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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
1769: Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan monk, founds Mission San Diego Alcala, the first of 21 Franciscan missions in Alta California. The missions are carefully sited approximately one long day’s ride (or a three day walk) from each other, and formed the nucleus of most of California’s early cities. The trail between them became known as the El Camino Real (“The Royal Road”), which also became the first historically commemorated road* in the country. The only surviving original adobe mission structure remains at San Juan Capistrano. The missions themselves run north between San Diego and Sonoma. If you’ve ever been to California you probably recognize the bells that mark the commemorative route.
1789: 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.
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(July 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.
1853: Commodore Mathew Perry, USN, sets foot in Araga, Japan
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.
1861: Two and a half months after the secession crisis degenerated into the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln orders a Union army of 35,000 under Brigadier General Irvin McDowell to begin a march into Virginia, with the object of defeating the gathering Confederate army and putting pressure on Richmond. McDowell heads west out of Washington, DC toward the Manassas junction, with the joyful cries of “On to Richmond!” from the press and fellow citizens ringing in the army’s ears.
1862: Captain David Farragut is promoted to Rear Admiral, becoming the United States Navy’s first flag officer.
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.
1941: The New York Yankee’s Joe DiMaggio hits safely for his 56th consecutive game, a record that stands to this day.
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 an continued orderly German withdrawal.
1945: Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, and President Harry S. Truman meet in Potsdam, in the outskirts of the ruined capital of Berlin, to discuss and decide on the fate of post-war Germany and the rest of Allied-occupied Europe.
1945: Scientists from the Manhattan Project detonate the world’s first atomic blast, code named Trinity, in the desert wastes of White Sands, New Mexico. President Truman, notified of the successful test during his summit meeting in Potsdam, told Stalin on the 25th “We have a new weapon of unusually destructive force.” Stalin, showing no emotion during the exchange, privately held his own explosion with his aides and American interlocutors that he was not told of it sooner.
1947: Death of Swedish diplomat and humanitarian Raoul Wallenburg (b.1912), in the Soviet Union’s Lubyanka prison. In late 1944, with the end of the European war in sight, Wallenburg was posted to Budapest, Hungary, where he was instrumental in halting the mass deportation of Hungarian Jews by issuing them Swedish passports, and by claiming entire blocks of housing areas as Swedish cultural centers subject to diplomatic immunity. He is estimated to have saved over ten thousand lives, but was arrested as an “American spy” by Soviet political troops when they entered the city in January, 1945. Hustled off to Moscow, he was incarcerated and was never heard from again. In 1957 the Soviets issued a document dated July 17th, 1947, purporting to be from the warden, confirming the death of “…the well-known Swedish man Wallenburg, who died in his cell last night of a heart attack.” He then went on to say they went ahead and cremated the body without an autopsy. The mystery surrounding his death, compounded by credible reports of “a Swedish diplomat” in the Soviet prison system into the 1980s, and the Soviet’s lingering silence on the matter remain a sore spot in Swedish-Russian relations.
1948: Death of General of the Armies John J. Pershing
1955: Volkswagen introduces the Karmann-Ghia. The car eventually becomes a display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and remains in production until 1974.
1958: A military coup, led by Major General Abdul Karim el Qasim, overthrows the Iraqi monarchy, killing the young king and his uncle the crown prince. Qasim himself is overthrown in a 1963 coup led by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party.
1960: USS George Washington (SSBN-598) conducts the first underwater launch of a ballistic missile, the Polaris A1.
1969: Apollo 11 launches to the moon with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Mike Collins.