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.
1732: Birth of South Carolina militia commander and progenitor of the modern concept of irregular warfare, Francis Marion (d.1795). Marion’s nickname, “Swamp Fox,” gives a hint of the persistent threat he created for the British forces who had earlier routed the Continental Army at the Battle of Camden. He was the primary character study for Mel Gibson’s 2000 movie The Patriot, which, I feel constrained to add, was a story told in the context of a two hour movie plot, not a documentary.
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.
1807: Birth of American man of letters, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (d.1882).
1815: Napoleon Bonaparte effects an escape from his island exile on Elba, not far from the coast of southern France.
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.
1844: An experimental gun aboard USS Princeton explodes, killing seven and injuring 20. Among the dead are Secretary of State Abel Upshur and Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer. The tragedy was the result of a product demonstration “field trip” that had all of official Washington abuzz. The new USS Princeton was the most technologically advanced and fastest ship in the Navy, carrying the first screw propeller and the latest in gunnery design. The Navy- even back then- was keen on promoting its innovative thinking, and proposed a series of Potomac River guest cruises to demonstrate its new technology to the nation’s leadership. On this day the guest list numbered 400, including President John Tyler, his entire cabinet and their wives, and the former First Lady, Dolley Madison. After leaving the Alexandria docks, the ship performed a gunfire demonstration, after which the guests retired below decks for refreshments. They were soon invited back up to observe a second firing of the cannon (named “Peacemaker;” the other new gun was named “Oregon”). At the firing, the muzzle-loader’s breach exploded, sending shrapnel and molten metal into the crowd. President Tyler was still below decks when the gun exploded and was un-injured.
1854: The Republican Party of the United States is organized in Ripon, Wisconsin. The party coalesced around anti-slavery activism, and held as its motto: “Free labor, free land, and free men,” all of which was oriented on encouraging the growth of small business, including giving away government land, in order to overwhelm slavery with the reality of entrepreneurial success throughout the expanding nation. In 1856, John C. Fremont was it first Presidential nominee. In 1860 it was Abraham Lincoln.
1954: The United States detonates its first deliverable hydrogen bomb, code named “Shrimp,” as part of the CASTLE BRAVO series of nuclear tests at the Bikini atoll. The bomb yielded 15 megatons of energy, twice what was predicted. This was both the most powerful explosion in U.S. nuclear testing, and also the worst radiological disaster, as a snow-like fallout mist irradiated an area of over 7000 square miles downwind of the blast. The Marshall islands were evacuated (too late) and the crew of a Japanese fishing vessel suffered severe radiation burns, to say nothing of offloading their cargo of radioactive fish into the local market.
1860: Abraham Lincoln gives a speech at the Cooper Union in New York City that is largely credited with ensuring his Republican Party nomination to the presidency.
1868: The US House of Representatives votes 11 Articles of Impeachment against President Andrew Johnson.
1882: Birth of Husband E. Kimmel (d.1968). Remember the Day of Infamy? Admiral Kimmel was in command of the Pacific Fleet on December 7th, 1941. He watched, clench- jawed, as Japanese carrier aircraft systematically destroyed the Navy’s complete line of battle. He and Army Lieutenant General Walter Short were both court-martialed for their roles in the disaster. Kimmel went into forced retirement as a two-star (his temporary 4-star rank stripped after the trial), and spent his remaining years in an ultimately fruitless attempt to rehabilitate his legacy.
1890: Birth of Marjorie Main (d.1975) the better half of the Ma & Pa Kettle comedy team
1898: Birth of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty (d.1963), Irish priest from Killarney in County Cork, best known* as “The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican,” whose work in the diplomatic corps of the papal nuncio during the 1920s and 1930s climaxed in 1943-45 when he spearheaded Vatican resistance to the Nazi occupation of Rome. O’Flaherty sheltered and transferred to safety over 6,500 Allied POWs who escaped from their camps when the Italian government capitulated in September, 1943. His work was explicitly targeted by the head of Rome’s Gestapo, who failed to make a dent in the flow of prisoners sheltered by O’Flaherty’s organization. After the war, O’Flaherty was honored by Great Britain with the Order of British Empire (OBE) and in the United States by the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
1914: Launch of HMHS Britannic, sister ship to RMS Titanic. Although she was fitted with improvements designed to mitigate the issues that doomed her elder sibling (double-hull sheathing around the engine rooms, water-tight bulkheads raised to the B-deck, extensive lifeboat capability), she nonetheless met a violent end in her role as a hospital ship, hitting a German mine near the Greek island of Kea just south of Athens in November of 1916. The mine ripped a massive hole in her bow, and she plunged to the bottom in less than an hour. Thankfully, of the thousand people aboard, only 30 people lost their lives.
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.
1922: Birth of Clarence “Kelly” Johnson (d.1990). The legendary Lockheed aircraft designer is responsible for some of the most dramatic and effective airplanes ever built, including the P-38 Lightning, F-80 Shooting Star, U-2, SR-71 Blackbird, F-104 Starfighter, and the beautiful Lockheed Constellation.
1935: After 12 years of running a “civilian” flight training service, and two years operating the German Aviation Sport Unit (DLV), German Chancellor Adolf Hitler orders Hermann Goering to form a formal air force in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles. The Luftwaffe’s rapid growth and fitting out with the most modern combat aircraft in Europe was met with shock, but no sanctions, by the League of Nations.
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. You would have never known we won this one if you watched TV news during the period.
1984: President Ronald Reagan orders U.S. forces to withdraw from their tenuous toe-hold at the Beirut airport, where they had been under essentially constant attack for the last two years.
1991: President George H. W. Bush announces on national television: “Kuwait is Liberated!” The Hundred Hour (ground) War is over.
1993: Inspired by the “blind sheikh” Omar Abdul Raman, Islamic terrorists detonate a massive truck bomb in the parking garage of the World Trade Center’s north tower. Seven people are killed and over a thousand are injured by the attack. After his trial and conviction, his co-conspirators went on to finish the job eight years later. Raman passed to his (hopefully fiery) reward in 2017 after two decades in a U.S. prison where he continued to issue fatwas against the infidel West.
2008: Death of William F. Buckley, Jr. (b.1925). The founder of National Review and the godfather of the conservative intellectual movement, he made a stunning impact on the Ivy League status quo with the publication of his first book, God and Man at Yale in 1951, the same year the young Yale graduate was recruited to the CIA. He worked two years for that organization and only knew the name of one supervisor, E. Howard Hunt. In 1955 Buckley published the first edition of National Review, noting that its mission was to “…stand athwart History, shouting stop!”