64AD: The Great Fire of Rome; beginning in the residential area near the Circus Maximus, the fire becomes a firestorm that burns for five days before coming under control, then reignites and burns for four more days. 2/3 of the city is consumed by the flames. Emperor Nero, away at a summer palace when the fire starts, is widely blamed for either setting it or ignoring it.
1099: Having subdued all lingering resistance and now controlling Jerusalem, the knights of the First Crusade elect Godfrey de Bouillon as the first Defender of the Holy Sepulchre, creating the first Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. Godfrey could not bring himself to take the title of “King” in the Holy City- hence the awkward title- but he acted the part, forcing Acre and a dozen other cities to pay tribute to this nascent kingdom.
1545: Following their inconclusive battle with the British fleet in the Solent, the French invasion fleet lands a small army on the Isle of Wight. The soldiers make a desultory attempt to conquer the island, but after looting and burning a few towns, they are repulsed by local militia. It remains the last direct French assault on the British Isles.
1792: American naval hero Captain John Paul Jones dies in Paris (b.1747). After his exploits in the American Revolution he served briefly in Saint Petersburg as Catherine the Great’s naval advisor. His Russian tour complete, Jones was back in Paris awaiting his appointment letter as United States Consul to Algiers when he died. His mortal remains today rest in a crypt beneath the US Naval Academy chapel.
1812: An Anglo-Portuguese army under the command of Arthur Wellesley * (later the Duke of Wellington) defeats a French army in the Battle of Salamanca. The battle cemented Wellesley’s reputation for tactical genius, as he kept his own dispositions hidden from the French while remaining alert and disciplined to watch and wait for opportunities to exploit fleeting French tactical weaknesses. The British Peninsular Campaign remained a constant drain on French resources during Napoleon’s reign. Although neither side won a decisive strategic victory, the constant coalition pressure on the Iberian Peninsula eased French pressure against other coalition allies in the French eastern European campaigns, most notably the French drive deep into Russia.
1849: Birth of American poet Emma Lazarus (d.1887), author of the poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; the wretched refuse of your teeming soil; bring these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.”
1861: First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas)- After a two day march from Washington and a short bivouac at Centerville in the sultry July heat, the Union Army of Northeastern Virginia under Brigadier Irvin McDowell attacks the Confederate Army of the Potomac (correct army names, on both accounts) of General Joe Johnson at a stone bridge over Bull Run Creek near Manassas, Virginia. The fight brought to prominence Confederate Colonel Thomas Jackson, whose regiment came up from reserve to halt a Union advance against General Bee. When things were looking particularly bad, Bee turned to Jackson and exclaimed, “The Enemy are driving us!” Jackson turned to him and responded: “Then we shall give them the bayonet.” Suitably impressed with his taciturn subordinate, Bee then turned to his wavering men: “There stands Jackson like a stone wall…rally behind the Virginians!” As the battle ebbs and flows around the Warrenton Turnpike it becomes increasingly clear to both sides that the nascent war will not be the simple game that so many voluptuaries expected. The mindset was so pervasive (“On to Richmond!”) that the upper crust of Washington society this morning drove hundreds of carriages to the high ground near the expected battlefield to watch the Bluecoats whip the Rebs while they enjoyed a picnic lunch. When the Union army began its otherwise orderly withdrawal from their defeat, the picnickers panicked and turned the escape route into a rout. The high casualty count sobered both sides into realizing this would be a long and hard-fought campaign. Union casualties: 2,896- 460 killed/1100 wounded/1300 missing; Confederate casualties: 1,982- 387 killed/1500 wounded.
1863: The army’s first all-black military regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry makes its combat debut, in a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attack on Fort Wagner near Charleston, SC. Their leader, Colonel Robert Shaw, was killed in the attack and buried by the Confederate victors in a mass grave with his fallen men. The grave site no longer exists, washed into the eternal sea by years of Atlantic storms.
1870: The First Vatican Council issues the Bull of papal infallibility. Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church which states that, in virtue of the promise of Jesus to Peter, the pope when appealing to his highest authority is preserved from the possibility of error on doctrine “initially given to the apostolic Church and handed down in Scripture and tradition”.- wikipedia.
1923: Death of Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula (b.1878), the Mexican warlord more commonly known as Pancho Villa.
1925: Seven months after his release from Landsberg Prison, Adolf Hitler publishes his magnum opus: Mien Kampf.
1933: Fifty thousand cheering people greet aviation pioneer Wiley Post as he arrives at Floyd Bennett Field in New York City at the completion of his second flight around the world. The distinction here is that he did the feat solo, using a self-developed autopilot and compass instead of a navigator as on his earlier flight. He went on to further acclaim as he investigated the problems of high altitude flight, inventing several varieties of pressure suits to compensate for the physiological dangers of low pressures, low temperatures and low oxygen. His Lockheed Vega aircraft “Winnie Mae” is on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Dulles annex.
1936: The Spanish Civil War begins. Two years after a wrenching election that installed its second left wing socialist-Marxist government since 1931, Spain awakens to a widespread army revolt instigated from the Canary Islands by General Francisco Franco. Government forces (the Republicans) quickly respond, but the army (the Nationalists) possess nearly overwhelming force against the chaotic efforts of the leftist ideologues running the government. Both sides consolidate their hold on territory by executing thousands; the vicious guerrilla war lasts through March 1939, leaving an estimated one million dead in its wake. Franco remained Caudillo (lit: guardian; actually: dictator) of Spain until his death in 1975, after which the Bourbon monarchy was restored. Both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany used Spain as a live-fire testing ground for new military concepts (i.e. Blitzkrieg combined arms raids) and political instigation.
1936: The Montreux Convention is signed in Switzerland, allowing Turkey to fortify the Bosporus and Dardanelles. The treaty also stipulates free passage of all ships in peacetime.
1944: General Hideiki Tojo resigns as Prime Minister of Japan.
1944: German Chancellor Adolf Hitler survives an assassination attempt led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg.
1946: Jewish terrorists of the Irgun movement, including future Prime Minister Manachem Begin, bomb the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, headquarters of the civil and military administration of British Palestine.
1949: The United States Senate ratifies the North Atlantic Treaty, creating for the first time an entangling alliance warned about by President Washington.
1954: As the Battle of Dien Bien Phu continued to play out, the Geneva Conference on Indochina agrees to divide Vietnam into a northern zone governed by the Vietminh party of Ho Chi Minh, and a southern zone governed by the State of Vietnam, a nominal republic. The conference was attended by the USSR, United States, France, the UK and the Peoples Republic of China, none of whom were happy with the decision, especially since the going in position for all parties was a unified state. You will note that actual Vietnamese representation was not part of the decision matrix.
1961: Astronaut Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom makes the United States’ second flight into space aboard the Liberty Bell 7. His 15 minute sub-orbital flight reaches an apogee of 118 miles and lands 300 miles downrange from Cape Canaveral. After touchdown, the prototype explosive hatch on the capsule fires, opening the cockpit to seawater which nearly drowns Grissom. The recovery helicopter cannot keep the capsule from sinking and cuts it free as its wheels touch the water, after which they pluck the foundering astronaut* out of the water, his space suit filled with multiple gallons of the Atlantic. Grissom went on to be the first American to fly twice into space (Gemini 3, with John Young), and was commander of the first Apollo mission, in which he and fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in a fire on the launch pad in January, 1967.
1976: Atlanta Braves slugger Hank Aaron smacks his 755th and final home run.
1982: The Pittsburgh Pirates’ first baseman & left fielder Willie Stargell nails his final home run, number 475, ranking 30th on the all-time list, tied with Stan Musial and right behind Lou Gherig’s 493.
1997: After a completing her first extensive rebuilding since the 1930s, USS Constitution sails from Marblehead Harbor under her own power for the first time in 116 years.
2003: United States troops of the 101st Airborne Division, making a coordinated attack on a protected Iraqi compound, kill Uday and Qusay Hussein.