711: Moorish troops cross the Strait of Gibraltar to land in mainland Europe, beginning the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, known in Arabic as Al-Andalus (Andalucía in Spanish). The Moors (Berber Arabs from North Africa, recently converted to Islam) fought an eight-year campaign against the Christian Visigoths under Roderick, on whose death in battle the Visigoth kingdom essentially collapsed, allowing the Moors to occupy virtually all of present-day Spain and Portugal except for the Basque region in the north. They made continued forays over the Pyrenees, eventually taking substantial regions of Gaul under their control. The high water mark for Moorish expansion into Europe occurred at the Battle of Tours (Poitiers) in October of 732. At that battle, Frankish and Burgundian forces under Charles Martel (known at the time as “The Hammer”) won a decisive victory that set the stage for the Christian re-conquest of western Europe, which ended with the final expulsion of the Moors from Grenada in 1492
1429: Led by what she claims is a vision directly from God, the young shepherdess Joan of Arc arrives in Orleans, France to relieve the English siege of that city.
1492: Christopher Columbus receives his commission from the Spanish Throne (Ferdinand and Isabella) to explore a western route to the Spice Islands of the Indies.
1770: Captain James Cook in HMS Endeavour makes landfall in Botany Bay, Australia.
1789(a): After months of chafing under the abusive leadership of Captain William Bligh, Masters Mate Fletcher Christian leads 25 crewmen in a mutiny aboard HMS Bounty. The mutineers set adrift Bligh and 18 loyal crew members in an open 23-foot longboat. In an extraordinary feat of seamanship and survival, they navigate their way across 3600 miles of ocean to safely arrive at Timor in the Dutch East Indies on the 14th of June. Christian and the rest of the mutineers scuttle around the South Pacific trying to figure out what to do next. They eventually settle on remote Pitcairn Island, burning the Bounty to ensure their commitment to their new colonial effort.
1789(b): In New York City, Virginia planter, surveyor and Continental Army General George Washington is inaugurated as first President of the United States. The ceremony is notable for the pageantry that accompanied his travel from Mount Vernon, and the brown homespun suit he wore at the swearing in. Washington also established the tradition of placing his right hand on a family bible as he took the oath.
1803: The United States purchases from Napoleonic France the Louisiana Territory for $15,000,000. As part of an effort to disentangle French and Spanish claims over New Orleans, and to ensure adequate US access to the Mississippi River drainage through that city, President Thomas Jefferson sent James Monroe and Robert Livingston to France to negotiate to buy the city outright. Napoleon, having recently failed to re-enslave Haiti, and preparing for continuing war with Great Britain, believed that maintaining France’s claim on the entire Louisiana Territory would only be a drain on French finances and add nothing to the upcoming fight with Great Britain. He, therefore, countered Livingston’s $10m offer for New Orleans with a $15m bid for the whole territory. Recognizing the fleeting nature of the prize, Livingston took the offer on April 30th and a treaty was signed on May 2nd. Although we celebrate the purchase today, it precipitated a constitutional crisis over whether the President had the authority to expand the United States in this manner. Jefferson himself was torn and recognized that he would have opposed this expansion of Executive power if Alexander Hamilton had tried it. Napoleon, for his part, recognized the strategic nature of the sale: “This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a maritime rival who sooner or later will humble her pride.”
1840: The world’s first adhesive postage stamp, the “Penny Black,” is issued in England.
1861: Slave state Maryland votes not to secede from the Union.
1863: Opening engagement in the Battle of Chancellorsville. The week-long battle cemented Lee’s reputation as a master tactician, repelling a Union force twice his strength and foiling “Fighting Joe” Hooker’s efforts to perform a double pincer movement against the Army of Northern Virginia.
1898: Steaming into Manila Bay under darkened ship, Commodore George Dewey, commander of the United States Asiatic Squadron, completely surprises the 10 ships of the Spanish navy lying at anchor off of Cavite Station. At dawn, with his ships arrayed 5400 yards from the Spanish, Dewey turns to the captain of the flagship Olympia and utters those immortal words, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” Dewey orders a cease-fire at 08:00 to allow the Spanish to surrender but they refuse. Re-opening the engagement around 10:00, the one-sided fight continues until 12:30 with the capitulation of the 10th Spanish ship. 6 Americans are wounded in the action to the more than 400 Spanish sailors killed. Dewey becomes a national hero. His flagship now resides in Philadelphia as a museum ship.
1904: Opening of the Louisiana Purchase World’s Fair in Saint Louis. For a very charming look at the time and place of the fair, may I recommend the old musical, Meet Me In Saint Louis, starring Judy Garland (1944).
1915: RMS Lusitania departs New York on her final voyage. Six days out, en route to England, and only 8 miles off the coast of southern Ireland, she is torpedoed by a German submarine and sinks with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives, including 128 Americans. The sinking of this liner provoked outrage against Imperial Germany, who insisted she was a troop transport loaded with military manpower and supplies. Germany had, in fact, anticipated what was coming and openly published the following warning in the New York papers, directly adjacent to an advertisement for her voyage back to England:
TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY, Washington, D.C. 22nd April 1915
1931: The Empire State Building is dedicated in Manhattan.
1937: Birth of Saddam Hussein (d.2006)
1939: Opening of the New York World’s Fair, in New York City. The Art-Deco masterpiece remains the largest world’s fair in history. It’s theme was “The World of Tomorrow” and “Dawn of a New Day.”
1941: Premiere of Orson Welles’ masterpiece, Citizen Kane, which he co-wrote, produced, directed, and starred in the lead role.
1944: First flight of the ME-262 Sturmvogel, the world’s first operational jet fighter. It became the terror of the Allied bombers striking Central Europe, but it was held back from air-to-air in favor of close air support, a mission for which it was less than terrific. A Texas firm reproduced five flyable machines under license from Messerschmitt, exact replicas* of the venerable jet.
1945(a): German Chancellor Adolf Hitler marries his longtime mistress Eva Braun in Berlin’s Fuehrerbunker. They spend their honeymoon committing suicide the next day.
1945(b): United States troops liberate the Dachau concentration camp just outside of Munich, in Bavaria. I visited the camp in 2005, and the sterility of the place is absolutely chilling. The tour guide makes the point repeatedly that Dachau was not an extermination camp per se, like Auschwitz-Birkenau, but that the deaths were the result of overwork, underfeeding, and disease exacerbated by horrid sanitation. Mere days before liberation, a prisoner transport train arrived from Buchenwald, but was moved to a siding just outside the camp and abandoned. Americans investigating the train discovered only 800 survivors of the over 4000 initially loaded into the freight cars. Over 2300 corpses were discovered in and around the train.
1945(c): Italian Fascist, “Il Duce” Benito Mussolini and his mistress are captured by Italian partisans, executed by firing squad, and their corpses displayed to the public: hung by their heels on meat hooks in Milan’s main square
1947: Norwegian explorer Thor Hyerdahl and a small international crew depart Peru on their balsa raft Kon Tiki to test his theory that ancient South Americans could have populated the islands of the South Pacific. They arrive in the Polynesian island of Raroia 101 days later.
1951: Birth of NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt (d.2001 in a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500).
1960: A U-2 reconnaissance plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers is shot down over the Soviet Union. Powers is held by the Soviets until traded for a captured Soviet spy in 1962. I bet Kip heard plenty of hangar talk about this one. FYI- here’s another book recommendation: Marco Polo if You Can, by William F. Buckley, Jr. (1982). Written in Buckley’s inimitable clean crisp prose, the novel offers something of an “alternative history” of the U-2 program and one of its most important payoffs.
1964: The first BASIC program runs on a computer.
1965: Acting on President Johnson’s assertions that Cuba was behind the unrest that threatened to create another communist foothold in the Western Hemisphere, a force of 20,000 United States Marines land in the Dominican Republic to restore order. They remain for nearly 18 months.
1967: Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay) refuses his draft induction into the Army.
1975(a): With regular North Vietnamese Army forces entering the outskirts of the city, the United States begins evacuation of American citizens from Saigon in Operation Frequent Wind.1975(b): Saigon unconditionally surrenders to the Viet Cong, courtesy of the North Vietnamese Regular Army, with an assist by the Congress of the United States.
1986: Boston Pitcher Roger Clemens sets an MLB record of 20 strikeouts in nine innings against the Houston Astros.
1992: The Los Angeles Riots begin, triggered by the acquittal of LAPD officers caught on videotape beating Rodney King. On the second day of the riots, King appears on television, pleading, “Can’t we all just get along?” They can’t, and after three days of mayhem, 55 people are dead and hundreds of buildings and businesses are destroyed.