1093: Dedication of Winchester Cathedral, the nominal home of King Arthur’s roundtable.
1388: An army of Swiss soldiers, outnumbered 16:1, defeats a Hapsburg army of over 6,500 in the Battle of Nafels, a rout by about 400 armed citizens of the cantonment of Glarus and a handful of knights from other parts of Swiss Confederation. The battle was the final act in the long-running conflict between the ever-expansionist Hapsburg Empire and the farmers and shopkeepers of the central Alps. After this battle, the Swiss kept their independence.
1413: After five years of increasingly bitter fighting with the Welsh, the 27-year-old Henry of Monmouth is crowned King Henry V of England on the death of his father, Henry IV. The young king almost immediately turned his attention to regaining historic landholdings in France against the Valois dynasty.
1521: Continuing his exploration of the Philippine archipelago, Ferdinand Magellan lands on the island of Cebu. You can guess what’s coming in the next two weeks.
1570: Birth of Guy Fawkes, a key figure of the famous Gunpowder Plot to destroy Parliament in 1605.
1585: Departure from England of a five-ship fleet, organized and funded by Sir Walter Raleigh, to create a permanent English colony in the New World. The group eventually landed and set up camp on the shores of Roanoke Island on North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound. The settlement maintained a tenuous toehold on the land; between conflict with the local Indian tribes, and lack of a viable means to sustain their need for food, the success of the enterprise was dubious. Raleigh commissioned John White two years later to go back to Roanoke with a small fleet for re-supply and reinforcement, including 115 more colonists. When they arrived they found no one except a bleached out skeleton. White stayed long enough to help the new group get re-established, and promised to return with more supplies the following Spring. Multiple delays- war, piracy, hurricanes slowed progress until he stepped ashore in August of 1590. Not a trace of the new colony could be found. The only clue was the word “CROATOAN” carved into a tree, and the letters “CRO-” in another. Thus named, The Lost Colony of the Outer Banks. After the English colonies took hold along the coast, there were for years reports of “blue-eyed” Indians who inhabited the tidewater regions of North Carolina and Virginia, provoking theories about the fate of the Lost Colony.
1606: King James I grants a royal charter to the Virginia Company of London, a joint stock company that will finance British colonization of North America north of Cape Fear (think Roanoke Colony) and south of Plymouth
1730: Dedication of Shearith Israel- the first synagogue in NYC.
1778: Commanding his brig USS Ranger, Captain John Paul Jones departs Brest, France on a raiding mission against British interests in the Irish Sea. It is the first offensive naval action of the American Revolution, and the attacks take the British completely by surprise. In a particularly daring raid into his native Scotland, Jones sails into Kirkcudbright Bay with a view to abduct the Earl of Selkirk and hold him hostage for the release of American sailors held by the British. The earl is not at home but the crew takes the liberty to steal his silver, including his wife’s teapot, still warm and full of her morning tea. The raids continue for several more weeks, and after capturing HMS Duke, Jones returns to Brest where he will seek a larger ship and make plans for more raids as the year progresses.
1795: As part of the new French Republic’s emphasis on rationalization, the French National Assembly accepts the meter as the basic measure of length. This is not as simple as it sounds. The process began within a year after the revolution began and, perhaps- one might presume– had something to do with extricating France from the navigational dominance of Great Britain (a.k.a. L’Albion Perfide), who had already defined the Prime Meridian as the N-S line running through the naval observatory at Greenwich, and who had further defined the nautical mile as 2000 yards or 1 minute of latitude. In any event, France decided they needed a “rational” measure around three feet long. In 1790, the Assembly first defined it as the length of a pendulum with a half-period of one second. In 1791, they accepted the recommendation of the National Academy of Science which determined that there are 10,000,000 meters (10,000 kilometers) between the north pole and the equator along the meridian running through the center of Paris. So there! And it is all divisible by 10, not 12, like the perfidious English. Tant pis! The meter has gone through six further refinement since this date, the latest being 2002, when the International Committee of Weights and Measures declared it a “proper length.”
1820: Venus de Milo (b.130 BC) is discovered on the Greek island of Melos, and is promptly transported to Paris for public display at the Louvre
1862: A year into the War Between the States, Union Major General U.S. Grant’s army meets Confederate General Albert Sidney-Johnston at the Battle of Shiloh, in western Tennessee. The two-day battle looked like a potential Confederate victory as the first night fell, but Union troops physically reinforced their position in a low spot near Pittsburgh Landing and were further reinforced in numbers by the arrival of MG Don Carlos Buell. The Union counter-attack the next morning overwhelmed the Confederates, killing General Johnston and forcing his deputy, P.G.T. Beauregard to withdraw before the slaughter became a complete rout. Shiloh was the bloodiest battle in the war to date, with over 13,000 Union and 11,000 Confederate casualties. Grant was highly criticized by the Union press for his performance on the first day, but was vindicated by President Lincoln, who, when flooded with calls for Grant’s sacking, declared: “I can’t spare this man. He fights.”
1867: The United States Senate ratifies the treaty with Russia, that purchases Alaska for $7,200,000, or approximately $0.o2 per acre if I did the math right. 588,412 square miles, 640 acres per square mile,
1891: Death of P.T. Barnum (b.1810), the circus impresario, author of the famous quip: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
1892: Birth of Arthur Travers “Bomber” Harris (d.1984), Air Marshall and Commander-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command during WWII. He was at the business end of executing the concept of massive area bombing of German cities, with such successes as the firestorm in Hamburg. Harris had many pithy quotes, but is probably best remembered for his February, 1945 expostulation, “I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.”
1902: James C. Penney opens his first dry goods store in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
1904: Great Britain and France sign a mostly secret Entente Cordial which, although structured around their spheres of influence in their global empires, actually signaled the end of over a century of near-continuous hostility and occasional war between the two countries. Of more pertinence, the treaty solidified the obligations of one another against potential hostilities with the burgeoning Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, also treaty-bound by their own Triple Alliance. By 1907 Russia grew increasingly concerned over the conduct of the Central Powers, particularly Austria-Hungary in the Balkans, leading them to join with France and Britain to create the Triple Entente. This process, history students, is exactly what George Washington warned against when he spoke of the dangers of “entangling alliances,” as we shall see in July and August.
1912: RMS Titanic sets out from Southampton, England on her first transatlantic voyage.
1913: Ratification of the 17th Amendment, specifying the direct election of Senators, a key political goal of the Progressive movement. Prior to this, Senators were appointed by state legislatures and represented the interests of the several States themselves, serving as a powerful check on Federal overreach. Given the scope of the federal government’s metastasis over the years since ratification, it is no surprise that there is a considered body of opinion exploring the ways the 17th may be repealed, not unlike how the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th a few days back.
1916: Two months into an increasingly ineffective campaign to dislodge the French from their border fortresses at Verdun, German Field Marshall Falkenhayen initiates a third major surge against the French lines, with near-constant artillery bombardment and repeated infantry assaults back and forth across the battlefront.
1917: The Canadian Corps of the British Expeditionary Force opens its attack on Vimy Ridge, a German-controlled piece of high ground that dominated the northern area of the British Arras Offensive. The four-day battle achieved its objectives against ferocious resistance, and its all-Canadian nature became a nationalistic touchstone for our northern cousins.
1919: Five-time presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs is sent to prison under the sedition provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917. The fiery union man and leader of the Socialist Party, USA, earned the undying enmity of President Woodrow Wilson for his continuing series of speeches against U.S. participation in the Great War, and in particular against the draft. His June, 1918 anti-draft speech was the last straw: Debs was arrested and charged with 10 counts of sedition. He called no defense witness at his trial and spoke on his own behalf in a 2-hour statement that was called by journalist Heywood Broun “…one of the most beautiful and moving passage in the English language. He was for that one afternoon touched with inspiration. If anyone told me that tongues of fire danced upon his shoulders as he spoke, I would believe it.” During subsequent clemency proceedings, President Wilson wrote, “While the flower of American youth was pouring out its blood to vindicate the cause of civilization, this man, Debs, stood behind the lines sniping, attacking, and denouncing them….This man was a traitor to his country and he will never be pardoned during my administration.” Debs’ 10-year sentence was eventually commuted by President Harding. He died in 1926
1931: Birth of Dan Gurney, Formula 1 racer of the 1960s–the car was also his own design. Gurney remained active in motorsports as a driver into the 1980s. He continues to influence the industry as a designer and sage through his All American Racers company. His cars were the honored marque at the Monterrey Historic Races in August, 2010
1933: Prohibition ends for the production and sale of 3.2% beer, eight months before the final ratification of the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th, which was one of the Progressive movement’s crown jewels for forcing people to live healthier lives. The smuggling, racketeering and criminality that accompanied Prohibition was, of course, an unintended consequence.
1939: Contralto Marian Anderson sings an Easter concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd of over 75,000, plus a nationwide radio audience. The critically acclaimed concert came about after the D.A.R. refused to allow her to perform in their Constitution Hall. Anderson went on to a sterling career as a classical singer both here and in Europe, and was one of the leading lights of the post-war civil rights movement.
1940: Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling seizes control of the Norwegian government as the Nazi invasion tightens its grip on the country. He forms a collaborationist, pro-Nazi puppet government, serving as Minister-President under the control of the Germans. After the war, he is convicted and executed for high treason, and his name has become synonymous with “traitor” ever since.
1943: Katyn Forest Massacre: during their drive across Poland, the German army discovers a series of mass graves containing the bodies of over 20,000 Polish prisoners captured by the Soviets during the 1939 partition of that country. In a rare display of honest revulsion, the Nazis announced the finding to the world, convening an international panel of forensic experts and neutral journalists to document the breadth and scope of the massacre. Joseph Goebbels was frank about using the findings for anti-Soviet propaganda purposes; he recognized that if they didn’t get the story out first, the Soviets would certainly turn it around on the Germans in the event of Russian re-occupation of the site. The Soviets steadfastly denied their culpability until 1990, with the release of archival documents that vividly show how Beria, Khrushchev, and Stalin himself recognized significant post-war opportunities for the communist movement if they could decapitate the leadership of Poland during the cover of war. The final tally of the murdered victims includes over half of the Polish officer corps, including 14 generals, an admiral, and appropriately higher numbers of colonels and below, including as well as doctors, police leadership, university professors and members of the technical elite.
1945: USN carrier aircraft from Task Force 58 under Admiral Marc Mitscher, attack and sink Imperial Japan’s largest and most powerful* battleship, IJN Yamato, during the opening stages of the Battle of Okinawa. In an operation called Ten-Go, Yamato and her task force of cruisers and destroyers were ordered into an intentional suicide defense of Okinawa, with the intent of blasting their way through the American invasion fleet, then running aground to function as a shore battery until they were finally destroyed by the Americans. American reconnaissance submarines spotted their departure through the Bungo Strait and reported their position and course up the command chain. 5th Fleet commander Admiral Raymond Spruance then ordered a U.S. battleship force to intercept the Japanese, but Mitscher mobilized and launched his aircraft before the battleships got within range. With no defensive air cover to oppose them, the Navy aircraft systematically attacked and destroyed the Japanese force, to the extent that the torpedo bombers could work to only attack from Yamato’s port side, enhancing the probability of uncontrolled capsizing. After two hours of nearly constant attack, and suffering from flooding, fires and loss of propulsion, Yamato began her final rollover on the way down. And at that very moment, her forward magazine detonated with a gigantic mushroom cloud seen over a hundred miles away.
1945: The United States Third Army liberates the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald.
1947: Jackie Robinson opens his major league career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
1951: President Truman fires General of the Army Douglas MacArthur from command of the forces fighting in Korea. MacArthur had made repeated calls to attack Red China if the communists would not lay down their arms. The President directly ordered MacArthur to cease making political statements. When the general ignored him and kept making public comments Truman relieved him of command saying, “The cause of world peace is more important than any individual.” MacArthur comes home to a hero’s welcome and an address to a joint session of Congress, where he gave his “Old Soldiers never die…” speech.
1959: NASA announces the first corps of United States astronauts, seven test pilots from the Navy and Air Force, who will be at the pointy end, literally, of America’s first steps into outer space. If you were sentient at the time, you remember the absolutely riveting levels of national pride these guys engendered, and they had yet to actually do anything except pass an excruciating set of physical and psychological screenings. But there they were: our Mercury 7 Astronauts.
1963: On a test dive after a hastily completed major overhaul, USS Thresher (SSN-593) sinks 220 miles off of Cape Cod with the loss of all hands (112 crew and 12 civilian)
1970: Two days after launch, and halfway between the Earth and the Moon, an oxygen tank in Apollo 13’s Service Module explodes, causing the entire system to lose power and forcing the crew to complete the flight using the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat” for electricity, oxygen and trans-lunar navigation.
1976: Release of the Apple I personal computer. It went on sale in July for $666.66 (Steve Jobs reportedly liked repeating digits (not that an Apple is Satanic or anything)). Only 200 were built, of which reportedly only 40-50 remain. As a point of reference, in November of 2010, serial number 82 sold at Christie’s auction house for $178,000
1990: The gun-maker from the “Project Babylon” entry, Gerald Bull (1928-1990), was a Canadian engineer of extraordinary energy and controversy. Bull’s life work centered on developing gun systems that could boost a payload into space and eventual earth orbit without the expense and complication of conventional rocketry. He was the driving force behind the joint U.S. – Canadian High Altitude Research Project (HARP), which ran from 1961-1967. The project used bored out and lengthened U.S. Navy 16” battleship guns to test high altitude & high speed flight dynamics for prototype ICBM re-entry vehicles, and for high altitude atmospheric research. The HARP launches succeeded in shooting a 400 pound projectile at 3,600 m/sec to an apogee of over 110 miles. There was great potential for dramatic advances in launch payloads and dynamics when the program was finally cancelled, a politically-driven decision derived from deteriorating U.S. and Canadian relations, itself deriving from the Vietnam War. A more thorough review of HARP can be found at: http://www.astronautix.com/a rticles/abroject.htm . Bull was found murdered in his Brussels residence in March of 1990.
1997: Tiger Woods becomes the youngest winner (at 21) of the Masters Tournament.