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 in several notable victories over the English. Convicted, she is burned at the stake on 30th May.
1473: Birth of Nicolas Copernicus (d.1543) in Torun, Poland
1621: The newly arrived Plymouth Colony elects Myles Standish as its Commander.
1685: Birth of George Frederick Handel
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. 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.
1801: After 35 ballots in the House of Representatives, and only 15 days before the inauguration, Thomas Jefferson is elected 3rd President of the United States, finally defeating his running mate, Aaron Burr. The November 4th general election gave both Burr and Jefferson 73 electoral votes each, thus sending the vote to the House. An electoral technicality- the winner needed a majority of state votes (9 needed (Jefferson had 8)), kept the election in turmoil for over three months. The logjam was broken when the Federalists reasoned that a peaceful turnover of power required that the majority party be allowed to have its choice for President. The following vote gave Jefferson 10 states, Burr 4, and two states voted “blank,” thus launching Jefferson into his highly eventful presidency.
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.
1847: The first rescuers reach the remnants of the Donner Party, a group of pioneers who left the Midwest the previous July for the promise of California. In late October, they became stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains by an early snow, and the ensuing four months saw them reduced to cannibalism as all of their supplies and oxen were consumed during the brutal winter. Of the original 89 who set out, only 45 made it to the Golden State. Donner Pass and Donner lake are named for the tragedy. Today’s Interstate 80 runs along the original route through the mountains.
1848: German economist and historian Karl Marx publishes The Communist Manifesto. The opening and closing lines of the book: “A specter is haunting Europe- the specter of communism.”, and “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a whole world to win. Workers of the world, unite!”
1864: Under the command of Lieutenant George Dixon, and with a volunteer crew of seven others, the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley sinks USS Housatanic in Charleston harbor. After completing the attack, the hand-crank powered sub mysteriously sank and remained unlocated until 1995. On recovery, her entire crew of 8 was found entombed on board. They were subsequently re-buried with full military honors in a Confederate cemetery in Charleston. The submarine itself is now on display in the recovery laboratory on the grounds of the former Charleston Naval Base. This was not her first sinking; twice before, she flooded and went to the bottom, the first time killing five, and the second time killing all 8 aboard, including the designer himself.
1865: General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army sacks Columbia, SC, creating havoc that consumes more than 2/3 of the city by fire. Commenting later, Sherman said, “Though I never ordered it and never wished it, I have never shed any tears over the event because I believe it hastened what we all fought for, the end of the War.”
1895: The North Carolina legislature adjourns for a day to mark the death of Frederick Douglass.
1902: Birth of photographer Ansel Adams (d.1984). His consistently spectacular work was the result of exceptional patience and a deep understanding of the interplay of light within both the scenes themselves and on the emulsion of his film. Besides his superb eye for composition, his photos technically represent the ultimate in depth, contrast and clarity. His camera of choice was almost always large format (70mm) because of its sharpness when enlarged.
1915: Gallipoli Campaign: Opening guns of what will become a futile 8 month Anglo-French campaign to capture Constantinople and secure the Bosporus and Dardanelles for transit of the Russian fleet. On this day, British warships begin shelling Ottoman coastal artillery positions on the Gallipoli peninsula.
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.
1922: The Italian airship Roma explodes over Hampton Roads, killing 34.
1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, ordering the forcible relocation of citizens of Japanese descent into remote internment camps. Nearly 120,000 were arrested in the ensuing dragnet. Great Britain issued a similar order for Canada on the 24th of the month.
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.
1943: First day of the Battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, the first major engagement of American units against German forces. The battle ended in a rout, with the combined Anglo-American force pushed back nearly fifty miles from their starting positions. The German commander, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, was contemptuous of the Americans but wary of their potential. In the aftermath of the defeat, General Eisenhower relieved the Corps commander and replaced him with Lieutenant General George S. Patton, who in short order proved Rommel right to be wary of American potential.
1945: American Marines raise the U.S. flag on Mount Surabachi, Iwo Jima.
1962: In the United States’ first orbital mission and Project Mercury’s third manned space flight, Marine LtCol John Glenn makes three orbits of the earth in his capsule “Friendship-7.” His Atlantic Ocean recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841)
1963: The San Francisco Giants sign Willy Mays for a record $100,000 per year contract.
1972: President Richard Nixon departs on his historic trip to Communist China.
1976: President Gerald Ford rescinds Executive Order 9066 with Presidential Proclamation 4417, which opens the door for reparations to surviving Japanese internees.
1980: 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.