1054: A supernova appears in the sky, its presence recorded by both Chinese and Arab scholars. For several months it remained bright enough to be seen in daylight. Its remains are today known as the Crab Nebula.
1776: The Continental Congress adopts the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. 56 leaders from all thirteen colonies sign their names to the formal parchment document, pledging their lives, their fortune, and their sacred honor on behalf of this new experiment in self-government. By the letter of the law, they had committed themselves- and by extension the rest of the colonies– to treason. Benjamin Franklin summarized their new plight: “We must, indeed, now all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
1782: An American force of 170 men aboard six privateer vessels slip out of Boston harbor under cover of darkness to raid Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, an important shipbuilding center in British Canada. The make a coordinated land and seaward attack, capturing one of the two blockhouses in town, including the leadership of the Lunenburg militia. After looting the town and burning a cache of military stores, the Americans return to their ships and withdraw back to Boston just as a small British relief squadron arrives in the harbor. The privateers easily outrun the British ships.
1788: The Commonwealth of Virginia becomes the 10th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
1802: The United States Military Academy opens as an Army engineering school in West Point, New York.
1826(a): Death of Thomas Jefferson (b.1743), on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of his magnum opus.
1826(b): Death of John Adams (b.1735), on the very same day. His dying words were, “Jefferson lives!” The two fathers of the American Revolution became estranged during the tumultuous presidency of Adams, but became reconciled after Jefferson’s retirement to Monticello. Their correspondence during their late years provides a treasure trove of insights into their dramatic lives and times.
1850: Birth of Herbert Kitchener (d.1916), who rose to prominence in British arms after capturing the Sudan at the Battle of Omdurman, near Khartoum. As second in command during the Boer War he planned and executed a true scorched earth campaign against Boer farmers, which included the round-up and internment of their families in concentration camps, where the death rate approached 35% . At the turn of the century he became Commander-in-Chief, India, after which he became Council-General of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. At the start of the Great War Kitchener was brought back to England as Secretary of State for War, focusing his attention on recruitment for the titanic struggle that lay ahead. His is the face behind the famous recruiting poster.
1852: Birth of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi
1863(a): First day of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg. The clash between Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union General George Meade was a continuation of Lee’s strategy of bringing the war home into the Northern states, the first iteration of which culminated in the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland nine months earlier. Lee believed that if he could force the Army of the Potomac away from Washington to defend Union territory, he could weaken them enough and create enough civilian panic to strengthen the growing Northern anti-war movement and force the U.S. government to negotiate a peace with the Confederacy. After his victory in at Chancellorsville in early June, Lee saw his opportunity to move north. He was able to break contact with Joe Hooker’s Union forces on the 3rd of June, and made a rapid march up the Shenandoah Valley, crossing the Potomac at mid-month to advance into Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, where his troops lived of the bounty of the yet-untouched farms and towns along the way. Union forces began a parallel movement north, but remained largely uninformed of the Confederate positions except by way of refugee reports. For his part, Lee lost close track of Union movements when his cavalry commander, J.E.B. Stuart made an excessively ambitious move eastward and was blocked by Federal infantry. This decision by his subordinate forced Lee to continue moving his army northward into unfamiliar territory, essentially blind. He realized though, that the two armies would eventually meet, and he chose the crossroads at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as the place where he would make his stand. Lee halted the march to allow his army to concentrate near Cashtown, just west of Gettysburg. Union cavalry under Brigadier General John Buford had similarly scouted Gettysburg as good ground for combat and established an initial defensive perimeter around the northern and western outskirts of the town. At 7:30 in the morning, Confederate corps under General A.P. Hill began attacking Buford along the Chambersburg Pike, and although the initial attack was repulsed, Confederate reinforcements continued to fill in along a semi-circle running west to north. Union reinforcements, arriving later in the afternoon, filled in the original defensive arc, but as the battle progressed they could not hold, retreating through city streets to a position on the higher ground of cemetery ridge on the southeast section of the town. Confederate General Richard Ewell chose not to pursue the Union forces, and as night settled over the battlefield, the two armies continued to fill in their defensive and offensive positions in anticipation of the fighting to come on July 2nd.
1863(b): After 47 days of an increasingly bitter siege by Union forces under Major General Ulysses S. Grant, the river fortress of Vicksburg, Mississippi capitulates, thus opening the entire Mississippi River basin to Federal traffic. The news of the fall, coming the same day as reports of Lee’s withdrawal from his Pennsylvania campaign, electrified the North, coming particularly as it did after two years of pretty much continuous setbacks on the battlefield.
1864: President Abraham Lincoln signs into law a bill setting aside Yosemite Valley in California for “…public use, resort and recreation,” creating the nation’s first national park, albeit without the National Park designation, which goes to Yellowstone several years later. The glacial valley was almost immediately inundated with tourists
1872: Birth of French aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot (d.1936), who became the first to fly across the English Channel (ou La Manche, si vous preferez) in 1909.
1876: Under the leadership of George Armstrong Custer, the United States Army Seventh Cavalry suffers a shattering defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The coalition of Lakota Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes under Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Chief Gall annihilated 5 of the Seventh’s companies, killing all its key leadership including Custer himself. US casualties numbered 268 killed of approximately 700 engaged; Indians suffered approximately 130 killed of the nearly 1500 engaged.
1883: Birth of cartoonist Rube Goldberg (d.1970), designer of thousands of very practical machines.
1898: A week and a day after landing on Cuba, U.S. Army troops under the command of Major General William Shafter launch an attack on the Spanish-defended San Juan Heights above the city of Santiago de Cuba. 15,000 U.S. troops, which included two black infantry battalions, fought against 800 fortified Spanish soldiers in the blistering tropical heat. The eventual American victory came at the cost of 205 dead and over 1,100 wounded. At a crucial point in the fighting, the “Rough Riders” dismounted cavalry regiment under Colonel Theodore Roosevelt broke cover and charged into the teeth of Spanish fire to force them from the “Kettle Hill” section of the heights.
1900: Birth of Louis Mountbatten (d.1979), last Viceroy of India. Uncle of Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, and mentor to Charles, Prince of Wales; killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb while boating at an Irish resort.
1908: A massive airborne explosion, later estimated the equivalent of ~15 megatons, occurs in a remote Siberian forest, completely flattening an estimated 80 million trees over 830 square miles of the Tunguska region. There are no known human casualties, but the blast and its immediate aftermath provide a singular shock to nearby tribesmen. Because of its remoteness and the social turmoil of the Great War, the Russian Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War, the first scientific expedition to the area isn’t made until 1927 by Leonoid Kulik.
1915: First operational flight of the radical Fokker Eindecker. The German fighter’s single wing, powerful engine, and its highly innovative synchronization cam (that allowed its guns to shoot through the arc of the spinning propeller) gave the Germans a technical step up that proved devastating to the Allied air forces.
1916: The British Expeditionary Forces fires the opening salvo of what will be a continuous, week-long artillery bombardment of German positions along the Somme River.
1916: After a week of furious Allied artillery bombardment- over a million shells expended against the entrenched and fortified German positions- “Zero hour” of the Battle of the Somme comes with a sudden silence as artillery shifts its aim-points, and whistles sound up and down the trench lines to send British forces “over the top” in what was to become one of the largest battles in the history of warfare. The Germans, though battered by the artillery siege, rose from their highly reinforced fortifications to re-establish their defensive positions and systematically begin to savage the British offensive. On this day alone, British losses were 19,240 killed, 35,493 wounded, 2,152 missing and 585 captured for a total loss of 57,470…a full 20% of the entire British fighting force on the Continent. The battle continued to rage for nearly five months until it finally ended from exhaustion, having failed to achieve any of its planned objectives.
1948: As post-war tensions between the victorious Allies continue to mount, the Soviet Union establishes a land blockade of West Berlin in an attempt to force the western Allies to accept Soviet supply of the western zones of the city, thus giving them de facto control of the entire capital. The plan does not work: instead of Western capitulation, the Russians watch as the Berlin Airlift moots their initiative.
1942: Birth of deep diving oceanographer Robert Ballard, discoverer of USS Scorpion, RMS Titanic, USS Yorktown, German battleship Bismarck, and many other underwater treasures.
1953: The first production Corvette rolls off the Chevrolet assembly line in Flint, Michigan. Price was $3513, sixty-eight dollars more than the wildly popular Jaguar XK120, at $3345. As a point of reference, ’53 Corvettes today are floating around the collector car* market, running anywhere from $75,000- $120,000 (one of them is being marketed at $274,990) depending on provenance and condition. The ’53 Jags are running between $55,000- $115,000.
1972: The first “leap second” is added to the UTC, also known as Coordinated Universal Time, defined by the moment the sun reaches its zenith over the 0’00” meridian.
1997(a): On the 40th anniversary of the arrival of aliens to earth, the United States Air Force releases a 231-page report entitled “The Roswell Report, Case Closed.” Oh, really?
1997(b): Death of French diver, explorer, and inventor of the aqua-lung, Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
1985: Birth of swimmer Michael Phelps, who as of the 2016 Rio Olympics, became one of fewer than 500 athletes since 1896 who competed in 5 Olympiads.
2016: Britons awake to find that they overwhelmingly approve of a motion to invoke Article 50 of the European Union Charter and actually resign their membership in the European Union. The vote is a stunning rebuke to the concept of trans-nationalism, open borders, and most particularly the reality of being subject to the whims and diktat of a supra-national governing body with zero accountability to the populations over which they purport to rule. A vocal portion of the “remain” side of the plebiscite almost immediately blames the result on racism, xenophobia and economic ignorance… pretty much proving the case of the “leave” voters that the condescension of the ruling elites is more a reflection of their insulation from reality than with reality itself.