69 A.D.: Roman General
72 A.D.: Traditional date for the martyrdom of the apostle Thomas, who spent his life after the Resurrection traveling east from the Roman Empire, spending twenty years introducing Christianity to the people of India.
1192: On his way home to England after concluding the Third Crusade, Richard I Coeur de Lion, is captured and held prisoner by Leopold V of Austria, on the pretext of some sort of slight to the banner of Austria during the Crusade’s siege of Acre. Leopold demanded a literal King’s Ransom from England before he would set him free. After two years of crushing taxation & confiscations back in the Auld Sod, Richard’s kingdom successfully delivered the required 150,000 (65,000 pounds of silver (around L2bn in today’s money)), and Richard continued home to put the usurper Prince John back in his box.
1606: A band of English entrepreneurs, organized by Captain John Smith and the Virginia Company of London, set sail aboard three small ships, Susan Constant, Discovery and Godspeed, with the little flotilla under the overall command of Captain Christopher Newport of the Susan Constant.
1620: After five weeks of surveying the shoreline of Cape Cod Bay, the Pilgrims come ashore at Plymouth Rock to begin their first permanent settlement. The group split their time between the building parties ashore and recuperating aboard the Mayflower, with no fewer than 20 men kept always ashore for defensive purposes. The plan was viable, but this first winter in the New World was brutal, with exposure, scurvy and other diseases claiming nearly half of the settlers who survived the treacherous voyage to their new life.
1642: Dutch explorer Abel Tasman becomes the first European to set foot in New Zealand. Tasmania in the South Pacific is his namesake.
1791: The Virginia General Assembly ratifies the Bill of Rights, providing the ¾ majority of the Several States, thus making the first ten Amendments part of the Supreme Law of the Land.
1770: baptism, of German composer, Ludwig van Beethoven (d.1827).
1777: A year into his role as Commissioner for the United States, Benjamin Franklin successfully persuades the kingdom of France to recognize the United States of America as an independent nation. We’d like to believe that the French took the step because of the virtues and righteousness of the American’s fight for liberty, but more likely is that Franklin helped them understand that supporting the new States would be like a sharp stick in the eye of John Bull. It was an effective move, and the eventual participation of France as an active belligerent against Great Britain provided the crucial military leverage that led to the British surrender at Yorktown.
1777: After a year of partial victories and major retreats against the Regulars of the British army, General George Washington orders the Continental Army into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
1790: Discovery of the Aztec Calendar Stone. The incredibly detailed stone was discovered during excavations while renovating the cathedral in Mexico City. Its age is ambiguous, as is its purpose, although the best guesses orient it toward a religio-calendar-epoch kind of use. Whatever the case, it is spectacular art. [Itself, is 12 feet and 24 tons]
1793: A Royal Navy raid on the French port of Toulon captures a 5th rate ship of the line named La Lutine. She is commissioned into the RN as HMS Lutine, and serves in that Service until 1799, when she’s lost during a storm in the heavily shoaled waters off the Dutch island of Texel. The ship was loaded with “considerable capital” in the form of gold, silver, and thousands of Spanish coins, about 20,000,000 Dutch Guilders (2007 value: about 81,176,969 pounds sterling). There have been half a dozen salvage attempts when new storms uncover the old wreckage, and a reported 87,000 pounds sterling was recovered in 1876. Subsequent efforts have been spotty. It’s still out there. Her bell is prominently displayed in Lloyds of London.
1828: South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun publishes a piece titled, “South Carolina Exposition and Protest,” explicitly outlining the principle of nullification of federal law* within State borders if the State finds the law unconstitutional. The proximate fight this time was over a particularly onerous tariff that affected primarily the southern trade in cotton and tobacco, and to a certain extent the exports of New England as well. But the fight over the tariff exposed a deep sectional divide between north and south, and between strong federal power and strong State power, with nullification as the central constitutional issue. The fight would play itself out repeatedly over the course of a generation, gathering in intensity when coupled with the moral absolutism of the mid-century abolitionist movement. It is no stretch to say that underlying causes for the War Between the States found their first overt causus belli during this 1828 Nullification Crisis.
1832: Birth of Gustav Eiffel (d.1923), the great French engineer best known for his namesake tower. That 1889 structure publicly culminated an engineering career that had already made him famous for his innovative use of relatively light gauge iron in trusses and construction, including designing the trusses such that they were integral to the “look” of the structures, rather than remaining invisible as supporting elements. Eiffel’s extensive studies of wind loading on fixed structures brought him into the Statue of Liberty project, providing crucial design criteria for the interior framework supporting the copper-sheeted exterior. He also designed a family of transportable pre-fabricated bridge trusses for use in remote areas, with sizes ranging from footbridges to railroads trestles. Eiffel’s post-structural engineering career focused on aerodynamics and meteorology, for which he was awarded the Smithsonian’s Langley medal for his wind-tunnel work of the forces of lift and drag.
1862: Major General Ulysses S. Grant issues General Order No. 11, ordering the expulsion of all Jews in the Tennessee military district. Grant signs off on an egregiously discriminatory order in a fit of pique over black market trading in cotton. The order generates immediate backlash throughout the country, quickly reaching the ear of President Lincoln, who orders the Order be rescinded. Grant, suitably chastened, canceled the Order on January 17th, claiming it was written by a subordinate, and signed without close reading in the haste of combat operations. The issue arose when Grant ran for the presidency in 1868, but because of its brief life, and Grant’s towering reputation as the victor of the War Between the States, the Order became nothing more than a footnote in history.
1864: Two weeks after his stunning defeat at the Battle of Franklin, Confederate General John Bell Hood positions himself for an even more futile engagement against Nashville itself. The two-day Battle of Nashville opens this day after Hood sent two of his crucial units out from their dug-in positions onto raids designed to draw Union forces out from the robust defenses they built around Nashville over the course of the last two years. Union Major General George Thomas bides his time, and on this day sorties from his redoubts to shatter Hood’s Army of Tennessee in a multi-pronged, multi-phased hammer blow against Hood’s depleted forces, eliminating it as an effective fighting force. Hood and the remains of his army moved back to Tupelo, Mississippi, where he resigned his commission in
1864: Birth of Harvey Firestone (d.1938), founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.
1872: Under the sponsorship and direction of the Royal Society, HMS Challenger sets sail from Portsmouth to begin a three year, 70,000 mile voyage of science and discovery. Unlike previous expeditions during the great age of discovery in the centuries prior, this expedition was designed around specific oceanographic scientific research that could answer questions about what lay below the depths of the lead line. The effort was staggering. Wikipedia summarized it as: “492 deep sea soundings, 133 bottom dredges, 151 open water trawls and 263 serial water temperature observations were taken. Also about 4,700 new species of marine life were discovered.” You’ve seen the name of the ship before, associated with the places or events that reach toward the ultimate: The Challenger Deep (the deepest part of the Marianas Trench) and Space Shuttle Challenger being the most publicly prominent.
1890: Death of Sitting Bull (b.1831), key leader of the Lakota Sioux coalition that destroyed the US 7th Cavalry at the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn.
1892: Opening night for Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite.
1903: After repairing the damage from Wilbur Wright’s failed flight attempt, younger brother Orville climbs into the machine, fires up the engine, and with his brother running alongside stabilizing the starboard wingtip, accelerates to a point that he can lift the airplane off the ground under its own power and fly it under control for 120 feet and into history. The photograph taken by one of the Coast Guard lifeboat crew still gives me chills, with the bracing wonderment of Wilbur’s posture, and the successful struggle of the machine to claw its way into the air. The pair ended up making four flights this day, the longest being the fourth- 59 seconds of controlled flight over a distance of 852 feet.
1906: Birth of the third First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Leonoid Brezhnev (d.1982), who really looked the part. Brezhnev’s name became attached to the communist doctrine that said, essentially, that any gains in expanding the space (both political and geographic) of the communist party were permanent, and will be defended by military force. His crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 underlined that fact.
1914: The Serbian army re-captures Belgrade from the “invading” Austro-Hungarian army.
1916: After eleven months of unrelenting artillery barrages, sniper fire, and fruitless attacks and counter-attacks across mere yards of torn up ground, the German Army makes a strategic retreat back to the heavily reinforced trenches from whence it began the Verdun offensive back in February. German General Erich von Falkenhayn claims he had achieved his objective of “bleeding the French white,” and French General Philippe Petain claims he had succeeded in preventing a German breakthrough into the interior of France: “Ils
1917: A week after the meeting between Imperial German government and the revolutionary Bolshevik government of Russia, a formal armistice is announced between the two powers. The cease-fire will eventually lead to Russia accepting the separate Treaty of Brest-Litovsk next March.
1937: Opening night for Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the world’s first full length animated feature.
1939: Premier screening of Gone With the Wind, at the Loews Grand Theater in Atlanta.
1941: A group of American Army, Marine and Navy pilots form a fighter squadron to assist Chinese resistance against the continuing Japanese onslaught of that country. The American Volunteer Group led by the irascible Colonel Claire Chennault, flies the P-40 aircraft, decorated with the famous shark’s teeth, and immediately establish a shockingly effective record of kills against the Japanese.
1945: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, acting as the head of the occupation of Japan, formally orders the abolition of Shinto as the state religion of Japan. You’ll recall that part of this declaration necessitated the Emperor publicly renouncing his status as a deity. The famous picture of MacArthur & Hirohito standing side by side was specifically orchestrated by MacArthur to demonstrate his professional contempt for the old concept of the Emperor, all the while recognizing Hirohito’s crucial symbolic role in leading the shattered nation into the American-dominated future.
1947: Opening of the Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart as George Bailey.
1965: Launch of Gemini 6A with Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford. After four orbits, they perform an in-flight rendezvous with the previously-launched Gemini 7, with Frank Borman and James Lovell, proving the validity of orbital rendezvous, a technique critical for the future lunar missions of the Apollo program.
1968: Launch of U.S. astronauts Frank Borman, Bill Anders and James Lovell aboard Apollo 8, the first manned mission to leave the gravitational control of the earth. Two and a half hours and three orbits after launch, Borman re-ignites the third stage (S-IVB) of the Saturn V rocket for a flawless Trans-Lunar Injection, beginning the two and a half day voyage to the Moon.
1988: A bomb placed aboard a Pan American 747 by Libyan terrorists explodes over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 270 souls aboard.
1989: American forces launch Operation Just Cause, an invasion of Panama, to overthrow the drug kingpin and nominal dictator, Manuel Noriega, who is captured and whisked off to Florida for trial and imprisonment. Interesting operation, and I’d bet a few of you in our little group had something to do with it. One little vignette concerns the naming of the operation: the computer that usually came up with operational names came up with “Blue Spoon” this time around, but the staff officers working on it hated the name, and made a stink with the Brass to change it. After repeated frustrations, someone was finally pinned down to answer the question about why the name change; after some squirming, he blurted out “Just because…” and it stuck.