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.
1750: Death of Johann Sebastian Bach (b.1685). The great composer created “…what may be the most celestial and profound body of music in history,” and was the patriarch of 20 children (true!) between his two marriages, a clan of whom 10 survived to adulthood, four of whom became great composers in their own right. If you’re the least bit interested, may I commend to you a fascinating dual biography entitled Evening in the Palace of Reason; Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment, by James R. Gaines (2005). The story centers around a dinner party for the aging composer hosted by the young and thoroughly modern King of Prussia, no mean musician himself. The book weaves the development of their separate lives as markers of the transition between orderliness and traditions of the post-reformation Germany and the dynamism and cold logic of the burgeoning Enlightenment movement. Keenly aware of the power of the new thinking, Frederick at the dinner party laid down a musical trap for the old master, which Bach immediately countered with aplomb at the post-dinner concert. Impressed, Frederick then upped the ante, and after two weeks of concentrated effort, Bach presented his finished work to the King, the results of which we know today as A Musical Offering.
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. The contemporary engraving below shows him being arrested by citizens and soldiers (not shown are a half-dozen of his associates). 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.
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.
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.” 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 put together 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. Y
1866: Birth of Beatrix Potter (d.1943). Peter Rabbit and friends to follow forthwith.
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.
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.
1938: Birth of Gary Gygat (d.2009), inventor of Dungeons and Dragons.
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.
1965: President Lyndon Johnson steps up U.S. combat engagement in Vietnam, boosting our troop commitment from 75,000 to 125,000.
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.
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.
2003: Death of the GI’s best friend, Bob Hope (b.1903).