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 yesterday 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.
1715: A Spanish treasure fleet of 11 ships departs Havana, stuffed to the gunwales with gold, silver and precious stones from the New World. Seven days later, the entire fleet founders and is lost in a hurricane off the coast of southern Florida. Treasure hunters have long sought the wrecks, without success. This is not to be confused with entrepreneur and explorer Mel Fisher’s 1985 discovery and excavation of the wreck of the Senora de Atocha, which was not from this fleet, but was lost under similar circumstances in 1622.
1778: First Battle of Ushant- The French government, taking an early opportunity to stick it in the eye of “L’Albion perfide” in support of their new American ally, sends a fleet of twenty-nine ships to do battle with the Royal Navy. They meet thirty British ships, with HMS Victory in the vanguard, off the French island of Ushant near the western approaches of La Manche (or, the English Channel, if you prefer). Although no ships were captured or sunk on either side, the British suffered over 1100 casualties, including 407 killed, compared to just over 500 casualties in the French fleet.
1794: After a year in office as head of the ill-named Committee of Public Safety, during which he instigated the frenzied bloodletting of Le Terreur, Citizen Maximilian Robespierre is arrested by what passes as responsible authorities in the French Revolutionary government. What finally ended Robespierre’s reign was not just the 17,000+ heads he ordered lopped off already, it was the sudden increase of executions that came from his brainchild, Law of 22 Prarial (10 June). The law established a tribunal that was no more than a court of condemnation which dispensed with the bothersome trouble of evidence and procedures and witnesses: it permitted executions to be carried out under the simple suspicion of anti-revolutionary activity by any citizen. As a result, the intervening six weeks between its passage and his own execution on the 28th saw Robspierre’s new law responsible for 1285 new guillotine deaths. Like his confederates, he attempted to commit suicide with the pistol shown in his right hand, but he succeeded only in shattering his jaw. Executed without trial the next day, he was held in the same dungeon as Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. His last recorded words were to the doctor who held his bloody jaw together with a bandage, a simple “merci.” On the 28th, he was the last one of his group to go to the scaffold. When the blade was drawn into position, he was placed face up, un-blindfolded so he could watch the whole event. The executioner, in clearing away his neck, ripped the handkerchief off of his jaw, causing him to scream in agony until, at last, the blade fell and silenced him forever.
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
1834: Death of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (b.1772), English poet, literary critic and debater, best known as the author of epic poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. His writings profoundly influenced both the Romantic movement in Europe and the Transcendentalist movement in the United States.
1847: Founding day for the Republic of Liberia, organized and funded by freed American slaves through the American Colonization Society (ACS), who in 1822 began repatriating emancipated slaves to the West African Pepper Coast. They took with them the ideals of freedom from American society, and named their capital city Monrovia, after the fifth President of the United States, who was a prominent supporter of the colonization, along with a huge majority of American leadership and society. By this date, the population of “Americans” was enough to declare independence and form a functioning constitutional government, with the free-born Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1809-1876) of Norfolk, Virginia elected as the first President.
1847: Mormon pioneers under the leadership of Brigham Young arrive in the Salt Lake Valley, where they end their flight from Illinois to create a new society in the Utah territory.
1848: Birth of Arthur Balfour (d.1930), 33rd Prime Minister of Great Britain, and author of the Balfour Declaration.
1898: Continuing the earlier success of forcibly evicting Spain from her worldwide island empire in Cuba, Guam and the Philippines, the United States invades Puerto Rico, landing at Guanica after two months of preparatory shelling of San Juan and its environs.
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. NOTE: Civil War naming conventions varied between North and South; the North named battles after significant geographic landmarks (rivers, creeks, mountains, etc.), while the South generally named them after the nearest town or settlement. Bull Run- Manassas and Antietam- Sharpsburg are two of the more prominent examples of this little proclivity.
1903: Ford Motor Company sells its first car, a “quadracycle.”
1909: French aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot, flying a machine of his own design* and construction, takes off from a field in Calais, and 33 minutes later, becomes the first man to fly across the English Channel (ou La Manche, si vous preferez)
1914: The Empire of Austria-Hungary issues an ultimatum to the Republic of Serbia to allow Austria to conduct the investigation and trial of whomever it was that shot Archduke Ferdinand last month. To no-one’s surprise, Serbia rejects the demand, setting in motion Austrian plans that have been in place since 1912 to once and for all crush Serbian nationalism and its constant interference in Bosnia. During the post-assassination dragnet, one of the conspirators spills his guts, leading not only to the arrest of several more conspirators, but also to six bombs built by the Serb arsenal, four pistols, training documentation, suicide pills, and a map, annotated with locations of the Gendarmerie and escape routes out of Sarajevo. Leading up to this ultimatum were a series of diplomatic notes and tense diplomacy between Austria and Germany, the bottom line being that Germany needed to goad Austria into declaring war in order to trigger a wider war with France and Russia for which they were much better prepared than either. From the Austrian perspective, it was crucial to ensure Germany would support an Austrian mobilization for yet another Balkan war, particularly since Russia had signaled its support for Serbia. Germany, in fact, gave a Austria a famous diplomatic “Blank Cheque” to destroy Serbia. To help prop up the façade that Germany was caught completely unawares by the ultimatum, the entire General Staff, the Kaiser, and the majority of his ministers ostentatiously went on vacation on the 23rd.
1914: Continuing the tumultuous descent into world war, Serbia breaks off diplomatic relations with Bulgaria.
1929: The Fascist state of Italy bans the use of foreign words in the Italian language.
1936: With the Spanish Civil War rapidly becoming proxy for all of the political and ideological tensions building throughout Europe, the Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy agree to send military aid to the Nationalists of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
1941: Upping the diplomatic ante in response to Japan’s sudden occupation of Indo-China, President Roosevelt seizes all Japanese assets held in the United States.
1942: The National Socialist German government opens the Treblinka extermination camp.
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.
1956: Forty-five nautical miles south of Nantucket Island, the Swedish liner MS Stockholm collides with Italian luxury liner SS Andrea Doria in a heavy fog, destroying the bow of Stockholm and fatally puncturing the hull of Andrea Doria, which capsizes and sinks the next day. 51 people die in the collision. The tragedy sparked a number of safety improvements for the shipping industry, not the least of which was mandating that a functioning radio be installed for use on the navigation bridge, instead of in its own space elsewhere. True… In 1956: Radio Rooms- delivering notes by pneumatic tubes…unbelieveable. The wreckage is a popular and dangerous dive site, considered by many to be “the Mount Everest of diving” because of its depth (~160 feet at the top) and the strong currents that surge through the sound
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 Caribbean Sea. 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.
1969: The crew of Apollo 11 splashes down in the Pacific Ocean, completing President Kennedy’s goal of sending a man to the moon and safely returning to Earth. In an odd display of the concept of “an abundance of caution” over an unknown threat of extraterrestrial infection, the crew are required to don Biological Isolation Garments before opening the hatch to the Command Module, and a disinfectant crew follows them all the way to an Airstream trailer outfitted as a biological isolation living space, where they remain ensconced with a flight surgeon for 21 days.
1973: Death of Eddie Rickenbacker (b.1890), pioneering race car driver, World War I fighter ace (26 confirmed kills), owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and CEO of Eastern Airlines. Rickenbacker also acted as President Roosevelt’s personal courier during World War II, commandeering a B-17 to transport him to meet with General Douglas MacArthur on a subject that remains unknown to this day. During the trip across the Pacific, the crew became lost, and the pilot was forced to ditch the aircraft at sea, which led to an ordeal of survival for 26 days in a rubber raft. Rickenbacker would always credit God-directed miracles for their survival, most notably the time when a seagull alighted on his head and remained there for nearly an hour while Rickenbacker slowly reached up and captured it. They carefully divided all the parts evenly, which kept them alive for several more days. During his time at the helm of Eastern, he wrote in his autobiography what many of us in the aviation world believe is a fundamental truth: “I have never liked to use the word ‘safe’ in connection with either Eastern Airlines or the entire transportation field; I prefer the word ‘reliable.’”
2003: Death of the GI’s best friend, Bob Hope.