to survey the shipping moving up and down the coast and dashing out in his ship Queen Anne’s Revenge to plunder and kill. Teach is finally brought to heel this day by the Royal Navy’s Lieutenant Robert Maynard, who crafted a carefully executed attack which played on Teach’s propensity to attack weak-looking vessels. The surprise appearance of Maynard’s men from below decks fractured the integrity of the pirates’ attack, and Teach himself was mortally wounded with five gunshots and no fewer than 25 severe cuts from swords and cutlasses. Maynard decapitated the corpse and hung the head from a yardarm on his return to Hampton, Virginia to prove to citizens ashore that their nemesis was indeed dead.
1739: Ships of the Royal Navy descend on and capture the Spanish fortress city of Porto Bello in Panama. The lopsided battle was hailed as a great victory in England, and served as the first step of revenge in the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) between Spain and Great Britain. The war was eventually subsumed by the larger War of Austrian Succession, but I really like the name of the original.
1778: On his third Pacific voyage of exploration, Captain James Cook becomes the first European to land on Maui, in the Sandwich Islands chain.
1789: New Jersey becomes the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights.
1820: The Nantucket whaling ship Essex, on station in the South Pacific, is repeatedly rammed by an enraged sperm whale and sinks. The story of the sinking and the subsequent survival of members of the crew was part of Melville’s inspiration for Moby-Dick. The searing story generated renewed public interest with the 2000 publication of historian Nathaniel Philbirck’s gripping best seller, In the Heart of the Sea.
1833: Birth of gunman, lawman, and newspaperman, Bat Masterson (d. 1921). He achieved particular notoriety in 1881-83 as one of the good guys during the height of the lawlessness in Dodge City, and after cementing a reputation as a no-nonsense enforcer in the decreasingly Wild West, he began a career as a newspaper writer in Kansas, Denver, and eventually New York City, where President Theodore Roosevelt recruited him to be Deputy US Marshall for federal grand jury sessions.
1835: The Provincial Government of Texas authorizes the establishment of a core of mounted state law enforcement officers, known as the Texas Rangers.
1835: Birth in Scotland of American industrialist, steel tycoon and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (d.1919), often considered the second-richest man in history behind J.D. Rockefeller. Carnegie’s philanthropy exists today in the form of the magnificent Carnegie Hall in New York, and hundreds of libraries across the country.
1859: Publication of Charles Darwin’s magnum opus, The Origin of Species.
1863: At the Battle of Lookout Mountain, just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a Union force of 10,000 under General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker fights an uphill battle through fog and rocky defiles to defeat one of Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s brigades defending the heights. The battle is often called the “Battle Above the Clouds” from the way the two sides blindly fired towards each other during the course of the day. Confederate Brigadier John C. Brown, positioned atop the mountain, was himself unable to see or direct the defenses due to both the fog and the steep geography that blocked sight lines to the fighting below. That night, the Confederate force withdrew to establish a better defensive position on nearby Missionary Ridge.
1863: After the Union victory at Lookout Mountain, the forces meet again for a vicious and decisive day of battle on Missionary Ridge, just a short distance away from yesterday’s fight. Both sides suffer major casualties, but the Confederate position could not hold against Grant’s and Sherman’s relentless attacks, and Confederate General Bragg withdraws his army to Dalton, Georgia. The Union victory in the Chattanooga campaign allows them to consolidate their forces and supplies in this critical railroad junction city, which becomes the base for Sherman’s drive toward Atlanta the following year.
1869: Launch of the clipper ship Cutty Sark in Dumbarton, Scotland. The ship participated in several great races between the tea markets in China and the London docks, with speeds under sail averaging over 15 knots. Her colorful and dramatic history continues to this day from her berth in the graving dock at Greenwich. The ship’s preservation was for years the center of a bitter and perpetual argument between two historic camps, the first being those who wanted to preserve as much as possible of the original “fabric” of the vessel, believing that once the original material is gone, the history of the design and construction go with it. The other camp believes in maintaining the ship to an operational standard, which would of necessity mean the replacement of materials whose structural integrity is suspect. As a point of reference, USS Constitution up in Boston retains its status as the “original” frigate of 1796, even though only about 10% of its current materials remain from the original construction. Its provenance is secure because every repair and replacement was part of continuous maintenance, not fundamental changes and upgrades.
1876: Having earlier skulked away on a European tour, the head of New York’s Tammany Hall, the notorious William M. “Boss” Tweed, is today returned via extradition to NYC by Spanish authorities, who recognized him from the series of famous Thomas Nash cartoons lambasting his egregious corruption. Tweed escaped from prison a year earlier, where he was serving a sentence after conviction on a number of corruption and money laundering charges. After today, he remained locked up, and died in custody in 1878.
1883: Death of abolitionist Sojouner Truth (b.1797), who achieved nation-wide fame for her outspoken advocacy of abolition and women’s rights, particularly her 1851 speech at a woman’s rights convention, where she peppered her extemporaneous review of basic human rights with the phrase, “Ain’t I a woman??” She was a major force in the recruitment of black soldiers for the Union Army, and met President Lincoln while working at the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington.
1888: Birth of Dale Carnegie (d.1955), one of the original lights of training in business improvement methods. His original work, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (1936) remains a staple in business circles.
1914: Birth of Joe “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio (d.1999), who spent 13 years as center fielder for the New York Yankees (1936-42 and 1946-51), providing the team and the country with a record of baseball superlatives: 3-time AL MVP, 13 consecutive All Star games; a 56 game hitting streak*- unsurpassed to this day, #5 in career home runs (361), #6 slugging percentage (.571), 10 AL Pennants, 9 victorious World Series.
1922: Birth of cartoonist Charles Schultz (d.2000).
1939: Birth of Anna Mae Bullock, better known as the singer Tina Turner.
1947: Great Britain’s Princess Elizabeth weds Phillip Mountbatten.
1959: French President Charles de Gaulle gives a speech in Strasbourg, France, where he forcefully outlines the ultimate vision of the recently established European Coal and Steel Community and European Economic Community (a.k.a., the Common Market (precursor to today’s European Union)): “Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, it is the whole of Europe, that will decide the destiny of the world.”
1960: Birth of John F. Kennedy, Jr. (d.1999).
1963: President John F. Kennedy is shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. The assassin, former Marine and communist sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald, fired from the sixth floor of a book depository above Dealey Plaza. He escaped from the scene, but was captured later in the afternoon.
1963: Dallas police move to transfer Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald from the basement of the Dallas police headquarters to the county jail, when, from out of the crowd of reporters at the door, nightclub owner Jack Ruby lunges forward and shoots Oswald in the abdomen. He died 90 minutes later in Parkland hospital, the same place where President Kennedy was declared dead two days earlier. All the national networks were broadcasting Oswald’s transfer, providing the country with a live broadcast of the murder that Sunday morning.
1963: After three days of a State funeral, President John F. Kennedy is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The unprecedented live television coverage of the assassination and events leading to today’s funeral created a riveting cultural touchstone for the generation who saw it unfolding before their eyes.
1975: Death of General Francisco Franco (b.1892). Franco declared himself Caudillo of Spain at the close of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. His close ties with Nazi Germany during the civil war, his studious neutrality during WWII, and his strident anti-communism made him a particular object of left-wing loathing. In his later years he re-established a representative parliament and set the conditions for a restoration of the Bourbons under a constitutional monarchy.
1977: British Airways begins regular commercial service between London and New York with its Concorde supersonic airliner.