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.
1431: After finally defeating the French forces of Charles VII, the English army, now occupying north-central France, begins a heresy trial of 19 year old Joan of Arc, the young peasant girl whose visions from God induced her to lead the armies of France into several notable victories over the English. Convicted, she is burned at the stake on 30th May.
1685: Birth of George Frederick Handel (d.1759), second only to J.S. Bach in his mastery of the Baroque musical form.
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. His humility set a distinctly American tone to the office of President (he refused to be a king). 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. Through the flood. During this march, the temps were in the low 30s, with the floodwaters not much warmer.
1786: Wilhelm Grimm, brother of Jacob, is born (d.1859).
1819: Spain cedes to the United States its last territorial claim (Oregon County) on remaining Florida territory.
1836: Opening day of Mexican general Santa Anna’s siege of the Alamo.
1836: Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis, whose small Alamo garrison went under siege yesterday, 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.
1854: First meeting of the newly formed Republican Party takes place in Michigan.
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 discovery of an active assassination plot by disgruntled secessionists.
1895: The North Carolina legislature adjourns for a day to mark the death of Frederick Douglass.
1848: German economist and historian Karl Marx publishes The Communist Manifesto. The opening and closing lines of the book: “A specter is haunting Europe- the specter of communism.” “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a whole world to win. Workers of the world, unite!”
1857: Birth in England of Robert Baden-Powell (d.1941), founder of the Boy Scout movement.
1868: The US House of Representatives votes 11 Articles of Impeachment against President Andrew Johnson.
1890: Birth of Marjorie Main (d.1975) the better half of the Ma & Pa Kettle comedy team.
1902: Birth of photographer Ansel Adams (d.1984). His consistently spectacular work was the result of exceptional patience and a deep understanding of the interplay of light within both the scenes themselves and on the emulsion of his film. Besides his superb eye for composition, his photos technically represent the ultimate in depth, contrast and clarity. 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.
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.
1916: The Battle of Verdun begins with a German artillery barrage on the French fortress city. The battle ends 10 months later with the lines of contact essentially unmoved from their opening positions. The cratered landscape is littered with the corpses of 143,000 Germans and 162,440 French soldiers, many of whom remain in situ to this day in the French soil. Total casualties are over 750,000 with some reasonable estimates approaching a million.
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 16thJanuary, 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.
1922: The Italian airship Roma explodes over Hampton Roads, killing 34.
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. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is named after him.
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.
1945: American Marines raise the U.S. flag on Mount Surabachi, Iwo Jima.
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 an 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.
1959: Lee Petty wins the first Daytona 500.
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.
1968: After a vicious three week battle, South Vietnamese and US Marines re-capture Hue City, thus ending the Tet Offensive, 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.
1972: President Richard Nixon arrives in 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.
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.”
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: The San Francisco Giants sign Willy Mays’ godson Barry Bonds for a record $22,900,000 per year contract.