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 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. The term 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. It is probably worth noting the date from the entry above, and realize that the jihadist warriors of Allah are not motivated by the actions of any particular Western leader or event, but by very clear prescriptions laid down in the Koran to consider any non-Moslems as infidels completely deserving of whatever death or privation can be inflicted on them. You would be correct to infer that the current ISIS surge is actually a continuation of the long-running reality of brutal relations between the Saracen and European peoples.
1248: Laying of the foundation stone for the Cologne Cathedral, construction of which was completed in 1880. It is widely recognized as the ultimate expression of Gothic architecture, and was miraculously spared destruction during the WWII firebombing of that city.
1253: Death of Clare of Assisi (b.1194). She was an early follower of the “joyous poverty” of Francis of Assisi, and founded her own monastery as a place where women could join her in a Franciscan style enclosure of worship and poverty (as opposed to male Franciscan’s gyrovague, were wandering or itinerant monks without fixed residence or leadership, who relied on charity and the hospitality of others). She was canonized in 1255 by Pope Alexander IV, a mere two years after her death. If you’ve ever visited a city named Santa Clara or St. Claire, this is who they are named after.
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 helped 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, GA and Charleston, SC, 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 was 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 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 Banestre 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.
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.”
1896: A rich vein of Placer gold is found in the 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 and his nephew Patsy Henderson. Their discovery triggers the Klondike Gold Rush, that lasted only a few years, but yielded over twelve and half-million ounces of gold since the 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 which 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, fortress of Intramuros, closer in to 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.
1914: The Panama Canal opens to commercial traffic.
1918: Incorporation of Bayerisch Moteren Werke (BMW) as an aircraft engine manufacturer, opening a factory in a suburb of Munich.
1919: The Constitution of the Weimar Republic is adopted by the post-revolutionary German Reichstag. It is designed to create a vibrant, multi-house, representative democracy, but it never lived up to its promise. Coming as it does on the heels of centuries of autocratic government, the physical and spiritual exhaustion of the Great War, and the suffocating provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, the newly-created government cannot cope with the economic and political upheavals that surge through Europe in general, and Germany in particular. The Weimar period becomes an archetype for well-meaning but dithering leadership, perfectly setting the conditions for the rise of a far more assertive autocracy in 1933.
1929: New York Yankees outfielder Babe Ruth hits his 500th home run.
1929: Riots begin in 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 in 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.
1934: Opening day for Alcatraz Federal Prison, a.k.a “The Rock” in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Given the perpetually frigid water and surging currents, no-one ever escaped and lived to tell about it.
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 Allie 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– “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. “
1960: U.S. Air Force pilot, Captain Joseph Kittinger 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 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 POW in the Hanoi Hilton for eleven months. He retired as a Colonel. In October, 2012, he served as Capsule Communicator and mentor to Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos group, who finally broke Kittenger’s altitude and human speed records. He was reportedly thrilled to be part of the new effort.
1961: The government of the communist German Democratic Republic closes all its border crossings into West Berlin and begins construction of The Berlin Wall.
1969: Three weeks after arriving back on their home planet, Apollo 11 astronauts Niel Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins are finally released from biological quarantine.
1969: Opening acts of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival