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.
1469: Birth of Niccolo Machiavelli observer of the machinations of the Borgia crimino-politico-religio family mafia, and author of the definitive treatise on governance: The Prince.
1494: On his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus sights the island of Jamaica. He names it St. Iago. The British re-name it Jamaica when they take the island in 1655.
1729: Birth of Catherine the Great Empress of Russia, born in Settin, Prussia. Catherine was Empress of Russia from 1762 until 1796, the country’s longest-ruling female leader. She came to power following a coup d’état when her husband, Peter III, was overthrown. Under her reign, Russia was revitalized; it grew larger and stronger and was recognized as one of the great powers of Europe. In her accession to power and her rule of the empire, Catherine often relied on her noble favorites, most notably Grigory Orlov and Grigory Potemkin. Assisted by highly successful generals such as Alexander Suvorov and Pyotr Rumyantsev, and admirals such as Fyodor Ushakov, she governed at a time when the Russian Empire was expanding rapidly by conquest and diplomacy. In the south, the Crimean Khanate was crushed following victories over the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish wars, and Russia colonized the territories of Novorossiya along the coasts of the Black and Azov Seas. In the west, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, ruled by Catherine’s former lover, king Stanisław August Poniatowski, was eventually partitioned, with the Russian Empire gaining the largest share. In the east, Russia started to colonize Alaska, establishing Russian America.
1770: Captain James Cook in HMS Endeavour makes landfall in Botany Bay, Australia. explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. Cook made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand. Cook joined the British merchant navy as a teenager and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. He saw action in the Seven Years’ War, and subsequently surveyed and mapped much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege of Quebec. This helped bring Cook to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society. This notice came at a crucial moment in both Cook’s career and the direction of British overseas exploration and led to his commission in 1766 as commander of HM Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages.
In three voyages Cook sailed thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe. He mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail and on a scale not previously achieved. As he progressed on his voyages of discovery he surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time. He displayed a combination of seamanship, superior surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and an ability to lead men in adverse conditions.
1789: 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 long boat. 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.
1802: Washington, DC is incorporated as a city. Both Virginia and Maryland cede to the federal government several hundred acres of swampy bottomland to create the District of Columbia- not the “State” of Columbia, you’ll notice- a non-sovereign federal district designed to be administered by Congress,
1840: The world’s first adhesive postage stamp, the “Penny Black,” is issued in England.
1863(a): 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.
1863(b): While making a nighttime inspection of his outer defense lines, Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson is shot and mortally wounded by Confederate pickets during the Battle of Chancellorsville.
1898: Steaming into Manila Bay under a 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.
1898: Following up the spectacular naval victory at Manila Bay, US Marines storm ashore and capture Cavite Station, raising the American Flag for the first time on soon-to-be American territory.
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:
1933: First modern sighting of the Loch Ness monster.
1936: Wearing Yankee pinstripes, Joe DiMaggio plays his first major league ballgame. He gets three hits.
1937: Birth of Saddam Hussein
1939: Margaret Mitchell wins the Pulitzer Prize for her novel “Gone With the Wind.”
1942: First day of the Battle of Coral Sea. This engagement represents the first full-strength American attempt to halt the Japanese juggernaut in the South Pacific. It also becomes the first naval battle in history where the combatant ships are not within visual range of each other. After four furious days of aerial combat, the Japanese forces cancel their planned attack on Port Moresby, New Guinea. From the bean-counting perspective the battle is a tactical win for Japan but in reality, it is a strategic victory for the United States. Although the U.S. lost an aircraft carrier (USS Lexington (CV-2)) a destroyer, an oiler and 70 aircraft, the force took its toll on the Japanese with the destruction of 60 aircraft, sinking of a light carrier and major damage to two fleet carriers, which, because they were not included in the Midway campaign the following month, led to the massive American naval victory there.
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): 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
1952: First commercial flight of the world’s first commercial jetliner, the Comet, built in the United Kingdom. The London to Johannesburg flight was a public relations sensation, but within a year the Comet fleet suffered three high profile air disasters that ruined its reputation and led to its eventual commercial failure. With its design flaws analyzed and fixed, the aircraft continued to fly through June, 2011 as the RAF Nimrod anti-submarine patrol plane.
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. He is stripped of his title but stays out of the Army anyway.
1970: Troops from the Ohio National Guard fire 67 live rounds into a group of anti-war protesters on the Kent State campus, killing four and wounding nine students.
1971: First broadcast of All Things Considered on National Public Radio.
1975: 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.
1979: Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
1982: The British nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror (S48) torpedoes and sinks the Argentine cruiser ANA General Belgrano (ex-USS Phoenix (CL-46)) off the coast of the Falkland Islands. Although the sinking occurred outside the British declared 200-mile total exclusion zone, British forces recognized the ship as a legitimate threat and took action to eliminate it. Despite the fact that the UK and Argentina were at war, the sinking of the 1938 vintage vessel triggered an inordinate amount of moral preening and controversy over whether it was “legal” and necessary in Britain’s recovery of the islands. When I spent a week in Buenos Aires several years ago I sensed that the relations between Argentina and Great Britain are both deep and highly conflicted. One example: the General Belgrano memorial today stands in a park in central Buenos Aires directly opposite the English Clock Tower.
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?” After three days of mayhem, 55 people are dead and hundreds of buildings and businesses are destroyed.
2007: Death of Wally Schirra, Naval Academy class of 1945, test pilot, and one of the original 7 Mercury astronauts. He is the only astronaut to fly in all three of America’s first space programs: Sigma-7, the fifth Mercury flight (6 orbits, 9 hours in space); Gemini-6A with Tom Stafford, making the first in-orbit rendezvous with Gemini-7; and Apollo-7 , an eleven day earth-orbital flight, the first flight of the program after the fatal Apollo-1 fire.