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. Those of you interested in the perplexing life and death of “The Maid” would do well to read a very sympathetic biography of her written by Mark Twain, of all people. No kidding. It is a work of deep research and great tenderness, much out of character from the rest of his corpus.
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.
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. He was the unquestioned leader of the astonishingly talented group of American intellectuals who laid the foundations of our country. After independence, Washington 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.
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: Samuel Colt is granted a US patent for the Colt revolver.
1848: German economist and historian Karl Marx publishes The Communist Manifesto. If you know nothing else about his corrosive thesis, you should know the opening and closing lines of the book: “A specter is haunting Europe- the specter of communism.” (Truer words were never spoken). And if you had the patience to grind your way to the end, you’d find, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a whole world to win. Workers of the world, unite!”
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 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.
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. What did change is the shattered and cratered landscape, littered with the corpses of 143,000 Germans and 162,440 French soldiers, many of whom remain in situ to this day in the tortured French soil. Total casualties are over 750,000 with some reasonable estimates approaching a million.
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.
1922: The Italian airship Roma explodes over Hampton Roads, killing 34.
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.
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.
1942: The good citizens of Los Angeles, already hyped up from yesterday’s 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.
1945: American Marines raise the U.S. flag on Mount Surabachi, Iwo Jima.
1945: Turkey, recognizing the inevitable, declares war on Germany.
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.
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.
1980: “Do You Believe in Miracles? Yes!!!!” – Al Michaels call of 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.