301A.D. Founding of the Principality of San Marino, by the stonecutter Marinus of Rab (Croatia). It is the third smallest micro-state in Europe (behind the Holy See and Monaco) but has the distinction of being the longest-lived republic in the world, with its 1600 constitution still in force.
1492: Italian navigator Christopher Columbus departs from La Gomera harbor in the Canary Islands.
1522: Three years after its departure as part of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet of exploration, the Spanish ship Victoria makes port in San Lucar de Barrameda, Spain under the command of Sailing Master Juan Sebastian Elcano. He and only 17 others are the sole surviving members from the original five ships and 235 men. They did not originally plan on circumnavigating, but after the dangers and loss of getting their small fleet through the southwest Pacific islands, Elcano chose to continue westward across the Indian Ocean to follow the coast of Africa back to Spain.
1620: After completing nominal repairs to the Speedwell in Dartmouth and again in Plymouth, the Pilgrims finally sell the leaky ship. They crowd into Mayflower and on this week finally depart England, enroute to the new Massachusetts Bay Colony.
1757: Birth of the Marquis de Lafayette (d.1834), George Washington’s right hand man during the Revolutionary War.
1776: American inventor David Bushnell’s Turtle makes the world’s first submarine attack in his one-man submersible, with Sergeant Ezra Lee at the controls. He hand-cranks his way out to HMS Eagle in New York harbor to affix a black powder time bomb to the hull of the ship, but the auger bit fails to penetrate the stout English oak. With dawn approaching, Lee abandons the attempt and makes good his escape.
1777: The Stars and Stripes fly in combat for the first time at the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, the only Revolutionary War battle fought in Delaware.
1781: A group of 44 Spanish settlers form a small ranching town named El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula, better known today as Los Angeles.
1783: After eight years of bitter warfare, the nascent United States of America and the Kingdom of Great Britain sign the Treaty of Paris, with Britain acknowledging the independence of its former 13 colonies and ceding all of its holdings west of the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes. Britain expects the States to become valuable trading partners with their growing territories, lands which will no longer require the expense of British arms to keep them secure.
1797: With the political upheavals of the French Revolution settling into their eighth year, three members of the ruling Directory stage the Coup of 18 Fructidor, forcing what’s left of a representative legislature to purge themselves of lingering “royalists” and other members not fully committed to the revolution. Not surprisingly, all this resort to Reason led to yet another military confrontation between factions, the exercise of raw power being the ultimate arbiter of “truth” in this environment. Luckily for the Directory, the young Brigadier General Napoleon Bonaparte was on their side, in Paris now, after busily suppressing dissent down south in Toulon two years earlier with his famous “whiff of grapeshot.” Today’s coup sealed the triumph of the executive over the legislative branches, and set the stage for eventual dictatorship.
1812: Napoleon Bonaparte achieves his final victory in the Russian campaign at the Battle of Borodino, but at a loss of over 35,000 of his own men, the single bloodiest day in the entire campaign. The Russian army under Marshall Mikhail Kutuzov not only suffers a similar casualty rate, but ends the day with shattered leadership and battlefield organization, making it ripe for a complete rout. Inexplicably, with the opportunity within his grasp, Napoleon fails to follow up on the nominal victory to completely destroy the Russians. Kutuzov and his men retreat into the deep Russian hinterland, forming the core of the force that will eventually drive the Grande Armee out of Russia.
1862: Confederate General Robert E. Lee takes the war to the North in the opening phases of the Maryland Campaign.
1864: Union General William T. Sherman opens his assault on the strategic railroad crossroad of Atlanta, defended by Confederate General John Bell Hood. The crushing Union force overwhelms Hood’s defenses, forcing them to finally evacuate on September 2nd. On entering Atlanta, Sherman orders all civilians to leave the city, an act that prompted the city council to appeal on behalf of the women, children, elderly, and those who had no bearing on the conduct of the war. Sherman’s response remains the quintessence of harsh realism, “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war.[…] I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success. But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for anything. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.” In November, he ordered his troops to destroy every government and military building in the city, an act that quite literally burned Sherman’s image into Southern consciousness to this day.
1875: Birth of the brilliant automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche (d.1951).
1895: In Latrobe, Pennsylvania, kickoff for the nation’s first professional football game. The game was contested between the Latrobe YMCA team and a team from nearby Jeannette PA. Latrobe pays its quarterback John Brallier $10.00 for expenses. Latrobe won, 12-0, and claimed the offered prize money. Brailler prudently went on to a career in dentistry, but he was given lifetime passes for all National Football League games. He died in Latrobe in 1960 at age 83.
1897: Inventor Thomas Alva Edison patents the Kinetoscope, the world’s first movie projector.
1906: French (Brazilian emigre) aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont successfully flies his airplane 14-bis for the first time.
1921: Planned with the express intention to extend the summer season at the Jersey Shore, the first Miss America contest is held in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
1923: First flight of the U.S. Navy’s first rigid airship, USS Shenandoah (ZR-1). The ship was a technological masterpiece that improved on both the successes and weaknesses of the German Zeppelin program. It was the first to use helium for buoyancy instead of the highly volatile hydrogen that filled all previous airships. The 680 foot long Shenandoah and her three sister ships (Los Angeles, Macon, and Akron) flew extensively in support of Navy operations, particularly by exploiting their high loiter times and relative (to ships) high speed (~70 mph) in a reconnaissance mode. Of interest too was the extent of their usefulness during periods of foul weather, which remained problematic. After two years of service Shenandoah was lost on September 3rd, 1925, breaking apart in the air while transiting an area of thunderstorms over Ohio. 13 of her crew were killed, but 29 survived the wreck. Interestingly, 7 crew members were trapped in the bow section as it broke free from the main structure; LCDR Charles Rosendahl was able to navigate the section as a free-flying balloon, bringing it down in a controlled landing not far from the main wreckage.
1939: Two days after Germany’s invasion of Poland, and in accordance with longstanding defense treaties with that beleaguered nation, France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia declare war on Germany. From this day until the following May, the “Allies” do virtually nothing to relieve the pressure on Poland, a period known now as the “Phony War” or “Sitzkrieg.”
1940: First night of what will end up become 76 consecutive nights of the London Blitz. By the time the German bombing campaign ends in May, 1941, over 43,000 civilians are killed, with a million houses destroyed, to say nothing of the infrastructure losses at the dockyards and factories in London and elsewhere. The nightly raids severely tested the population, many of whom evacuated to Scotland or set up residence in the Underground.
1945: Birth of Sir George Ivan (Van) Morrison. The Irish singer-songwriter lived for a short time in my hometown of San Anselmo, California in the late 60s, during which he penned a piece called “Snow in San Anselmo,” which only happened in our collective imaginations.
1965: First flight of the B-377-SG/SGT Super Guppy airplane, designed to carry outsized cargo, and one of the dumbest looking machines of all time. Only one remains flying, with NASA, to haul gigantic space station parts around the country.
1968: Swaziland becomes an independent kingdom.
1970: Death of football legend Vince Lombardi (b.1913), for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named.
1972: American Swimmer Mark Spitz becomes the first athlete to win 7 gold medals in a single Olympic games.
1976: Soviet Air Force pilot Victor Belenko lands his MiG-25 at Hakodata airbase in Japan and requests political asylum in the United States.
1997: Death of Diana, Princess of Wales; from injuries sustained in a Paris tunnel automobile crash.