1519: Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez enters the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City), where the King Montezuma greets him with gold and precious stones, on the belief that Cortez is an emissary of the feathered god Quetzalcoatl, if not the god himself. Not wishing to disabuse Montezuma of this belief, Cortez ensconces himself and his small army in strategic locations throughout the capital, and in due time forces Montezuma to pledge allegiance to Spanish King Charles V.
1605: Discovery, with only hours to spare, of The Gunpowder Plot– an audacious conspiracy by leading British Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I himself, in hopes of leading a violent restoration of Catholicism in Great Britain. The thirteen conspirators spent months coordinating- in addition to strategic kidnappings, escape routes, and proclamations- access to a large basement storeroom located directly beneath the House of Lords and filling it with multiple barrels of gunpowder, which remained hidden behind firewood and coal. On the night of 4-5 November, the point man for the detonation, Guy Fawkes, worked his way toward the storeroom, disguised as a firewood delivery man. He was stopped and questioned by a watchman but was allowed to continue his work. Late into the evening, alerted by concerned (ironically, Catholic) Parliamentarians, a renewed search of the Parliament “above and below” the chambers found Fawkes in the room directly below the Lords, carrying a slow match and a pocket-watch, dressed in black and wearing riding spurs. He was arrested on the spot, and when news of the arrest was made public, the Gunpowder conspirators vainly scattered into hiding. They were systematically arrested, tortured, confessed, were tried and found guilty of treason, and then executed by hanging, drawing and quartering, with their limbs sent to the far corners of the realm and the rest of their mortal remains burned into ash. The successful discovery and destruction of the plot led to immediate celebrations throughout England. One year later, Parliament passed the Observance of 5th November 1605 Act, which called for sermons and services remembering the salvation of England from the plot, complete with the ringing of church bells and celebratory bonfires. The Act remained on the books as law until 1859, but even though revoked the day remains a major holiday in Great Britain, known variously as Guy Fawkes’ Day, Bonfire Night, or Fireworks Night. As part of the tradition, boys will make up an effigy of Fawkes, and after parading the “guy” through town, place it atop the pyre where it is burned.
1620: After a harrowing 66 day voyage from Plymouth, England, the 105 Pilgrim passengers aboard Mayflower sight land in the New World, but it is Cape Cod, not the mouth of the Hudson as they intended. They will spend about a week trying to work their way back south, but in the end, will drop anchor in what is now Provincetown Harbor on the 21st.
1656: Birth of English astronomer and mathematician Edmond Halley (d.1740), whose most public success was the correct calculation of the orbital period of the comet that now bears his name. Perhaps of more importance, however, was his discovery and careful survey of magnetic deviation in compasses, which he documented in the first publication of isogonic lines across the Atlantic Ocean.
1799: The Coup d’état of 18 Brumaire– The 1795 establishment of the French Directory where the re-constituted bicameral legislature picks a rotating stock of five Directors to manage Executive functions. It worked out about as well as you’d expect with the actual leadership of the country quite literally decapitated, and the Directorate intentionally designed to be beholden to the legislature. As chaos reigned between the Council of Ancients and the Council of 500, it became apparent that the Directors themselves were in danger. General Napoleon Bonaparte, fresh from the fields of conquest, was tasked to “protect” the Directory. He did, in concert with two others who set themselves up as Consuls, with Bonaparte as the First Consul. When he strode into the Council of Ancients and announced the coup d’état, a near-riot broke out in the chambers that nearly cost Napoleon his life. He left the chamber, but came right back, supported by armed soldiers, and in the confusion of the ensuing days he completely dissolved the last semblance of the Directory and made himself Dictator. Political resistance remained active from the left wing of the spectrum, but Napoleon’s astounding military success on the battlefield created for himself both a national reputation as a great leader, and a deeply committed following within the army itself. Ten years of Revolution had exhausted the country, and it readily accepted the rise of a leader who could reclaim the sense of stability and glory of the former French state.
1831: Leader of the August slave uprising over in Surrey County, Nat Turner, is tried, convicted and hanged by the neck until dead.
1854: Birth of John Philip Sousa (d.1932), The March King, composer and long-standing conductor of the United States Marine Corps Band, “The President’s Own.”
1860: Illinois lawyer and former Congressman Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States.
1861: USS San Jacinto, under the command of Captain Charles Wilkes, USN, intercepts and boards the British mail packet Trent, two of whose passengers are Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell, who were enroute to Great Britain to press the case for British recognition and assistance to the Confederacy. Wilkes took the two Southerners as contraband of war and allowed Trent to continue on its journey. Arriving here in Hampton Roads on the 15th of November, Wilkes telegraphed his capture to Washington, and then continued to Boston where he turned the diplomats over to Fort Warren, a prison for captured Confederates. The entire episode stoked high emotions on all three sides of the issue, with charges of perfidy, treason, violations of honour, piracy, etc, etc, thrown around with abandon. The diplomatic row that ensued between Great Britain and the United States teetered on the brink of open war, but as tensions unwound, it did not translate into overt British support for the Southern states. The event is known as either The Trent Affair, or the Mason-Slidell Affair.
1861: Mississippi Congressman and Senator Jefferson Davis is elected to a six year term as President of the Confederate States of America in an uncontested election.
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.”
1865: Seven months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the Confederate commerce raider CSS Shenandoah, under Captain James Waddell, surrenders to the government of Great Britain after completing a year-long, 58,000 mile circumnavigation of the globe. During the voyage, Shenandoah captured or destroyed 38 ships, mostly Yankee whalers, took over a thousand prisoners, and earned more than $1,400,000 in prize money. She has the distinction of having fired the last shot in the Civil War (against a whaler in the Gulf of Alaska), and being the last Confederate unit to surrender active operations.
1872: The brigantine Mary Celeste, under command of Captain Benjamin Briggs, sets sail from New York City enroute to Genoa, Italy. In a letter to his mother before getting underway, Briggs wrote, “Our vessel is in beautiful trim and I hope we shall have a fine passage but I have never been in her before and can’t say how she’ll sail…”
1899: Death of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (b.1840), Russian composer of The Nutcracker, and the theme from the ballet, Swan Lake.
1906: Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first sitting President to travel outside the country, in this case to visit the construction of the Panama Canal.
1908: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are gunned down in San Vicente, Columbia.
1914: Birth of Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr (d.2000). Besides her intense, smoldering beauty (she was the inspiration for the cartoon characters Snow White and Catwoman) she was an inventor whose work would blossom into some of today’s most ubiquitous technology, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, cordless phones and cell phones. Lamarr made her great breakthrough in the early years of World War II when trying to invent a device to block enemy ships from jamming torpedo guidance signals. No one knows what prompted the idea, but Antheil confirmed that it was Lamarr’s design, from which he created a practical model. They found a way for the radio guidance transmitter and the torpedo’s receiver to jump simultaneously from frequency to frequency, making it impossible for the enemy to locate and block a message before it had moved to another frequency. This approach became known as “frequency hopping.”
1918: Birth of evangelist Billy Graham (d.2018), whose dedication and skill in preaching the Gospel brought the Good News to tens of thousands over the course of a remarkable preaching career.
1918: Only days into what looks like the beginning of a Germany-wide revolution, Kaiser Wilhelm II, out of the country visiting his troops on the front lines in Belgium, abdicates the hereditary throne of the Hollenzollern Dynasty.
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, 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. 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. 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. It transformed the nature of warfare into a machine that simply consumed everything that crossed its path. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles were released in 1919, and French Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch noted: “This is not a peace. This is a twenty year armistice.”
1923: Former German Corporal Adolf Hitler attempts an overthrow of the German government with his band of socialists. Working from their headquarters in a Munich ale house, the Beer Hall Putsch gets off to a shocking start when the conspirators actually capture the city government and then issue a call for a general uprising across Germany. Sadly for Hitler, the only rising that happens is when the army arrives to capture the instigators. Hitler and several others are locked up for five years in Landsberg prison, where he writes his magnum opus, Mein Kampf.
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.
1942: Opening of Operation TORCH, the Allied invasion of North Africa. The attack answered- in part- the Soviet Union’s insistent and persistent demands for a second front to relieve pressure from the relentless German onslaught on Russia. The landings also answered the question over whether the Vichy French forces in Morocco and Algeria would forcibly oppose the arrival of British, American and Free French armies. There was some level of fighting, but by the close of day on the 9th, all of Morocco and Algeria surrendered to the Allies. Germany and Italy forcibly occupied the heretofore otherwise untouched regions of Vichy France. For their part, the Allies then consolidated their forces and began a drive toward Tunisia to meet the German armies who held the remaining coastline of North Africa.
1917: After three months of continuous and brutal combat in the thick mud of western Flanders, Canadian Commonwealth troops capture the town of Passchendaele from the occupying Germans. The battle, also known as 3rd Ypres, was British Field Marshall Haig’s third attempt to evict the Germans from their hold on the ports and coastline of Belgium. The taking of Passchendaele, although considered a success, came at the cost of 140,000 combat deaths, or a ratio of two inches of ground per dead soldier, to say nothing of the remaining 300,000 non-fatal casualties on the Allied side alone.
1935: First flight of the Hawker Hurricane fighter. Although it was overshadowed by the more glamourous Spitfire, the Hurricane accounted for over 60% of the fighter victories in the Battle of Britain.
1935: Parker Brothers acquires the patent for the board game Monopoly.
1944: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected to a fourth term in office.
1952: Birth of General David Petraeus, USA (ret).
1962: Death of Eleanor Roosevelt (b.1884)
1980: Death of Steve McQueen (b.1930)