1346: Nine years into the Hundred Years War, British Longbowmen create a decisive victory for King Edward III and a shattering defeat for French King Philip VI at the Battle of Cresy, just south of Calais, in northern France. The battle confirmed the validity of massed longbow attacks against armoured knights, and is widely viewed as the beginning of the end of the period of classical chivalry, since the 1500(+) French knights who fell were killed not in honorable hand-to-hand combat, but by randomly fired arrows puncturing their armour. After the battle the British also dispatched, rather than captured and treated, wounded French knights, another violation of the knightly virtues. In modern terms of the battle, it was organization, tactics and equipment that carried the day. Casualties (these are consensus numbers): British- 2 knights and approximately 300 soldiers killed. French- 11 noblemen (including King John of Bohemia), 1542 knights and 2300 Genoese crossbowmen killed, in addition to “several thousands” of infantry killed.
1498: Michelangelo receives a papal commission to carve the Pieta.
1609: Italian mathematician, astronomer, physicist, and inventor Galileo Galilei presents his first telescope to the Doge of Venice. It was a 3x magnification model, with hand-ground lenses carefully placed in a stable brass tube to give an upright (i.e. not inverted) image to the viewer’s eye. The instruments became very popular for surveying and navigation, providing a steady stream of income that supported Galileo’s other studies. He, himself, used a 30x instrument to make his discovery of four of the moons of Jupiter. His continuing observations and predictions of their movements proved a core theory of orbital mechanics, and thus the validity of Copernican heliocentricity.
1609: Operating under contract to the Dutch East India Company, English explorer Henry Hudson discovers the Delaware Bay. The Company originally hired him to explore the route for the North-EAST passage to Asia, expecting he could find his way through the ice around the north of Russia to the riches of the Orient. After rounding the North Cape of Norway, the ice pack completely blocked his path. Operating on his own initiative, he then turned his ship Halve Mean (Half Moon) westward to search for the expected Northwest Passage. He made landfall in Nova Scotia in early July, and worked his way as far south as Cape Charles. Turning north without exploring the mouth of the Chesapeake, he then began his survey, entering on this day the Delaware Bay. He continued northward up the coast, eventually exploring the river that now bears his name all the way up to the site of present-day Albany. His trade with the natives and his careful charting of the coastline secured the Dutch claim to the region.
1645: Death of Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (b.1583). A child prodigy who entered the University of Leiden at age 11, Grotius was one of the most influential thinkers who developed what we know now as the core principles of international law, including the law of war and the rights of belligerents on the high seas. His most important accomplishment from this Navy man’s perspective was the codification of the idea of Mare Liberum, the Free Sea, published in 1609, whereby all nations are free to use the high seas as a pathway for trade as they see fit, a concept which became the foundation of what we now know as the global commons. Concurrent with this consensus was the definition of territorial waters as being under the sovereignty of a coastal state only to the extent that the state can actually control it. Using the “the fall of cannon shot” as the measure, it led to the long-running (over 300 years) acceptance of the three mile limit offshore as the boundary of a state’s territorial waters.
1768: Captain James Cook, in HMS Endeavour, departs Plymouth on his first voyage of discovery. The ostensible reason for the voyage is to observe for the Royal Society the Transit of Venus across the face of the sun. In Cook’s case this will be from Tahiti, which is one of dozens of pre-planned locations around the globe to observe and record the event, with the eventual goal of using the data to determine the exact distance between the sun and the earth. Once the observation was completed the following April, Cook opened his sealed Admiralty orders, which directed him to map the unknown regions of the South Pacific, in particular to search for and claim for Great Britain the fabled Terra Australius, which had long been mapped but never seen.
1776: General George Washington and the Continental Army suffer a strategic defeat at Brooklyn Heights when the British army under General William Howe outflanks his defenses and almost completely encircles the American forces as they retreat to prepared position on the heights. By late afternoon Washington recognizes they cannot hold the ground at Brooklyn and orders a retreat across the East River to Manhattan Island. While Howe is carefully digging in for a siege of the American redoubts, Washington evacuates the American army without further loss of life. Between the excellence of the Howe’s forces and the strength of the British fleet that controls New York harbor, Washington eventually realizes he will have to completely evacuate New York. On the positive side, the successful evacuation from Brooklyn ensures that the entire Continental Army remains a viable force-in-being that the British will not be able to ignore as the war deepens.
1789: The French National Assembly, in an intentionally symbolic moment, approves and orders published The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It is designed around the principle of Natural Law, similar in concept to the preamble of our own Declaration of Independence, but focuses more on popular sovereignty as the antidote to the divine right of kings, and on individual rights and democracy. Although noble in intent, it nonetheless became associated with mob rule and many of the anarchistic and subversive movements of the 19th century.
1830: The first steam locomotive built in the United States, the Tom Thumb, performs a demonstration to convince investors of the viability of steam railroads.
1859: First commercial extraction of oil, from a well near Titusville, Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania grade crude” and “Pennzoil” are a couple legacies of this event, as is Standard Oil & J.D. Rockefeller, among others.
1862: The Battle of Second Manassas (Second Bull Run)- after completely negating Union General George McLellan’s Peninsular Campaign, Confederate General Robert E. Lee takes the offensive against the Union Army of Virginia, now commanded by Major General John Pope, who has to react to Lee’s aggressive thrusts and parries in a northward campaign toward Washington, DC. When Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson captures a Union supply train at Manassas Junction, Pope believes he has trapped the Confederates (counter-intuitive, I know). What Pope doesn’t know is that Jackson is holding a reinforced position behind an unfinished railroad berm, and that James Longstreet has established his 25,000 men on Jackson’s right, completely unknown to Pope. The forces fought a mostly inconclusive battle on this day, but during the night Longstreet’s forces move into an attacking position. The fight that raged throughout the 30th forced the Union back along the same retreat route it had used 15 months earlier after the Battle of First Manassas.
1883: The Indonesian volcanic island of Krakatoa self-destructs in a paroxysm of explosions that caused the landmass to completely disappear beneath the waves of the Sunda Strait. The final explosion was heard distinctly in Perth, Australia (1,930 miles away) and on Rodrigues Island off the coast of Africa, over 3,000 miles across the Indian Ocean. The force of the detonation is nominally estimated at 200 Megatons, equivalent to about 13,000 “Little Boy” atomic bombs (Hiroshima). The explosion ejected into the atmosphere approximately 5 cubic MILES of pumice, rock and ash, creating beautiful sunsets and cold winters around the world for several years. Since 1927 the volcano has been building a new island, named Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatoa), which is growing about 5 meters a year.
1896: The shortest war in history is fought between Great Britain and Zanzibar, a result of a dispute over the accession of the new Sultan of Zanzibar. With an ultimatum expiring to no effect at 0900, a British task force opened fire on the palace, setting it afire and destroying Zanzibar’s only artillery pieces, in addition to sinking a royal yacht. When the palace flag is finally hit and knocked down at 0940, the Brits cease fire, and a complex diplomatic dance between Germany, Zanzibar and Great Britain ensues, with the British choice for sultan eventually taking the throne. Total time in combat: 40 minutes.
1899: Birth of British author Cecil Louis Troughton Smith, better known by his pen name, C.S. Forester (d.1966); his eleven books detailing the life and times of Captain Horatio Hornblower,as well as anti-hero of Charlie Allnut of The African Queen (1935). He is also the author of The General (1936), satire of a generic WWI British general, portraying for the first time the stereotype of a military leader as an unimaginative dolt, insulated by his position.
1910: Birth of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (d.1997), the Albanian nun better known as Mother Teresa, who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India in 1950. Her selfless work with the poor and destitute earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She died in September, 1997, and was beatified by Pope John Paul II as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
1911: Birth of North Vietnamese general Vo Nguyn Giap (d.2013), victor over the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, who also completed the final roll-up of the South Vietnamese army in 1975 after the United States declined to honor its commitments to the Vietnamese government.
1914: Battle of Heligoland Bight– the first naval engagement of the Great War, where the Royal Navy made a surprise attack against patrolling cruisers and destroyers of the German Imperial High Seas Fleet, sinking three light cruisers, a destroyer and two torpedo boats, and severely damaging six other cruisers and destroyers, at a cost of heavy damage to one light cruiser. By their own admission, the Brits got lucky, but the battle so unnerved the Kaiser that he restricted the German fleet from any further chance at engagement for nearly three months, creating a rift between him and the naval command that never healed.
1928: In one of the more obtuse pieces of diplomatic idealism ever to be ratified, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is signed by the United States and 14 other nations. The treaty, negotiated outside the jurisdiction of the League of Nations, essentially outlaws war as a legitimate diplomatic tool, except for self-defense. It is no stretch to say the treaty (which is actually still in force) is honored only in the breach, but it was the basis for the “crimes against the peace” that underlay the post WWII Nuremburg Trials.
1944: After four years of German occupation, and two and a half months after the landings in Normandy, Allied armies liberate Paris. The local German commander, in an uncharacteristically humane decision, did not burn the city to the ground during his evacuation.
1945: Death of Baptist missionary and OSS agent John Birch (b.1918), at the hands of communist Chinese forces. He is considered the first casualty of the Cold War, and 14 years after his death a rabid anti-communist organization adopted his name as their own. It is too bad for his legacy; during his years in China, Birch did great and honest work for his faith and his country, and was disgusted by the depredations of the Chinese communists in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese occupation.
1948: The House Un-American Activities Committee holds its first televised Congressional hearing, the dramatic confrontation between former Communist Whittaker Chambers** and not-former Communist Alger Hiss.
1968: At the Democratic National Convention taking place in Chicago, ten thousand anti-war protesters are goaded into violent action by Tom Hayden, triggering a violent counter-action by Chicago police and Illinois National Guard. The riot is remembered in popular folklore as a “police riot” despite the left wing agitation* that threatened the convention in the first place. In a summer of race rioting and anti-war protests all around the country, this one stands out for the callousness of the neo-communist organizers and the ham-handedness of the Chicago political machine, all of which was broadcast “Live, in living color” .
1974: Death of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh