69 A.D.: It didn’t take long: one day after entering Rome, the Roman Senate declares Vespian Emperor of the Roman Empire, the fourth one in The Year of Four Emperors.
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.
1118: Birth of Thomas Beckett (d.1170), Archbishop of Canterbury.
1606: A band of English entrepreneurs, organized by Captain John Smith and the Virginia Company of London, set sail this date 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. Due to the Trade Winds, the course that outbound ships make from England is southerly before turning west, so the North Atlantic winter would be mitigated somewhat by a transit in more southerly latitudes. Further, the departure is well after the hurricane season, of which sailors to the New World were keenly aware. The voyage did take a five months, including stops in the Caribbean.
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 basic work 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. You may recognize a derivative of his name elsewhere in the South Pacific neighborhood.
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.
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 HMSLutine, and serves in that Service until 1799, when she’s lost during a storm (DLH 10/9) in the heavily shoaled waters off the Dutch island of Texel. Oh yes: she was loaded with “considerable capital” in the form of gold, silver, and thousands of Spanish coins, to the tune of 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 tightly reasoned broadside 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.
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. 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.
1879: Birth of Swiss painter Paul Klee (d.1940), known for his colorful use of pattern and line. He created a cubist oeuvre that retains a whimsical approachability, often lost by other modernist artists of the period.
1892: Opening night for Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite.
1906: Birth of the third First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Leonoid Brezhnev (d.1982). 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.
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 ne passeront pas!” (‘They shall not pass’ was his battle cry).
At their farthest advance, the German army moved a little over a mile across the Muse River toward the city of Verdun, capturing several strategic forts in the French defensive line. With the French counter-offensive in the late summer, the line and the forts returned to French control, culminating in the final shots of the battle this day.
The Verdun battlefield is crater upon crater pocking the landscape as far as you can see, and a labyrinth of trenches and hard points still slashing through the earth. As occurred in the mud of Flanders, bodies of dead soldiers remained where they fell, eventually churned and mixed into the soil as the artillery shells continued their deadly rain without letup. The battle of Verdun became a grinder, where freshly trained regiments were sent into the trenches to relieve units who had been under fire, and whose casualty rates reduced them to 10-15% within weeks or less. Some numbers to ponder: French casualties around 542,000 (over 162,308 killed); German casualties 434,000 (over 100,000 killed). French artillery numbered 2,708 tubes, firing over 16,000,000 shells into the German lines; the Germans claimed over 21,000,000 shells into the French.
1937: Opening night for Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the world’s first full length animated feature.
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.