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.
1776: The Continental Navy’s Continental Marines storm ashore in Nassau, Bahamas, under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholas. The attack is the Marines’ first amphibious assault. No surprise, they successfully occupied Nassau, spending two weeks loading British guns and powder into the little Navy fleet. For some reason the island’s governor, who so hospitably did not offer significant resistance to the Americans, complained later that the American officers drank their way through the occupation, completely draining his liquor supply.
1779: Birth of American polymath 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. Not surprisingly, the towers themselves made excellent targets for military and naval raids.
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. What occurs over the next three weeks is documented along La Route Napoleon.
1836: The Alamo may have still been under siege, but the Texas Convention of 1836 on this day declared the independence of the Texas Republic from Mexico.
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.
1847: Birth of Scottish-American inventor Alexander Graham Bell (d.1922).
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.
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.
1861: Tsar Alexander I abolishes serfdom in Russia.
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. From his headquarters 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.
1895: Birth of American General Matthew Ridgway (d.1993), best remembered for his command of U.S. 8thArmy in Korea, where he revitalized a demoralized and retreating army and put them on the attack against the communist onslaught from the North. When General MacArthur was relieved of command by President Truman in the Spring of 1951, Ridgway was awarded his fourth star and took over as Supreme Commander of the UN forces engaged in Korea.
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.
1905: In an attempt to build on his assassinated predecessor’s reforms, and to placate nascent agitation by unionists and communists, Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II agrees to create a representative legislature, the Duma.
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.
1918: Only months after completing their overthrow of the Tsar, the new communist government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics sues for peace with the Central Powers and signs the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ending Russian participation in the Great War.
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.
1932: Birth of Country Music’s Johnny Cash (d.2003).
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.
1938: Standard Oil of California finally discovers oil near Dahran in Saudi Arabia. The American oil consortium who did the exploration and development of the oil industry there went through several iterations, finally becoming the Arabian-American Oil Company, more commonly known as Aramco.
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. The B-50 was a modified B-29, using more powerful and reliable Wright Cyclone engines, a taller vertical stabilizer, and other fuselage strengthening improvements that permitted it to carry nuclear bombs (which were huge- like 8-10,000 pounds each- at the time).
1950: Birth of singer-songwriter and drummer Karen Carpenter (d.1983)
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, over 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.
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.
1991: An amateur video, taped by George Holliday, surfaces of Rodney King being beaten LAPD officers, but the acquittal of the offending officers triggered riots in Los Angeles the following year.
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 in 2017 after two decades in a U.S. prison where he continued to issue fatwas against the infidel West.
2005: Adventurer and aviation dynamo Steve Fossett (1944-2007) lands at the old Air Force base in Salina, Kansas, to complete the world’s first solo, non-stop, unrefueled powered flight around the world. The plane was a carbon-fiber wonder designed and built by the great Burt Rutan.
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!” 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) and genial bon vivant.