742: Birth of Charlemagne, first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
1453: Ottoman Turk Mehmed II begins his siege of Constantinople, which finally falls in May, ending the Christian Byzantine Empire and establishing the Muslim Ottoman Empire (which survived through the Great War, and was finally dismembered via the Treaty of Versailles (1919)). Mehmed is credited with adopting many aspects of Byzantine administration over a fractious empire. His religious tolerance enabled one of his key methods for keeping the Christian remnants under control: kidnap the brightest Christian children from the provinces and train them up to serve in the Sultan’s court or as his personal bodyguards, the Janissaries.
1581: English privateer (operating under Letters of Marque) Francis Drake arrives at Plymouth in his caravel Golden Hind, completing his circumnavigation laden with Spanish plunder from around the globe. Queen Elizabeth I knights him for his spectacular successes.
1588: Birth of English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan (1651), where he described life of as “…solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
1590: Death of Francis Walsingham, one of Elizabeth I’s key advisors and mentors. Walsingham developed the world’s first professional intelligence service, with agents, spies and couriers posted throughout Europe, but most prominently within the Spanish-Scottish nexus, wherein dwelt persistent and dangerous attempts to restore the Catholic Queen Mary to the throne of England.
1743: Birth of Thomas Jefferson.
1776: Lacking a navy worthy of the name, the Continental Congress authorizes its first Letters of Marque and Reprisal.
1776: After his unlikely success in the siege of Boston, Major General George Washington begins to march his Continental Army south to the defense of New York.
1792: President Washington issues the first presidential veto on a bill concerning apportionment of representatives between the several states.
1793: The French Committee of Public Safety assumes executive control over the government of revolutionary France, four years into the French Revolution. The Committee, under the leadership of Citizen Maximilian Robespierre, begins its work to suppress counter-revolutionary activity, particularly of the Girondins, toxic enemies of Robespierre and his Jacobin faction. By July the Committee had reorganized itself to the task of physically eliminating all opposition, which led to la Terreur, (The Terror) during which the guillotine (“the National Razor”) lopped off nearly 40,000 French heads of various political persuasions. This became la Grande Terreur until it finally disposed of Robespierre himself- in July of 1794. The motto of the Terror, “No God! No Religion! No King! No Constitution!”
1801: The British Channel Fleet, with Horatio Lord Nelson second in command, destroys the majority of the Danish fleet in the Battle of Copenhagen. During the battle, Nelson refused an order to withdraw, instead of turning with renewed fury to pound the line of moored Danish ships. At the height of this renewed engagement, Nelson suddenly ceased fire and opened negotiations with the Danes, who in the end agreed to a fourteen-week armistice. The victory was a blow to French interests in the Baltic and gave the British breathing room to re-fit and continue their seaborne pressure on trade with the French Republic.
1841: After only 31 days as President, William Henry Harrison dies of pneumonia. His Vice President, John Tyler, becomes the first to ascend to the office due to the death of the President. Harrison’s campaign began the modern era of personality campaigning (“Tippecanoe and Tyler too!”). He was not only the first to die in office, he was the oldest to be elected (until Reagan in 1980), the last to be born before the American Revolution, and the first to be photographed
1860: Pony Express mail service begins between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. The money-losing service inspired the country with its dramatic rides and colorful riders (including William “Buffalo Bill” Cody), but quickly lost its reason for being with the rapid expansion of the telegraph and railroad services. The last horses ran in October 1861
1865(a): Union forces enter Richmond, where they find the burned-out shells of its downtown buildings, fired by the retreating Confederates. Robert E. Lee leads the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia up the Appomattox River to meet with a promised supply train near Lynchburg.
1865(b): Union troops overrun Confederate defenses at Petersburg. Lee orders a strategic retreat up the Appomattox River.
1865(c): On news of the fall of Petersburg, President Jefferson Davis and his war cabinet abandon Richmond in the hopes of re-establishing a functioning Confederate government in Mississippi.
1865(d): Union forces enter Richmond, where they find the burned-out shells of its downtown buildings, fired by the retreating Confederates. Robert E. Lee leads the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia up the Appomattox River to meet with a promised supply train near Lynchburg.
1865(e): Following the Confederate evacuation of the city, President Abraham Lincoln visits Richmond, Virginia, including during his tour a short sit in Jefferson Davis’ chair. As he becomes recognized, a growing number of black workers join the procession through town and bow down to him. Lincoln responds, “Kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will heretofore enjoy.”
1865(f): Battle of Saylors Creek. Three days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee abandoned the defenses of Petersburg, the cavalry of Union General Phil Sheridan cut off his planned route to meet up with Joe Johnson at Danville. Marching without food, and with a promise from the Confederate Commissary General for 80,000 rations waiting for him in Farmville, Lee shifted direction and began moving his army due west. But Lee’s shift to the right was countered by a further swing of Sheridan’s cavalry, effectively surrounding and capturing in a short, sharp battle nearly a quarter of Lee’s army, including 8 general officers, and unknown to Lee, the Confederate commissary train itself. Although it was a Union victory, it came at a cost of nearly 1200 casualties. When Lee saw the remnants of the fight streaming along the road, he exclaimed out loud, “My God! Has the army dissolved?”
1882: Former Confederate guerrilla (and participant in the 1863 massacre at Lawrence, Kansas) Jesse James is shot in the back by a member of his own gang, Robert Ford.
1884: Birth of Yamamoto Isokoku. The architect of the Pearl Harbor attacks dies in 1943 when his airplane is intercepted and shot down over Bougainville Island.
1887: Anne Sullivan teaches the word “water” to Helen Keller.
1896: The first modern Olympic Games opens in Athens.
1917: Vladimir I. Lenin arrives in St. Petersburg from Switzerland, via Germany and Sweden. The leader of Russia’s Bolsheviks was in exile in Switzerland when the original Russian Revolution broke out in February and was thus unable to influence the course of events. As the Kerensky government tried to find its post-czarist footing, the Imperial German government sensed a unique opportunity to consolidate its dominant military victories on the eastern front with a decisive political victory that would decapitate the Russian government. The Germans made secret arrangements for a guarded “extra-territorial” train to transport a small cadre of their nominal Russian enemies from their Swiss exile in order to foment continued revolution, with the goal of generating a separate peace between Russia and Germany. The plan worked exactly as expected, with Lenin’s Bolshevik faction seizing power in October and making it their first order of business to conclude the Treaty of Brest-Litvosk in March, 1918.
1922: Joseph Stalin becomes General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
1936: Richard Bruno Hauptmann is executed by the electric chair for the kidnapping and murder of Charles and Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s baby.
1949: NATO is established at a treaty-signing ceremony in Washington, D.C.
1962: Civilian test pilot Neil Armstrong takes the X-15 rocket plane to 180,000 feet altitude.
1968: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot in Memphis, Tennessee.
1973: The American League of MLB begins using the “Designated Hitter”.
1974: Hank Aaron ties Babe Ruth’s 714 home run record.
1982: The United Kingdom deploys the initial flotilla of the Royal Navy task force ordered to re-take the Falkland Islands from Argentina.
1996: Theodore Kaczynski is arrested. The Unabomber sent his first letter bomb in 1978; his casualties totaled 3 dead and 26 wounded.
2005: Death of Polish prelate Karol Jozef Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II
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