1619: In Jamestown, Virginia, the House of Burgess meets for the first time. It is the first representative assembly in the English colonies.
1655: Death of Cyrano de Bergerac (b.1619), French dramatist, poet and duelist whose actual life was the basis for the 1897 play bearing his name by Edmund Rostand.
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.
1725: Birth of John Newton (d.1807), English slave ship captain, redeemed Christian, priest, hymnist who wrote Amazing Grace, and spiritual mentor to the great English Parliamentarian William Wilberforce.
1750: Death of Johann Sebastian Bach (b.1685).
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. As an aside, as his physical energy began to decay in his 40s, he became attracted to the “medicinal” qualities of opium, eventually becoming an addict who consumed over two quarts of laudanum a week.
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. The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government in 1917 during the First World War announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, then an Ottoman region with a small minority Jewish population.
1861: After the Union disaster at Bull Run last week, President Lincoln appoints Major General George B. McClellan as commanding officer of the Army of the Potomac. His organizational and motivational skills forge the army into a well-equipped and powerful force, but in the end his leadership in combat was unable to exploit the material advantages he created. In defending him, Lincoln once said, “If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.” One might consider this faint praise. General U.S. Grant, when asked about McClellan’s role as a general, replied, “McClellan to me is one of the mysteries of the war.”
1864: Battle of the Crater. In an innovative effort to break the ever-hardening Union siege of Petersburg, Lt Col Henry Pleasants, a mining engineer in his civilian life, and Commanding Officer of the Pennsylvania 48th Infantry, proposed a scheme to dig a long tunnel to a point under a Confederate hard point, where they could detonate a huge underground mine to create a breach in the defenses. The plan was approved by his Corps commander, General Ambrose Burnside, and eventually by Grant himself, who figured if nothing else, the digging would keep the men occupied for a time, even if it came to naught. The Pennsylvanians completed the tunnel and packed the gallery under the Confederate Elliot’s Salient with 8000lb of gunpowder in 320 kegs, set the arming fuses and back-filled the tunnel to prevent blow-back. At 4:44 this morning, the charge was detonated, creating a massive plume of men, debris, weapons and dirt; at the time it was billed as the largest man-made explosion in history, which it probably was, and it worked as advertised, immediately killing over 300 Confederate defenders and turning the defensive works into a massive crater 170 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. Burnside had two divisions designated to make the assault through the breach, the primary being a division of well-trained US Colored Troops (USCT) under BG Edward Ferraro, who planned to go around both sides of the crater’s rim to the Confederate rear before they could mount a defense. The reserves were an un-trained division “led” by a drunken commander who gave them no briefing at all on what to expect. General Meade, lacking confidence in the plan from the start, ordered Burnside not to send the USCT in the first wave, since the expected failure would look like they were sacrificing the black troops to no good end. This command-level dithering allowed the coming of daylight to expose the Union force and also gave the Confederates time to get their collective act together and assemble the beginnings of an organized defense. Burnside then sent forward the un-trained division, who promptly walked into the crater itself, thinking it would be a good rifle pit, but the walls were too soft to climb back out. The Confederates quickly brought artillery pieces and hundreds of muskets to the rim and began to systematically slaughter the Union soldiers. Burnside, watching the debacle from a mile away, then ordered the USCT division into the fight, and they too went into the hole, never to come out. Union losses were 3798, including 504 killed, 1881 wounded, and 1413 captured or missing. Confederate losses were 1491, most of whom were from the initial blast. Grant finally cashiered Burnside from command after this debacle.
1866: Birth of Beatrix Potter (d.1943). Peter Rabbit and friends to follow.
1890: Death of Vincent van Gough (b.1853). The Dutch painter’s work defines the beginning of the post-impressionistic movement. He is known not only for his bold colors and brush strokes, but for his increasing despondency, which eventually led to his suicide
1897: A company of 20 black “Buffalo Soldier” infantrymen stationed in Fort Missoula, Montana, successfully arrive in Saint Louis after a grueling six week march- on bicycles- across the vastness of Montana (including a stop at Little Big Horn battlefield), Wyoming, Nebraska and Missouri. The bicycle corps was an experimental group formed a year earlier to test the military viability of bikes to speed infantry movements.
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.
1907: Sir Robert Baden-Powell sets up the Brownsea Island Scout Camp on south coast of England. The Boer War hero kept it open the entire month of August; the opening is considered the birth of the Scouting movement.
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.
1914: Continuing the tumultuous descent into world war, Serbia breaks off diplomatic relations with Bulgaria.
1914: Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.
1932: President Hoover orders the US Army to remove by force the Bonus Army which has been encamped in the flats of Anacostia since late May, and campaigning and protesting in the Capitol district almost every day since mid-June. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas McArthur took personal command of the 12th Infantry Regiment from Fort Howard, Maryland, supported by 3rd Cavalry Regiment with six tanks commanded by Major George Patton. The Army formed up on Pennsylvania Avenue at 4:45 in the afternoon, while thousands of civil service personnel were streaming out of their offices at the end of the work day. Tradition says that the Bonus Marchers thought the Army was being formed in their honor, but what actually happened was a cavalry sweep directly into the protesters. Following close on their heels were the infantry marching with fixed bayonets, clearing out all the shanties littering the route. The veterans fled back across the Anacostia River to their largest “Hoovertown” settlement. Hoover then ordered the assault stopped, but General McArthur, believing the Bonus Marchers were part of a larger Communist plot to overthrow the government, ignored the President and ordered another assault across the river to clear the marchers out for good. Hundreds of vets were injured and several killed. The Bonus movement lingered through 1933, when newly-elected President Roosevelt dragooned thousands of them into the Civilian Conservation Corps during the early stages of the New Deal.
1935: Peak temperature for the Dust Bowl period- 109 degrees recorded in Chicago, 104 in Milwaukee.
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.
1943: Birth of British singer & songwriter, Sir Mick Jagger.
1945: USS Indianapolis (CA-35) arrives at Tinian Island with components for the upcoming atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima.
1945: The Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58 torpedoes and sinks USS Indianapolis (CA-35), which took only 12 minutes to go down. Of her crew of 1,196, only 317 survived the attack. Approximately 300 sailors went down immediately with the ship, while the other 880 endured an ordeal of exposure, dehydration and near-continuous shark attacks* for four and a half days before a patrol plane inadvertently spotted the wreckage and began a frantic rescue attempt. Although the ship sent out a distress signal, it was never received by the Navy command, and the fact that it overdue from her scheduled arrival in Leyte passed unremarked. The CO, Captain Charles McVay, survived the sinking and was court-martialed for “hazarding his ship by failing to zig-zag” his course after leaving Tinian** a few days earlier. Several attempts were made over the years to rehabilitate his reputation, beginning with Fleet Admiral Nimitz remitting the sentence of the Court-Martial and restoring him to active duty, from which he retired in 1949. However, the personal guilt he carried with him after surviving the ordeal eventually drove him to suicide in 1968, using his Navy-issued revolver. In October, 2000, Congress passed and President Clinton signed a resolution stating that his record should confirm “[Captain McVay] is exonerated for the loss of the Indianapolis.”
1947: President Truman signs into law the National Security Act of 1947, which gives us- among other things- the US Air Force, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Department of Defense and the National Security Council.
1948: President Truman signs an executive order desegregating the armed forces.
1948: After a twelve year hiatus since the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the XIV Olympiad opens in London.
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.
1965: Just days after doubling down on the US military commitment to South Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson demonstrates to the country that we can have both guns AND butter by signing the Social Security Act of 1965, which, among other things, institutes COLA provisions to SS payments and establishes Medicare and Medicaid programs.
1965: President Lyndon Johnson steps up U.S. combat engagement in Vietnam, boosting our troop commitment from 75,000 to 125,000.
1967: French President Charles de Gaulle, on an official State visit to Canada, gives a rousing speech to over 100,000 French Canadians in Montreal, during which he proclaims: “Vivre le Quebec libre!” (Long live Free Quebec!).
1967: At 10:50 in the morning aboard USS Forrestal (CVA-59), while conducting Vietnam combat operations in the Gulf of Tonkin, a 5” Zuni rocket from a just-starting F-4 Phantom aircraft suddenly fires from its launching tube and streaks into the full external fuel tanks of two A-4 Skyhawks on the other side of the fantail. The fuel bursts into flame under the aircraft, one of which is piloted by LCDR John McCain, USN. In the tense minutes that follow, the entire aft section of the flight deck becomes an inferno of burning jet fuel and detonating ordnance. 131 sailors are killed, 161 injured, and the ship suffers $73 million in damage, not counting the loss of the aircraft. Nine bombs exploded in the flames, the ones under the A-4s ripping gaping holes in the armored deck. The flight deck fire was finally brought under control at 12:15; the fires below decks continued until 13:45, and flare-ups continued until 04:00 the next morning.
1971: Apollo 15 lands on the Moon near the famous Hadley Rille, a prominent valley in the lunar landscape. The flight is the first to use the Lunar Rover vehicle to expand the astronauts’ radius of exploration from the Lunar Excursion Module. The landing site was chosen not only for its scientific potential (which was very high, given the geography of the Hadley highlands) but also because it was likely to be the most beautiful region to be visited by the Apollo program. The all USAF crew was particularly well-trained in geology, with Dave Scott and Jim Irwin undergoing months in the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, learning not only how to identify key geologic indicators, but also how to communicate their findings verbally through their interaction with fellow astronaut Capsule Communicators. The Command Module Pilot, Al Worden, also received geology recognition instruction, not from the surface, but in an airplane flying at an altitude that replicated the track crossing angular rates of the LM orbit around the moon. Worden operated a highly complex remote sensing package that made detailed surveys of the lunar surface using a panoramic camera, gamma ray spectrometer, mapping camera, laser altimeter and mass spectrometer. Scott and Irwin spent three days on the surface of the moon, logging over 18 hours of extravehicular activity in three separate excursions. Before climbing back into the LEM for their ascent, Scott proved Galileo’s theory that a feather and a hammer will drop at the same rate in a vacuum, which indeed, they did. Worden performed a deep-space EVA to retrieve the camera packs from his science package during the transit back to Earth.
1975: Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa disappears from a parking lot in suburban Detroit and is never heard from again.
1981: Charles, Prince of Wales, marries Lady Diana Spencer in a televised wedding estimated to have been watched by 750,000,000 people worldwide. Believe it or not, the British press had lip readers in place to record the comments of the royals while they were on display at Buckingham Palace prior to a little wedding banquet inside. The crowd along the fence began chanting “Kiss her!” as soon as they came out. Charles looked at her: “They are trying to get us to kiss.” She looked back, “Well, what about it?” After a pause, Charles relented with, “Why ever not?” The crowd goes wild.