43BC: Octavian exercises his influence to get himself elected as part of the Second Triumvirate (i.e., three-way dictatorship) of the Roman Senate. Interesting tidbit on his name: he was born into a noble household as Gaius Octavius Thurinus; adopted in 44BC by Julius Caesar, he became known as Gaius Julius Caesar, and after the battle in Egypt, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus. To keep things straight, historians use a three-part shorthand to designate the phases of his life: Octavius (64-44), Octavian (44-27), and Augustus (27BC- 14AD).
778: Death of Roland, the historic Frankish captain and governor of the Breton March (under Emperor Charlemagne) at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in the Pyrenees. The battle occurred after Charlemagne defeated the Saxons in a long-running campaign through Frankish lands into the Iberian Peninsula. It began during the return march when the Frankish army passed through a narrow defile where they were obliged to proceed single-file. Unfortunately for this victorious but tired army, it was in the Basque country, and the Basques ambushed them as Roland’s section brought up the rear of the column. Roland and scores of others were killed, but the remainder of Charlemagne’s army made it out. From this point, the legend begins, eventually morphing during the 12th Century into Le Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland), a tale that focused on the noble knight sacrificing himself for the greater good of his sovereign. The Song is the oldest surviving piece of French literature, and its various iterations cemented Roland’s position as the noble defender all across Europe.
927: A Saracen raiding army led by Slavic Sabir conquers the strategic Greco-Roman seaport of Taranto, completely reducing it to rubble and carrying all survivors off to slavery in North Africa. Saracen is an archaic name, used in Medieval times to identify the warrior tribes emanating from the deserts of North Africa and the Levant. There was very little differentiation in European eyes between Arab and Muslim (or Moslem), and Saracen can be identified as either or both.
1227: Traditional date for the death of Genghis Khan (b. circa 1162), the great Mongol warlord and leader of an empire that spread from China’s coastal plains, across the steppes of central Asia to the banks of the Dnieper River and the gates of Kiev. He is credited on the positive side with consolidating the Silk Road into a peaceful trading confederation, instituting a nominal level of meritocracy in his governmental postings, and creating a unifying political structure across a fractious region. On the other hand, he is also correctly portrayed as a brutal conqueror who gained most of his distant territories through genocide and random murder. As a military commander, he had no peers during his lifetime.
1248: Laying of the foundation stone for the magnificent Cologne Cathedral, construction of which was completed in 1880. Yes, a 632-year-long project. It is widely recognized as the ultimate expression of Gothic architecture and was miraculously spared destruction during the WWII firebombing of that city.
1473: Birth of Richard, Duke of York, one of the two “Princes in the Tower” (with his brother Edward, Prince of Wales ) whose arrest and mysterious disappearance made the way clear for their uncle to assume the throne of England as Richard III. All references to the two young heirs end without a trace sometime in 1483.
1587: Birth of Virginia Dare, granddaughter of the governor of Roanoke Colony, John White. Miss Dare was the first English child born in the Americas.
1774: Birth of Meriwether Lewis (d.1809), the other half of the leadership team that surveyed the new Louisiana Territory in the great Corps of Discovery expedition of 1803.
1777: An American militia force, under the leadership of General John Stark, completely routs a detachment of British General Burgoyne’s army who were tasked with rounding up horses and other supplies in the area. The Battle of Bennington decisively weakened Burgoyne’s strength in upper New England, providing bracing encouragement to the nascent United States, and helping lay the groundwork for France’s eventual alliance against Great Britain.
1780: Battle of Camden (SC). Between the improving prospects of the American revolutionaries in the northern colonies and France’s recent alliance with America, Britain decides to execute a “Southern Strategy” to crush the relatively weak Southern militias (i.e., Francis Marion’s Swamp Foxes) and consolidate the larger Southern Tory political factions behind the Crown. The British under Lord Cornwallis had already re-taken Savannah and Charleston, and now made plans to subdue the interior by capturing Camden, South Carolina, which was a major crossroads for inland travel. In response, the Continental Army began to re-form in Charlotte, North Carolina under General Horatio Gates, the hero of the American victory in Saratoga, NY Before his army and militia were fully formed, Gates, ordered an immediate deployment down to Camden to meet Cornwallis’ army before it could take the town. The haste was his undoing; on the morning of the battle, the poorly organized and worse disciplined left wing of the militia crumbled and ran after the first volleys. The adjacent militia subsequently turned and ran with Gates himself in the company, even before they engaged, leaving the lone Continental regiment to be destroyed in detail by the British Regulars and the cavalry of the notorious Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. For his part, Gates never held command again, but because of his earlier service, he was never held to account for the disaster at Camden.
1786: Birth of the Tennessee frontiersman, soldier, twice-elected Member of Congress, and hero of Battle of the Alamo, Davy Crockett (d.1836).
1792: Three days after his physical removal from the Tuilleries Palace, French King Louis XVI is formally placed under arrest by the National Tribunal and charged as Citizen Louis Capet with being an “Enemy of the people.”
1812: Captain Issac Hull, commanding the frigate USS Constitution, engages the British heavy frigate HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia and blasts her into a useless and splintered hulk, killing a third of her crew and sending shock waves throughout the Royal Navy and joy throughout the United States. Continuing to close through the Briton’s early cannonades, Hull withheld the order to fire back until they were a mere 25 yards off, at which point he ordered a shattering broadside that swept Guerriere’s decks and almost immediately began her dismasting. Though damaged in the rigging, Constitution comes out of the battle essentially intact. During the battle, Guerriere’s cannonballs were seen bouncing off the stout oaken sides of the Constitution, prompting the cry, “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!”
1838: Wilkes Expedition. In a long-delayed follow-up to the Corps of Discovery, six US Navy ships of the United States Exploring Expedition weigh anchor from right here in Hampton Roads to begin a four-year journey around the American continents and into the Pacific basin. Their mission was to create accurate surveys of newly found lands, promote American commerce abroad, and conduct scientific surveys of resources in previous discoveries. The expedition was under the command of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, USN, for whom the expedition is named.
1839: The French government, after granting Louis Daguerre a lifetime pension for his invention, announces that the Daguerreotype photographic process is “Free to All.” This is great news except in England, where Daguerre filed a patent a year earlier, which limited the island to only one licensed photographer through the life of the patent.
1848: Eight months after the discovery of loose gold near Coloma, California, the New York Herald becomes the first East Coast newspaper to announce the news to the rest of the world. The gold rush that began during this summer became a veritable flood of Easterners chartering clipper ships to San Francisco, which transformed the city from a sleepy fishing town and army post to a booming den of iniquity and gold-fueled wealth. Because of the one-way nature of the commerce, hundreds of ships were left abandoned on the San Francisco waterfront, where their remains are still excavated today during many construction projects.
1862: Virginia horseman J.E.B. Stuart is assigned command of the cavalry for the Army of Northern Virginia.
1893: Birth of the flamboyant (in multiple ways) actress Mae West (d.1980), whose spicy antics on film and in her public life provide a pretty good data point that the Boomer generation didn’t invent sex, the movie stars of the ’20s and ’30s did. Among her, more memorable lines came from a re-write she did in her first film, Night After Night, where she’s checking in her things with the hat check girl, who exclaims, “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!” West responded, “Goodness had nothing to do with it dearie.” The inflatable life vests worn by WWII aviators were nicknamed “Mae Wests”.
1896: A rich vein of Placer gold is found in Rabbit Creek (now Bonanza Creek) tributary of the Klondike River in the Alaska Territory. The discovery was made by three prospecting partners, Skookum Jim Mason (a native Eskimo*), Dawson Charlie (ibid), and his nephew Patsy Henderson (ibid). Their discovery triggers the Klondike Gold Rush, which lasted only a few years, but yielded over twelve and a half million ounces of gold since discovery.
1898: In an odd little denouement to the “Splendid Little War,” Spanish and American forces stage a mock battle in Manila to create the appearance of a Spanish surrender under hostile conditions. The bottom line for both sides was to create a colonial hand-off that would prevent a large native Philippine army from sacking the city and taking revenge on the defeated Spanish citizens who remained. American Commodore Dewey and Generals MacArthur and Merritt negotiated the terms of the battle beforehand with the Spanish governor, and at 0900, Dewey’s ships began a bombardment of an abandoned and decrepit fort on the outskirts of town, including lobbing a few shells at the essentially impregnable, but manned, a fortress of Intramuros, closer into the city, wherein was a large refugee population. On schedule, Spanish forces marched out and American forces marched in, although there was a small skirmish with a Spanish company that didn’t get the word. With only that interruption, the takeover was completed without Filipino intervention, and the American occupation of the islands began in earnest.
1899: Birth of the great British film director, Alfred Hitchcock (d.1980).
1912: U.S. Marines, led by Colonel Joseph Pendleton and Captain Smedley Butler, invade Nicaragua in support of the recently-elected pro-U.S. government. Nicaragua had been destabilized by a rebel movement, the Sandinistas that threatened the plantations of the United Fruit Company and other businesses in the country. This was the first of a series of American military interventions, known as the Banana Wars, throughout the Caribbean basin that reinforced both the Monroe Doctrine (vis-à-vis European interests) and Teddy Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” (supporting direct American interests). The Marines remained in occupation in Nicaragua at varying levels of support through 1933.
1914: The Panama Canal opens to commercial traffic. Unfortunately for the people who labored for years on this engineering and construction masterpiece, the event is completely overshadowed by the opening guns of Great Power combat in Europe.
1918: Incorporation of Bayerisch Moteren Werke (BMW) as an aircraft engine manufacturer, opening a factory in a suburb of Munich.
1920: After nearly 75 years of increasingly powerful campaigning, this day sees the final ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing women’s suffrage.
1929: Riots begin in the British Palestinian Mandate after the Mufti of Jerusalem gives a fiery sermon excoriating Jewish worshipers who erected a temporary screen** between men and women at the Wailing Wall. The thinly-manned British police were unable to stop the violence, which burned prayer books and notes left on the foundation stones by the Jews. The rampage continued through the night, eventually leading to the stabbing death of a young Sephardic Jew named Abraham Mizrachi. His funeral, in turn, became a political rally, which further inflamed the Arab “street.” Flaming editorials were published in both Arab and Jewish newspapers, and the tensions led directly to two pogroms: the 1929 Hebron Massacre (where 68 Jews were killed (23-23 August)), and the 1929 Safed Massacre (where 15 Jews were killed and 80 wounded (29 August)).
1935: Deaths of American humorist Will Rogers (b.1879) and aviation pioneer Wiley Post (b.1898) on takeoff in their float-plane near Fairbanks, Alaska. Post was on a mission to scout out potential float-plane routes between the United States and Russia, and Rogers invited himself along to gather more material for his newspaper columns. On the trip northward, Rogers would pull out a typewriter after takeoff and write his articles on his lap while Post flew the airplane. The machine they were using was a one-off combination of a Lockheed Explorer wing fitted to a Lockheed Orion fuselage with a set of custom floats designed for neither. It was notoriously nose-heavy, but Post managed to make it work until this day.
1941: Final day of four days of meetings between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt aboard USS Augusta (CA-31) in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. Their secret rendezvous was the end result of planning that began back in February but was delayed by multiple disasters in the European war. Both leaders traveled to the site on capital ships (Churchill aboard the new battleship HMS Prince of Wales). The outcome of the meeting was a joint declaration on this day, which published eight points that would guide the post-war world. It was quickly dubbed The Atlantic Charter, and its prescriptions were treated with the force of law. No signed copies of the document were ever made, although Roosevelt’s papers contained one copy with a signature on it. Churchill noted the ambiguity of the Charter in his memoirs on the Yalta Conference [paraphrasing] “The British Constitution is like the Atlantic Charter- the document did not exist, yet all the world knew about it…”
1943: The United States Army Air Corps Eighth Air Force loses 60 B-17s, with severe damage to over 90 more aircraft during a combined raid on the Schweinfurt-Regensburg industrial complex deep in Germany. 376 bombers were assigned to the daylight mission, which was designed to cripple the German aircraft industry by destroying the factories that produced ball-bearings for the engines. Of note, the B-17s were required to spend over three hours un-escorted over German territory in order to reach their targets, time which allowed the Luftwaffe to wreak havoc on the lumbering machines. For you, military planners out there, note too that the bomber “waves” were spaced far enough apart to allow the Germans time to re-fuel and re-arm their fighters for continued defense. Operationally, the results were a little short of a complete disaster, with the strikes creating only a temporary loss of about 30% of pre-strike ball-bearing capacity.
1943: The U.S. Seventh Army under General George S. Patton enters the strategic city of Messina, Sicily, several hours ahead of the British Eighth Army under General Bernard Montgomery.
1944: Allied armies under the command of US Army Generals Jacob Devers, Alexander Patch, and Lucian Truscott, land in southern France in Operation DRAGOON (formerly Operation ANVIL). This second front in the western theatre opens up the seaports of Marseille and Toulon to Allied supplies, greatly augmenting what could otherwise be put into France through the heavily damaged Cherbourg and the nearly-destroyed Mulberry facilities near Normandy. Despite German preparations and knowledge of the impending landings, the invasion was executed very much as planned and caused the German forces to quickly abandon their positions and withdraw into northern France to join with Army Group B near the Swiss frontier.
1945: Japanese Emperor Hirohito, having witnessed the complete destruction of his Imperial Navy, his air force, the cream of his army, the capture of Okinawa, the firebombing of Tokyo, and the sudden obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, publicly announces via recorded radio transmission that he is prepared to accept the Allied terms of surrender. Most of his cabinet and leading military officers disagreed, and an unsuccessful coup attempt was staged on the 12th -13th, but the Emperor held firm with his decision [excerpt]: “I have given serious thought to the situation prevailing at home and abroad and have concluded that continuing the war can only mean destruction for the nation and prolongation of bloodshed and cruelty in the world. I cannot bear to see my innocent people suffer any longer. … It goes without saying that it is unbearable for me to see the brave and loyal fighting men of Japan disarmed. It is equally unbearable that others who have rendered me devoted service should now be punished as instigators of the war. Nevertheless, the time has come to bear the unbearable. … I swallow my tears and give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied proclamation on the basis outlined by the Foreign Minister.”
1953: In coordination with Great Britain’s MI-6, the CIA assists in the coup d’etat of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh, a virulent Persian nationalist who campaigned incessantly against Britain’s economic ties with Iran. His election brought with it a host of Progressive social reforms and wholesale nationalization of the oil industry, which was not seen in Britain’s best interests. Winston Churchill let it be known to the U.S. that Mosaddegh was also leaning heavily communist, which of course helped secure American interest.
1960: U.S. Air Force pilot, Captain Joseph Kittinger (b.1928), leaps out of a balloon from 102,800 feet, and freefalls for over four minutes, reaching 614 mph. The jump was Kittenger’s third from high altitude (the first two were from 76,400 and 74,700 feet respectively) as part of the Excelsior tests of high altitude ejection parachute systems for modern jet aircraft. On his first jump, the six-foot drogue stabilizer wrapped around his neck and started him spinning at 120 rpm, which knocked him unconscious, but he was saved by the automatic systems that opened his main chute at 10,000 feet. On this test, the pressurization failed in his right glove and he lost the use of it from the onset of frostbite. He didn’t tell the flight surgeon until just before stepping out. The jump set records for highest jump, fastest human speed through the atmosphere, longest freefall, and longest drogue freefall. After the test series, he served three combat tours in Vietnam, getting shot down in 1971 and serving as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton for eleven months. He retired as a Colonel.
1961: The government of the communist German Democratic Republic closes all its border crossings into West Berlin and begins construction of the Cold War’s most notorious artifact, The Berlin Wall. In a typical communist abomination of language, what passed for a government in East Germany called it an “anti-fascist protective rampart.” Most Osties were not impressed.
1969: Three weeks after arriving back on their home planet, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins are finally released from biological quarantine. They are feted with a ticker tape parade (remember those?) in NYC and a state dinner in Los Angeles, where President Nixon awards them the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
1969: Opening acts of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival.
1969: Hurricane Camille slams into the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Category 5 storm kills 248 people and causes $1.5B in damage. The National Weather Service retired the name from further use.
1977: Death of Groucho Marx (b.1890). Comedian, actor, writer of stage, film, radio, television star and vaudeville performer. He is generally considered to have been a master of quick wit and one of America’s greatest comedians.
1981: Two F-14 Tomcats flying from USS Nimitz (CVN-68) shoot down two Libyan SU-22 Fitters during a Freedom of Navigation exercise in the Gulf of Sidra.
1987: Death of Nazi Deputy Fuehrer Rudolf Hess (b.1894), who remains perhaps one of the most enigmatic figures of the World War II era. In May of 1941, Hess piloted a ME-110 fighter on an extended range, low-level flight to Scotland, where he parachuted out and, once on the ground, requested a meeting with the Duke of Hamilton, ostensibly to negotiate a separate peace with Great Britain. The British government immediately arrested him and confined him to the Tower of London, the last actual prisoner to serve there, where he was extensively debriefed on the internal workings of the Nazi government. The supposed negotiations regarding a separate peace would have allowed Germany to apply all its power against the Soviet Union, and the silence of the British government on the subject made the already paranoid Soviet state absolutely insane about Hess. At the Nuremberg Trials, he was convicted of war crimes and crimes against the peace, and sentenced to life in Spandau Prison, where the Soviets insisted to the end under their Four Power rights that he never be released. Hess died in Spandau at age 93, the only prisoner at the facility for many years, by suicide in the prison garden.