303AD: Roman Emperor Diocletian issues the first official Roman edict calling for the persecution of Christians. The decree gave license to hitherto unknown rampages against the Christian community, many of whom were now in significant positions within Roman society. It is often spoken that people would die for their faith. These people did. In droves.
1473: Birth of Nicolas Copernicus (d.1543) in Torun, Poland. Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance polymath, active as a mathematician, astronomer, and Catholic canon, who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at its center.
1732: Birth of Virginia planter, militia colonel, delegate to the Continental Congress, General in Chief of the Continental Army, and first President of the United States of America, George Washington (d.1799). His direct military successes during the Revolutionary War were mostly in the breach, but his widely spaced victories were all crucial to the strategic victory of American arms against the British. Washington was the unquestioned leader of the astonishingly talented group of American intellectuals who laid the foundations of our country. After independence, he could have easily assumed the title of King and no-one would have objected, but his true humility set a distinctly American tone to the office which endures to this day. At his death, his Revolutionary colleague and fellow Virginian “Light-Horse Harry” Lee spoke his eulogy: “First in war, First in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen…
1778: The Prussian Baron Freidrich Wilhelm von Steuben arrives at the Continental Army’s winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. He immediately begins training the rag-tag army in the fundamentals of professional military order and discipline. He is credited with being one of the fathers of the United States Army.
1779: Virginia Militia Colonel George Rogers Clark, the elder brother of William, captures Fort Vincennes (Indiana) from the British after a dramatic 180-mile march through the flooded flatlands of Illinois. During this march, the temps were in the low 30s, with the floodwaters not much warmer.
1819: Spain cedes to the United States its last territorial claim (Oregon County) on the remaining Florida territory.
1836: Opening guns of Mexican general Santa Anna’s siege of the Alamo. On February 23, Mexican troops under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna entered San Antonio de Bexar, Texas, and surrounded the Alamo Mission.
1836: Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis, whose small Alamo garrison went under siege, dispatches courier Albert Martin with a letter announcing his urgent need for supplies and reinforcements to maintain a strategic American presence in the Texas territory north of the Rio Grande. Martin rode 70 miles to Gonzalez, which served as a rallying point for reinforcements over the next week. Travis’ words electrified the population, setting the stage for the upcoming battle to sear itself into the memories of every Texan since that day:
To The People of Texas and All Americans In The World — February 24, 1836
Fellow citizens & compatriots –I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man — The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken– I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls –I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism, & every thing dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch –The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country —
VICTORY OR DEATH
1846: The United States Navy issues a General Order replacing the term “larboard” with “port.” For all of you lubbers who think the terms starboard and larboard are too difficult to distinguish while struggling to adjust lines in a screaming gale, all I can say is, “You’re welcome…”
1847: The first rescuers reach the remnants of the Donner Party, a group of pioneers who left the Midwest the previous July for the promise of California. In late October, they became stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains by an early snow, and the ensuing four months saw them reduced to cannibalism as all of their supplies and oxen were consumed during the brutal winter. Of the original 89 who set out, only 45 made it to the Golden State. Donner Pass and Donner Lake are named for the tragedy.
1854: First meeting of the newly formed Republican Party takes place in Michigan.
1857: Birth in England of Robert Baden-Powell (d.1941), founder of the Boy Scout movement.
1861: On the advice of his security chief Alan Pinkerton, President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington under the cover of darkness and disguise. His party skipped a planned stop in Baltimore in response to the discovery of an active assassination plot by disgruntled secessionists.
1868: The US House of Representatives votes 11 Articles of Impeachment against President Andrew Johnson.
1898: Birth of il Commendetore, Enzo Ferrari (d.1988), the Italian race car driver for Alfa Romeo, who went on to produce his own series of automobiles.
1902: Birth of photographer Ansel Adams (d.1984). American landscape photographer and environmentalist known for his black-and-white images of the American West. He helped found Group f/64, an association of photographers advocating “pure” photography which favored sharp focus and the use of the full tonal range of a photograph. His camera of choice was almost always large format (70mm) because of the negatives’ sharpness when enlarged.
1909: The Navy’s Great White Fleet returns right here to Hampton Roads after its famous voyage around the world. The Great White Fleet was the popular nickname for the group of United States Navy battleships that completed a journey around the globe from December 16, 1907 to February 22, 1909 by order of President Theodore Roosevelt.
1914: Death of Joshua Chamberlain (b.1828), Colonel of 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry during the War Between the States, hero of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, and the officer designated to receive the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. After the war he returned to his professorship at Bowdoin College, and was elected to four terms as Governor of Maine. His Civil War wounds continued to bother him after the war, finally leading to the complications that brought his eventful life to a close at age 85, adding one more footnote as the last Civil War veteran to die of his wounds.
1915: Gallipoli Campaign: Opening guns of what will become a futile 8-month Anglo-French campaign to capture Constantinople and secure the Bosporus and Dardanelles for transit of the Russian fleet. On this day, British warships begin shelling* Ottoman coastal artillery positions on the Gallipoli peninsula.
1917: The Zimmermann Telegram is exposed, making public Germany’s attempts to engage Mexico as an active belligerent ally in the Great War. In the coded message, Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann promised money and arms to Mexico if they would make war on the United States. One of Zimmerman’s key “sweeteners” was his suggestion that Germany would fully support a Mexican reconquista of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The telegram was electronically intercepted by British Intelligence when it was sent on 16th January, and the fully de-coded text was finally shown to the American embassy staff in London on 17th February. The message circulated through classified U.S. Government channels until this day, when the Hearst newspaper chain broke the story. Not surprisingly- and pleasantly for His Majesty’s Government- it created immediate outrage in the United States against Germany, and was one of the triggers for our eventual entry into the Great War in April.
1930: Clyde W. Tombaugh, an astronomer working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, discovers Pluto. The formerly 9th planet’s average distance from the sun is 4 billion miles, and it takes 248 earth years to complete one orbit. Without getting into too much detail, the search for “Planet X” had been ongoing since 1906 under the guidance of the great mathematician and astronomer Percival Lowell. The search was a result of observed differences between the actual and predicted positions of the recently discovered planet Neptune, which itself was discovered by similar mathematical calculation (vice direct observation and discovery) in 1846. Tombaugh targeted the predicted position of Planet X with systematic exposures of discrete sky sections taken roughly two weeks apart. The images were then studied through a blink comparator, a device that flashed from one image to another to show motion, similar to the little cartoons you make when you flip the edges of a stack paper. Through this process, the fixed stars will- of course- stay fixed, but planetary motion will be exposed. The images below are the ones from which Tombaugh made his discovery. The International Astronomical Union in 2006 reclassified Pluto as a “dwarf planet” residing within the Kuiper Belt, which is similar to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, except it is ‘way,‘way out there.
1936: Death of Army Air Service Brigadier General Billy Mitchell (b.1879), advocate for the nascent capabilities of air power as an arm of combat. He pretty much set the tone for future Air Force-Navy relationships throughout 1921, when both the Army and Navy were conducting tests on the vulnerability of battleships to aerial bombardment. By July, 1921, with the sinking of the ex-German battleship Ostfriesland, the public dispute between Mitchell & his acolytes and the leadership of the Navy and Army reached its nadir. He was court-martialed and convicted for insubordination in 1925, and suspended from active duty on half pay for five years. After his death, and with the rise of the actual viability of air power, Mitchell’s legacy was rehabilitated, including having the B-25 named after him.
1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, ordering the forcible relocation of citizens of Japanese descent into remote internment camps. Nearly 120,000 were arrested in the ensuing dragnet. Great Britain issued a similar order for Canada on the 24th of the month.
1942: Lieutenant Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare, flying on defensive Combat Air Patrol (CAP) from USS Lexington (CV-2), personally shoots down five Japanese “Betty” bombers in four minutes. His action earns him a Medal of Honor in addition to becoming the first U.S. fighter ace of WWII. He was lost at sea on a night combat mission in November of 1943.
1942: President Roosevelt orders General Douglas MacArthur to evacuate himself from the collapsing defense of the Philippines. MacArthur defies the President’s order for two weeks before turning over his Corregidor command to LTG Jonathan Wainwright.
1942: A Japanese submarine shells an oil refinery in Ellwood, California, near Santa Barbara. Damage was minimal, but coming so soon after the disaster at Pearl Harbor, the attack was directly responsible for renewed anti-Japanese panic and the accelerated internment of Japanese-Americans to camps Nevada.
1943: First day of the Battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, the first major engagement of American units against German forces. The battle ended in a rout, with the combined Anglo-American force pushed back nearly fifty miles from their starting positions. The German commander, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, was contemptuous of the Americans but wary of their potential. In the aftermath of the defeat, General Eisenhower relieved the Corps commander and replaced him with Lieutenant General George S. Patton, who in short order proved Rommel right to be wary of American potential.
1945: American Marines raise the U.S. flag on Mount Surabachi, Iwo Jima. The Battle of Iwo Jima was a major battle in which the United States Marine Corps and United States Navy landed on and eventually captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army
1946: American Charge d’Affairs in Moscow George Kennan sends his famous Long Telegram to the State Department. The 800-word paper outlines the intellectual rationale for the policy of containment against the expansionist Soviet Union and was the basis of our national security policy until the collapse of the Soviet state in 1991. Ambassador Kennan died in 2005 at the age of 101.
1962: In the United States’ first orbital mission and Project Mercury’s third manned space flight, Marine LtCol John Glenn makes three orbits of the earth in his capsule “Friendship-7.”
1964: 22-year-old Cassius Clay defeats Sonny Liston for the boxing heavyweight title. This was the first bout between the two, and after Liston retired after seven rounds, Clay darted around the ring screaming, “I am the greatest! I must be the greatest!” Clay and Liston would meet again in May for one of the most iconic fights of the century.
1967: Death of American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (b.1904), who served as head of the Manhattan Project in WWII. Following the war, he served as the chief advisor to the Atomic Energy Commission. He lost his security clearance in 1954, in part for opposing continuing development of the hydrogen bomb. The other part was his outspoken political opinion-making during the Red Scare, a position deemed inappropriate for someone in the AEC. After the 1945 Trinity detonation, Oppenheimer stated that one of the first things he thought of was a quote from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
1968: After a three-week battle, South Vietnamese and US Marines re-capture Hue City, thus ending the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive of 1968 was a coordinated series of North Vietnamese attacks on more than 100 cities and outposts in South Vietnam. The offensive was an attempt to foment rebellion among the South Vietnamese population and encourage the United States to scale back its involvement in the Vietnam War. Though U.S. and South Vietnamese forces managed to hold off the attacks, news coverage of the massive offensive shocked the American public and eroded support for the war effort. Despite heavy casualties, North Vietnam achieved a strategic victory with the Tet Offensive, as the attacks marked a turning point in the Vietnam War and the beginning of the slow, painful American withdrawal from the region.
1972: President Richard Nixon departs on his historic trip to Communist China.
1974: Newspaper heiress and debutante Patty Hearst is kidnapped by the Symbianese Liberation Army, a typically violent group of left-wing radicals bent on destroying American society.
1976: President Gerald Ford rescinds Executive Order 9066 with Presidential Proclamation 4417, which opens the door for reparations to surviving Japanese internees.
1980: The Miracle on Ice. The US Olympic hockey team, made up of mostly college players with an average age of 22, defeats the Soviet Union team 4-3 in the silver medal round at the Lake Placid Olympics, and then went on to beat Finland for the gold medal. The team was earlier routed by the Soviets 10-2 at an exhibition game in Madison Square Garden.
1991: American and coalition forces cross the line of departure in Saudi Arabia to begin the ground phase of the First Gulf War.
1997: Birth of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal.
Presidential proclamation 4417 and how long dit take to fund too little to late