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.
1570: Pope Pius V excommunicates Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Although one could speculate on the actual spiritual result of this action, the political end ably served to consolidate her position on the then-still-tenuous Protestant hold on the English crown.
1685: Birth of George Frederick Handel (d.1759), second only to J.S. Bach in his mastery of the Baroque musical form.
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.
1786: Wilhelm Grimm, brother of Jacob, is born (d.1859).
1836: Samuel Colt is granted a U.S. patent for the Colt revolver.
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.
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.
1919: The State of Oregon puts a 1cent per gallon tax on gasoline, becoming the first state in the Union to levy a gas tax.
1933: USS Ranger (CV-4) is launched up the James River in Newport News, Virginia. Although it is the fourth US Navy ship to carry a full flight deck, it is the first one designed from the keel up as a dedicated aircraft carrier. Ironically, despite its large number of innovative features, it was far less successful operationally than the two earlier cruiser conversions, USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3). Among other things, Ranger featured folding smokestacks to pull boiler gasses and smoke away from the flight deck, and thin parking outriggers to help move parked airplanes off of the deck’s operational area. Pilots’ “ready rooms” were nothing more than wide spots in the passageways. Because of the large number of its un-tried innovations, the whole system failed to live up to its warfighting promise. But its design errors were well noted and rectified by the follow-on designs of the Yorktown and Essex class carriers that went on to glory in the Pacific war. Ranger spent most of WWII on anti-submarine patrol in the Atlantic, in addition to ferrying USAAC aircraft to the ETO. (Our Navy’s latest carrier is USS Gerald Ford (CVN-78) with John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) under construction. Long-lead funding is also in place for the next USS Enterprise (CVN-80) and the just-named USS Doris Miller (CVN-81).
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.
1942: The good citizens of Los Angeles, already hyped up from the Japanese submarine attack on the oil refinery up the coast, woke up this morning asking themselves what the heck was going on last night, when between 7:30 PM and 4:00 AM the coastal anti-aircraft batteries started a massive fullisade of AA fire at an unidentified object flying over the coastline. As the firing progressed, more objects were spotted which triggered more firing from more batteries. The bulk of the shooting occurred around 3:30 AM when over 1,400 shells were discharged at… well… no one really knows. Secretary of War Stimson released a statement saying it was nothing, but the local gunners swore they saw something. The local weatherman admitted to releasing a weather balloon at 1:30, but no one believed the Army was trigger-happy enough to shoot at a weather balloon. In the end, the locals chalked it up to nerves, although Stimson’s statement became immediate fodder for conspiracy theories, including trying to cover up the presence of UFOs along with a nefarious scheme to force LA’s burgeoning defense industries away from the coast.
1868: The US House of Representatives votes 11 Articles of Impeachment against President Andrew Johnson.
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.
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.
1945: Turkey declares war on Germany.
1945: American Marines raise the U.S. flag on Mount Surabachi, Iwo Jima.
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.
1974: Newspaper heiress and debutante Patty Hearst is kidnapped by the Symbianese Liberation Army.
1991: American and coalition forces cross the line of departure in Saudi Arabia to begin the ground phase of the First Gulf War.