1118: Alfonso the Battler, king of Aragon and Navarre, re-conquered the city of Zaragoza in north-east Spain from its Muslim occupiers. The campaign for Zaragoza was central to a Crusade called by the Council of Toulouse in dealing with various heresies on the European continent. Note: we often consider the era of the Crusades solely in terms of the campaigns into the Middle East, but they were also called and fought against non-Christian occupation of both the Iberian Peninsula and the region now known as the Baltic states. We’ll scratch this itch more, later in the year.
1297: The Genovese warlord and leader of the Guelph faction, Francesco Grimaldi, disguises himself as a monk and ingratiates his way into the fortress at the Rock of Monaco, capturing it along with his cousin Rainier I and a small group of armed men. He held the citadel for four years, and on his death in 1309 deeded it back to his cousin Rainier I, from whom the current Grimaldi ruling family is descended.
1412: Birth of Joan of Arc (d.1431), the young French girl who rallied French troops at the siege of Orleans and found herself martyred by the British who eventually captured her.
1536: Death of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, and mother of his first heir to the English throne.
1540: Henry VIII marries his fourth wife, Ann of Cleaves, a German princess whom he admired politically, but whom he found repellent physically. Their marriage was never consummated, and after four months was annulled. Ann remained in England, taking the title of Beloved Sister of the King, and was, in fact, beloved by the mercurial king as a friend and confidant until his death. She had the satisfaction of outliving all of his other wives, and the man himself.
1610: Galileo makes his first telescopic observation of the moons of Jupiter.
1777: Building on his recent Christmas Eve success at Trenton, the Continental Army under General George Washington attacks and decisively defeats British Regulars at the Battle of Princeton (NJ). The battle is notable for two points in particular: 1) Washington himself, fearlessly rallying his faltering militia troops under withering fire until they slashed their way into the thick of the British contingent, shattering their effectiveness; 2) the post-battle decision by Lord Cornwallis to abandon southern New Jersey and fall back into the safety of New York. Although Great Britain considered Trenton and Princeton as only minor losses, they, in fact, invigorated the army and citizens of the nascent American republic into believing the war could be won.
1790: Under the requirement of Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, President George Washington delivers his first State of the Union address to Congress, at the time meeting in the temporary capitol of New York City.
1795: Death of Josiah Wedgwood (b.1730), the British potter who pioneered not only the use of high-quality glazes on his works, but also direct marketing and factory production of his product lines. He was also a prominent abolitionist whose efforts laid much of the groundwork for the ultimately successful efforts of William Wilberforce in 1807.
1815: Led by General Andrew Jackson, American forces decisively defeat an invading British force at the Battle of New Orleans, the largest and final land battle of the war of 1812, fought a month after the formal conclusion of peace at the Treaty of Ghent on December 24th. The lopsided victory helped propel Jackson into a political career that eventually led to the Presidency. The U.S. suffered 333 casualties (55 dead) against the British 2459 (386 dead).
1823: Continuing the former Spanish government’s policy of emprasario land grants to encourage colonization of its Texas territory, the newly independent government of Mexico renews the grant of the late Moses Austin, in the name of his son, Stephen F. Austin. Austin receives title to a huge swath of land between San Antonio and the Gulf coast on the condition he will bring at least 300 families with him. He does, and The Old 300 become the leading edge of a flood of American immigrants into endless Texas territory.
1870: Construction begins on the Brooklyn Bridge. In a time of engineering superlatives, the Brooklyn Bridge set the standard for greatness. It remained the longest single-span suspension bridge for twenty years after its opening.
1880: Death of San Francisco’s Joshua Norton (b.1811), self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. It may have been his stunning losses in real estate and rice speculation that sent him over the edge, but he was a beloved public figure in a city that was, even then, a showcase for the eccentric. If you remember the character of The King from Huckleberry Finn, that is based on Joshua Norton, brought to immortality by the pen of Mark Twain. Norton printed up imperial banknotes in his name, and they became an accepted local currency at the bars and restaurants around town. He persistently called for a suspension bridge to link San Francisco with Oakland via Goat Island. The eventual Oakland Bay Bridge does just that, and Norton is honored with a bronze plaque at the SF terminus of that structure.
1909: The Great White Fleet of the U.S. Navy transits the Suez Canal, marking ¾ of its politico-military circumnavigation of the globe.
1912: Birth of ghoulish cartoonist Charles Addams (d.1988)- his popular cartoon was the Addams Family.
1918: In his State of the Union message, President Woodrow Wilson introduces his 14 Points to guide postwar international relations, ten months before the actual armistice which halted the fighting. The Points will form the basis for the Versailles peace negotiations in the aftermath of The World War. I won’t go over all of them, but will highlight here several of the points that tend to come up from time to time: 1) “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at…” laying down the ideal of complete openness in international negotiations; 2) Absolute freedom of navigation on the high seas, with a caveat about closures in support of international covenants. Great Britain objected to the exception clause, and as the U.S. maritime power increased, we adopted the British position; 3) Free trade between nations as a foundation of peaceful relations. The majority of the other points concerned disposition of territories displaced by the war, with final lines drawn under the principle of national self-determination, a term which came into prominence during the Conference. The 14th point opened the discussion of an international organization to enforce the peace.
1919: At the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles, where the newly victorious Allies were busy carving up the spoils of the shattered Ottoman Empire, Emir Faisal, king of Greater Syria and Iraq, signs an agreement* with the head of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann, supporting Zionist efforts to create a Jewish homeland on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. This remarkable document suggests that the current troubles in that benighted region may not have been inevitable. The estimable Wikipedia extracted some key quotes, appended below:
“The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organization to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper.” (Letter by Emir Faisal to Felix Frankfurter, March 1919)
“The two main branches of the Semitic family, Arabs and Jews, understand one another, and I hope that as a result of interchange of ideas at the Peace Conference, which will be guided by ideals of self-determination and nationality, each nation will make definite progress towards the realization of its aspirations. Arabs are not jealous of Zionist Jews, and intend to give them fair play and the Zionist Jews have assured the Nationalist Arabs of their intention to see that they too have fair play in their respective areas. Turkish intrigue in Palestine has raised jealousy between the Jewish colonists and the local peasants, but the mutual understanding of the aims of Arabs and Jews will at once clear away the last trace of this former bitterness, which, indeed, had already practically disappeared before the war by the work of the Arab Secret Revolutionary Committee, which in Syria and elsewhere laid the foundation of the Arab military successes of the past two years.”
1940: The army of Finland completely halts a Soviet offensive along the Raate-Soumussalu Road. The Winter War between Finland and the USSR exposed the naked aggression of the Soviet state, and generated admiration for Finland’s continued fight in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Unfortunately for Finland, their opposition to Russian aggression put them on the same “side” as Nazi Germany, even though they never formed a formal alliance with Germany.
1942: The Japanese army, having swept virtually all of the Philippine Islands under its control in less than two months, opens its final siege on the remaining American forces on the Bataan Peninsula.
1947: Pan American Airlines begins scheduling full around-the-world service.
1962: In what may be considered one of the finer cases of pre-Judgment judgment, Pope John XXIII excommunicates Fidel Castro from the Roman Catholic Church.
1964: In his first State of the Union message, President Lyndon Johnson declares a “War on Poverty” that will eventually metastasize into the Great Society program he introduced the following year.
1973: Opening argument in the case of the nine Watergate conspirators.
2005: The nuclear-powered attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN-711), making a high speed submerged transit in Pacific Ocean waters south of Guam, slams- at flank speed- into an uncharted seamount, crushing the sonar dome and bow compartment, and flinging crewmen against equipment and bulkheads as she comes to a sudden stop. Incredibly, the pressure hull is not breached, and the crew manages to get the ship to the surface despite the sudden loss of her forward ballast tank. One sailor was killed, and dozens injured with broken bones and lacerations. At the shipyard in Guam, the ship is fitted with a temporary bow and forward ballast tank in order to make a safe transit back to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where her entire bow section was removed and replaced with the bow section of the newly decommissioned USS Honolulu (SSN-718).