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.
1565: Founding of Rio de Janeiro.
1570: Pope Pius V excommunicates Elizabeth I, Queen of England. This served to consolidate her position on the then-still-tenuous Protestant hold on the English crown.
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.
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.
1779: Birth of Joel Roberts Poinsett (d.1851), a congressman, physician, botanist, statesman, and the first U.S. Minister to Mexico (prior to our sending an ambassador), where he spent a significant amount of time cataloging the varieties of flora in the southern part of the country. He is best known today for bringing to the United States the red-leafed “Christmas-Eve flower” that now bears his name.
1791: The French Republic, in response to an urgent need to deal with persistent English threats along the coast, builds the first of a tightly interlaced series of semaphore towers, or “optical telegraphs,” to rapidly communicate between the frontiers and the capital in Paris. The towers in France used a series of rotating and articulated arms to create coded characters. Other countries used different types of open and closed panels or different types of arms, but the principle remained the same: the most distant lookout would spot some kind of listed activity offshore and immediately report it to the next tower along the line. The towers themselves made excellent targets for military raids.
1807: Birth of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
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, 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.
1836: Samuel Colt is granted a US patent for the Colt revolver.
1845: President John Tyler signs a bill authorizing the annexation of the Republic of Texas. Texas is the only one of the Several States to have a legitimate secession clause in its annexation. Texas is, in fact, the only State that was annexed as a formerly sovereign state, not as a federal territory from which a State would be organized. The decade that surrounded Texas’s eventual integration into the United States remains a source of identity for Texans everywhere.
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.
1861: Tsar Alexander I abolishes serfdom in Russia.
1872: Yellowstone National Park is established.
1898: Birth of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, 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: Death of Joshua Chamberlain, 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
1924: Birth of Deke Slayton, one of the original 7 Mercury Astronauts, who had the distinction of being grounded from the flight program for reasons of a suspected heart murmur. He remained in NASA, however, becoming head of the Astronaut Office, which controlled astronaut selection and flight assignments. After completion of the dangerous and dramatic Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, Slayton was finally released for flight as Docking Module Pilot of the Apollo-Soyouz Test Project, a 1975 earth orbital mission that set the conditions for continued U.S.- Russian cooperation in space
1932: Birth of Johnny Cash
1932: In England, birth of Elizabeth Taylor
1932: Charles Augustus Lindbergh III, infant son of Lucky Lindy and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh, is kidnapped from their home in East Amwell, NJ. In mid-May, the boy’s body was discovered not far from the Lindbergh’s home, with death indicated from a massive blow to the head.
1949: A USAF B-50 Superfortress, under the command of Captain James Gallagher, arrives at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, after completing a 94 hour, non-stop circumnavigation of the globe. The crew performed four aerial refuelings, meeting Air Force tankers over Lajes airfield in the Azores, Dahran Airfield in Saudi Arabia, Clark AFB in the Philippines, and Hickam AFB in Hawaii.
1950: Birth of singer-songwriter and jazz drummer Karen Carpenter.
1953: Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin collapses from a stroke. He dies four days later.
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.
1964: 22 year old Cassius Clay defeats Sonny Liston for the boxing heavyweight title.
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.
2008: Death of William F. Buckley, Jr.. The founder of National Review and the godfather of the conservative intellectual movement, he made a brilliant 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 the National Review, noting that its mission was to “…stand athwart History, shouting stop!” In addition to his print journalism, Buckley hosted the nation’s longest-running television program, PBS’ Firing Line. He was an avid sailor (making two crossings of the Atlantic, and one of the Pacific).