100BC: Birth of Julius Caesar (d.44BC).
1099: After four years of intrigue, violence, betrayal, death, war, negotiations, prayer and fervor, the First Crusade enters Jerusalem as a conquering army. The ensuing slaughter of Saracens and Jews on the Temple Mount was such that contemporary witnesses wrote that the knights rode in blood up to their stirrups. The full story is violent and complex, and if you ask me what I think of the Crusades I will tell you it was, at its core, a counter-offensive against years of Muslim aggression against not only Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land, but territorial aggression in Europe that spread across the Pyrenees in the west and to the gates of Vienna in the east.
1191: The Saracen garrison at Acre surrenders to Conrad of Montferral, ending a two year siege of the city- a key waypoint on the Third Crusade.
1536: Death of Erasmus of Rotterdam (b.1466), best known as the first and greatest humanist thinker, biblical translator, and author of nearly 30 percent of the books circulating in the early 16th century. Ironically, despite being a devout Catholic, his incisive sense of logic and belief in human free-will decisions made him one of the an early intellectual “fathers” of the Protestant Reformation.
1543: King Henry VIII marries his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, who not only survived him but also survived three other husbands, thus becoming the most married queen in English history.
1576: Explorer Martin Frobisher sites the poorly-named landmass of Greenland. I’ve sighted the place myself a couple times from the Learjet I was flying; we even landed and re-fueled north of the Arctic Circle once on a west coast airfield called Sonde-Sondefjord. Interesting place to visit. The ice embedded in the rocks has a turquoise hue like nothing you’ve ever seen. It also is a place where you wouldn’t want to be sailing in a wooden ship.
1606: Birth of Rembrandt van Rijn (d.1669). The great Dutch painter was one of those rare artists who was both a commercial and critical success in his own lifetime
1776: Captain James Cook departs Plymouth on his third journey of exploration of the Pacific Ocean.
1789: The French Minister of Finance, Jacques Necker, is dismissed from office by King Louis XVI for favoring a re-structured tax program that would shift the burden more evenly across the Estates. In his years of service Necker was widely viewed as a highly forward-thinking reformer, even when working directly for the Crown. During the upheavals of early 1789, he took a leading role in supporting the demands of the Third Estate, but over time he found less and less cooperation from the rest of Louis’ government. With unrest growing concurrent with the dissolution of the National Assembly and the establishment of the National Constituent Assembly, high expectations were growing among the common people of Paris, many of whom looked to Necker as their voice at Court. His dismissal on this day, and the way the news traveled through the grapevine on the 12th triggered an increasingly violent mob mentality, exacerbated by the extensive presence of mercenary troops serving at the order of the King. With Necker’s dismissal, the mobs began to grow panicked over the prospect of a violent repression of the political and social movement that was energizing the city.
1789: When Louis XVI dismissed his long-time Finance Minister, Jacques Necker; the news got into Paris early on the 12th, causing immediate consternation from the various mobs* who were continually gathered on the grounds of Palais Royale and other venues. They grew deeply concerned that the Royal troops gathering in Versailles from their border outposts would be used to suppress the mobs (i.e., themselves) and take over the National Assembly. Further, most of the “Royal” troops on station in Paris proper were Swiss and German mercenaries, the result of the king and his advisors being uneasy with entrusting the capital city to native French troops of uncertain loyalty. General riots broke out all around the city on the 12th with virtually no reaction from the army or police. On the 13th, with further fears growing of an impending attack, the mob was then incited by Camille Desmoulins, a Masonic agitator, who mounted onto a table, pistol in hand and exclaimed: “Citizens! There is no time to lose- the dismissal of Necker is the knell of Saint Bartholomew for the patriots! This very night all the Swiss and German battalions will leave the Champ de Mars to massacre us all; one resource is left: to arms!” The mob roared its approval and surged to the massive arsenal of Saint-Lazaire and stole hundreds of muskets, pistols, and barrels of powder. Early in the morning of the 14th, 500 or so of the more energized among them appeared before the gates of the medieval-era Bastille prison, which held only seven prisoners but also contained a large cache of weapons and ammunition. After fruitless negotiations with the warden, the mob finally attacked. The ensuing one-sided battle killed 98 of the attackers to one of the prison guards. Recognizing the inevitable, the warden, Governor de Launay, surrendered the facility around 3:00 in the afternoon. The mob bundled him back to the square at Palais Royale, where they jostled him around as they tried to determine his fate. Exasperated, he finally cried out “Enough! Let me die!” and he kicked a baker named Dulait in the groin. The enraged mob then began stabbing him and sawed off his head, which they mounted on a pike and paraded through the streets. As evening closed in, the mobs established barricades in the streets to protect themselves from an expected counter attack. In the end, the Fall of the Bastille had zero military effect, but because of the symbolism of a royal facility falling to the citizens of the country it became the touchstone for the entire French Revolution, and is celebrated today as the National Holiday, Bastille Day.
1793: Death of Jean Paul Marat (b.1743), a fiery member of the French National Assembly and the ruling Directorate. A member of the Jacobin faction who favored radical implementation of revolutionary principles, he was a particular opponent of the Girondan faction, who were looking more for major reform than actual revolution. Marat was afflicted with a withering skin disease that caused him to spend most of his days in a therapeutic bath. On this day, he was called upon by Charlotte Corday, who claimed to have evidence of Girondan movements outside of Paris. As she finished making her case, Marat exclaimed, “Their heads will fall in ten days!” at which point Corday pulled a knife from her corset and plunged it into Marat’s chest, severing his aorta. Executed by guillotine on the 17th, she never denied her guilt: “I killed one man to save 10,000!” The Directory decided to make Marat a martyr to the Revolution and commissioned Jean Louis David to assist in burnishing his image, the main portrait of which is included here.
1798: President John Adams signs into law the fourth of four bills collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, passed in response to a high level of Francophile agitation against the Quasi-War [DLH 7/7] with that country. The Sedition Act signed today made it a federal offense to write, publish or utter a false or malicious statement against the United States government. Thomas Jefferson was particularly vocal against the law, a dispute which cause a deep breach in their friendship. This law, although it had an expiration date of the last day of Adams’ term, was eventually overturned based on a 10thAmendment ruling on Congress overstepping its enumerated powers, rather than a more predictable First Amendment argument.
1799: In the Egyptian village of Rosetta (a.k.a. Rashid), French Captain Pierre-Francois Bouchard finds a portion of an ancient stele, with inscriptions in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian Deotic script, and ancient Greek. The common inscriptions, written in honor of the 13 year old Ptolemy V, provided the first viable translations of hieroglyphics. When the British army defeated the French in Egypt in 1801, they assumed possession of the Rosetta Stone as part of the Treaty of Alexandria. It was immediately put on display in the British Museum, where it remains to this day.
1804: Death of former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (b.1755), the victim of a duel yesterday with the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr. The two had long been political rivals, but after a recent NY gubernatorial election which Burr lost to an associate of Hamilton’s, Burr became so incensed at Hamilton and vice versa, that the two took their dispute to a bluff over the Hudson River at Weehawken, NJ. Hamilton shot intentionally high, but Burr was determined to take his revenge and aimed directly at Hamilton’s torso. After his fall, Hamilton turned to his Second and his doctor, and told them the wound was mortal. Minutes later he fell unconscious and was taken back home to NYC. On his deathbed, he moved in and out of consciousness as he bid farewell to a stream of friends and relatives. Finally, in the early afternoon of this day, he died.
1815: Four weeks after his decisive loss at Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte surrenders himself aboard HMS Bellerophon, which immediately transports him and a small retinue into permanent exile on the tiny island of Saint Helena, deep in the South Atlantic.
1854: Birth of George Eastman (d.1932), inventor of roll film in 1884 and film transparencies, the foundation of the motion picture industry. He founded the Eastman Kodak company in 1892, establishing mass-produced film and standardized photo equipment that brought photography out of the expensive laboratories of the dry plate process and into the hands of the general public. In his later years Eastman was a notable philanthropist, donating over $100 million to a variety of charities and foundations.
1859: Publication of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
1863: New York Draft Riots– Remember the first day of the Union Draft (DLH 7/7)? July thirteenth saw the draft’s second lottery drawing, and it wasn’t complete before a mob of over 500 Irish immigrant laborers converged on the building where the drawing was underway and began shattering windows with paving stones, eventually setting the building ablaze. NYC’s police were inadequate to quell the riot and it ended up spreading uptown. Over the next three days over 120 civilians were killed, scores of buildings destroyed, and the riots degenerated into a near-pogrom against the city’s black population, against whom the Irish competed for the low-paying entry jobs.
1870: Death of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren (b.1809), Chief of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance, and inventor of a number of advanced muzzle loading naval artillery pieces. His legacy includes the Naval Test range on the Potomac River that bears his name.
1870: Georgia becomes the final former Confederate state re-admitted to the Union.
1914: Babe Ruth makes his major league debut with the Boston Red Socks, playing pitcher and outfield. He would soon leave this trash team and put on NY Yankee pin stripes.
1921: Former President William Howard Taft is sworn in as the 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
1923: Official dedication of the HOLLYWOOD sign, up on the hill above the Los Angeles suburb. Yes, it originally said “Hollywoodland,” but no, the land part didn’t last. Hollywood did.
1937: Birth of Bill Cosby. Hey, hey, hey….maybe not a good time to be a fan.
1943: Battle of Prokhorovka, the primary armor engagement of the two-month-long Battle of Kursk, which began on the 9th as a German attempt to perform a double-pincer encirclement of the Soviet bulge resulting from the German’s earlier withdrawal from Stalingrad. Kursk was the last offensive operation executed by the Wehrmacht on their eastern front; any further activity was halted by Hitler as a result of yesterday’s Allied invasion of Sicily. Today’s eight-hour battle pitted 494 German tanks against 593 Soviet T-34 tanks plus 37 pieces of self-propelled artillery, creating the largest armored battle in history. The Soviets were able to stall the German offensive and save their over-extended forces, but they could not exploit the action to prevent a continued orderly German withdrawal.
1948: Death of General of the Armies John J. Pershing (b.1860). [
1960: Death of Joy Gresham, (b.1915), former socialist author, best known for her Christian conversion and marriage to British author C.S. Lewis, who chronicled her suffering and death from cancer in the book, A Grief Observed.