753BC: Traditional date of the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, orphaned brothers, suckled by a she-wolf.
303 A.D.: Death of George of Lydda, who became revered as Saint George, patron saint of ten countries (we’re most familiar with England), no fewer than 19 cities (including Moscow, Russia), and numerous professions, most notably soldiers. Son of a Roman proconsul and his Palestinian wife, both Christians, George was a successful Roman soldier until ordered by Emperor Diocletian to renounce his Christian faith and make the sacrifice to the pagan gods. He refused, and the example of his bravery during the subsequent torture and execution provided strength for a host of subsequent Christian conversions, most notably the Empress herself and a pagan priest of the court. His association with slaying the dragon stems from a legend where he came upon a dragon who made a nest over the water supply of the city of Silene. The citizens have to dislodge the beast draw water, so every day they offer a sacrifice of a sheep, or if none is available, a maiden. George appears as the maiden is about to be sacrificed; he gets between the dragon and the damsel and slays the beast, saving her life ending the dragon’s hold on the city. The grateful citizens abandon their paganism and embrace Christianity. The Union Jack of the UK is designed around the Cross of St. George- the red cross on a white field, with St. Andrew’s cross (white X on a blue field) and the Cross of St. Patrick (narrow red X on a white field).
570: Birth of Muhammad (per the Shi’a calendar).
1519: Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes lands with a small army on the Mexican mainland near present-day Veracruz. To help motivate his men to the task of conquest ahead, he orders his ships scuttled. They are looking for glory and gold, and when they eventually reach the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, they find it.
1521: Three-quarters of the way around the first circumnavigation of the world, Portuguese navigator and explorer Ferdinand Magellan is killed on Mactan Island in the Philippines, only three weeks after making peaceful and productive contact with the indigenous inhabitants. After his death, the expedition continued under the command of Juan Sebastian Elcano, who managed to extend the westward passage all the way back to Spain. Of the five ships and 234 men who departed three years earlier, Elcano finished with one ship and 18 men.
1558: At age 16, Mary, Queen of Scots, marries the Dauphin of France. This is the first of three marriages for the Catholic monarch who, you will recall, created no end of intrigue and real and implied threat to the (Protestant) English throne of her cousin Elizabeth I. Despite her execution at age 45, in the end, her son James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England, punctuating the extinction of the Tudor line when Elizabeth died.
1564: Birth of William Shakespeare.
1599: Birth of Oliver Cromwell (d.1658), alternately remembered as a) Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of Great Britain, Scotland, and Ireland, or; b) Regicide for overseeing the execution of King Charles I.
1607: The English Virginia Company colonizing expedition led by John Smith (who was at that time confined below decks) makes its New World landfall at Cape Henry.
1792: Three years into the social cataclysm that became the French Revolution, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle composes La Marseillaise, the new national anthem of the French Republic. The legitimately stirring music is accompanied by lyrics that English speakers would probably prefer to remain in French.
1810: Ludwig van Beethoven composes Fur Elise.
1836: Battle of San Jacinto. Led by Sam Houston, the Army of Texas completely surprises and routs the Mexican army of General Santa Ana, who is also Mexican President. The short, sharp fight opens with the Texas army screaming from the woods adjacent to the Mexican camp with cries of “Remember the Alamo!” and“Remember Goliad!” 18 minutes later, the fight is over, with over 700 Mexicans dead and what remains of Santa Ana’s army completely shattered and fleeing into the countryside. Santa Ana himself is captured, and Houston negotiates a complete Mexican withdrawal from Texas. Although Mexico does not recognize it until 1848, Santa Ana’s defeat effectively marks the beginning of Texas as an independent republic.
1856: Birth of Henri Philippe Petain , Marshal of France during the Great War and hero of the 9-month long Battle of Verdun in 1916, where he is credited with the inspirational quote: “Ils ne passeront pas!” (They shall not pass!”). Petain’s reputation took a dive in June 1940 when the old warhorse refused to countenance continued resistance to the German onslaught across the northern tier of France. He signed an armistice with the Germans and was elected to head the collaborationist French government, headquartered in Vichy. His latent Fascist instincts took over* as he set about abolishing what he considered the Republican excesses and weaknesses of the Third Republic, which he believed led to the failure of the French army to halt the German’s Blitzkrieg at the Maginot Line.
1861(a): Less than three weeks into the open rebellion of the southern states, President Lincoln suspends the writ of habeas corpus.
1861(b): West Virginia secedes from Virginia after the Old Dominion secedes from the United States.
1861(d): Birth of General Edmund Allenby. The British general fought in the Boer War, and at the outbreak of the Great War, fought on the Western Front. In June of 1917 he took command of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) which fought the Ottoman Turks from Cairo in a campaign to dislodge them from their Middle Eastern empire. Allenby was the key supporter of Colonel T.E. Lawrence’s efforts with the Arabs in Sinai and the upper Arabian Peninsula. As Turkish resistance crumbled, Allenby specifically targeted the capture of Jerusalem as his key strategic goal, which he accomplished in December of 1917. Out of respect to the spiritual significance of the city, he and his staff entered through the Jaffa gate on foot, a display that paid huge dividends as he set about un-doing several centuries of Turkish domination.
1865(a): Two weeks after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Confederate General Joe Johnson echoes Lee’s decision and professionalism, surrendering the remnants of his army to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman at Bennett Place, near Durham, N.C.
1865(b): Cornered in a burning barn at Garrett’s Farm in rural northern Virginia, and refusing to surrender himself, John Wilkes Booth is shot dead by Union soldiers.
1865(c): The river steamer SS Sultana, crammed with over 2,400 former Union POWs, explodes, burns and slowly sinks, taking an estimated 1,700 lives to a watery grave on the Mississippi River. The ship was part of a process of repatriating Union POWs, having recently boarded the men in Vicksburg and ferrying them up river to Saint Louis for repatriation and discharge. One family on board noted how the men were crammed in from rail to rail, a point to which the captain testified that the ship was “…over-crowded, not over-loaded.” One of the ship’s hastily repaired boilers exploded, igniting a fire in the engine room that quickly spread throughout the ship. Only 800 survived.
1874: Birth of Gugliemo Marconi (d.1937), Italian-born inventor and recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics for his studies of electromagnetic radiation. Marconi migrated to Great Britain and founded the radio manufacturing (now electronics) company that still bears his name
1910: Death of Samuel L. Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain. He prophesied a year earlier: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”
1915: Opening assault on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula by a British Commonwealth force, primarily troops from Australia and New Zealand- “ANZACs” who took ferocious casualties during the course of the futile nine-month campaign. The assault was the brainchild of First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, who believed the Central Powers could be defeated through the “soft underbelly” of their putative ally, the Ottoman Empire, also widely known as “The Sick Man of Europe.” After the initial landings, the Turks proved themselves not so sick after all, eventually forcing an ANZAC withdrawal under fire in January, 1916. The battle is credited with awakening the nationalist impulses of Australia and New Zealand, and is celebrated in those countries as ANZAC Day.
1916(a): The Easter Rising, a revolt against British rule in Ireland, begins in Dublin. The bombings and shootings are coordinated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, precursors to the Irish Republican Army.
1916(b): British explorer Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 5 depart in an open lifeboat from Elephant Island, Antarctica, on a rescue mission for the crew of their ice-bound ship Endurance. They row and sail across 800 miles of the stormy Southern Ocean in a feat of astounding seamanship, navigation and endurance, landing safely on the southern shore of South Georgia Island. Knowing there is a whaling station on the north shore, Shackleton and one other man hike across the island to alert the station. They spend only three days recovering, and then lead a volunteer expedition back around the island by ship to pick up the rest of their party. Only days later, they take another volunteer party back to Elephant Island where all of the remaining Endurance crew is rescued from their survival huts (built from their overturned lifeboats). The entire story of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition reads like an adventure novel, except it is true, and Ernest Shackleton’s skills as planner and leader are at the center of it all.
1917: Birth of Jazz Queen Ella Fitzgerald.
1918: Death of Baron Manfred von Richthofen (b.1892), a.k.a. “The Red Baron.” The German fighter ace amassed 80 confirmed kills of Allied aircraft, leading hisJagdstaffel 2 to consistent successes not by dramatic acrobatics, but by disciplined tactics and superb marksmanship. The RAF credited his shoot down this day to Canadian Captain Roy Brown, but much controversy surrounds this decision: Richthofen was killed by a single .303 bullet through his chest (shot with an upward trajectory) and he landed his Fokker Dreidecker virtually undamaged in a French field. After recovering his body, the British squadron gave him a funeral with full military honors.
1918: First direct tank-versus-tank combat, during the second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, France: three British Mark IV fought three German A7Vs
1960: Brazilia, a completely artificial city carved out of the jungle, is commissioned as the new capital of Brazil, replacing Rio de Janero.
1986(a): International monitoring devices note the release of huge radioactive cloud near Kiev, in Soviet Ukraine.
1986(b): Three days after it exploded and spewed more than 50 tons of highly radioactive steam into the atmosphere, the Soviet government admits to “a malfunction” in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
1989: End of the first week of a student-led mourning period over the death of reformer Hu Yaobang, who earlier resigned in protest from the Chinese Central Committee in January. On this day, over 10,000 students poured into Tienanmen Square to not only mourn but to protest the lack of reform promised by the government. The protests would continue to grow but remained peaceful until early June, when the communist government began its crackdown.
1989: Death of Lucille Ball
2002: Last successful telemetry received from Pioneer 10, 39 minutes of clean data sent from 79.83 AU from the Blue Planet, en route to interstellar space, making it the first man-made object to travel outside the Solar System. The probe launched in March 1972, crossed the Asteroid Belt in July, and in December of 1973 began transmitting the first close-up pictures of Jupiter.