1099: The First Crusade– Low on supplies, and finding themselves encamped on arid ground after they failed to initially breach the fortified walls of Jerusalem, the 15,000 men of the First Crusade respond to a vision by the priest Peter Desiderius to purify themselves by a three day fast, and then make a pious demonstration of marching barefoot around the city, mimicking the Hebrews’ actions at Jericho. This day saw both the completion of the fast and the demonstration around the city, and stimulated a public rapprochement between bickering factions in the Crusader army. One week later, the final assault on Jerusalem will begin.
1189: Richard the Lionhearted is crowned King of England. The son of French King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, he also ruled as Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Ireland, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany. You will note that the vast majority of these realms are in France: Richard spent only six months or so on the Auld Sod, complaining that it was “always rainy.” But Britons remained proud of his military prowess and continued to hold him up as the embodiment of British virtues, even as they were perpetually taxed to pay for not only his crusades, but also his literal King’s Ransom, which finally freed him from imprisonment in Austria on return from the Holy Lands.
1415: Death of Bohemian religious reformer Jan Hus (b.1369), burned at the stake for heresy. An early precursor to the great Protestant Reformation that began a century later, Hus was deeply influenced by the teachings of Briton John Wycliffe, and brought back to Bohemia new religious thinking that shocked the established church with its emphasis on the individual over the institution in salvation. He played a central role during the papal schism between Rome and Avignon. He wrote against the European papal crusades and the sales of indulgences. He was excommunicated by Pope Alexander V in 1409, but the Bohemian government took his side against the pope. Tensions continued over the next several years, until Prince Sigsmund of Hungary convened the Council of Constance to settle the dispute once for all. Despite promise of safe passage, Hus was arrested and imprisoned. During his trial he was read 39 charges against him, all derived from excerpts from his and Wycliffe’s writings, but framed in the context of their threat to the authority of both church and state. Repeatedly asked to recant, he refused, denying that anything written was contrary to the Bible. His fate thus sealed, he was on this day taken to the cathedral in Constance, dressed in priestly vestments. He was repeatedly asked to recant, and with each denial a part of the vestment was torn from his person. His degradation continued to the point of being shorn and stripped, then tied to the stake with a massive pile of straw heaped around him. At the final request for recantation, he declined with the words, “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.” After his death, his bones were dug up and re-burned, and his ashes scattered at sea.
1535: Death of Sir Thomas More (b.1478), executed for treason against King Henry VIII. The brilliant humanist philosopher and the king’s recent Lord High Chancellor refused to countenance Henry’s annulment from Catherine of Aragon, and denied the king’s recently assumed role as head of the Church in England, writing, “No temporal man may be the head of the spirituality.” More’s strong defense of papal authority in matters spiritual put him deeply at odds with the king and led to his removal from office and subsequent trial and execution. In a nominal commutation of his sentence, Henry averred that More’s earlier status permitted he be beheaded rather than hanged, drawn and quartered as the punishment for treason. When he mounted the execution scaffold he turned to the sheriff: “I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, seem me safe up; and for my coming down, I can shift for myself… I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” His body was buried in an unmarked grave in the Tower of London, his head fixed on a pike over London Bridge for a month after the execution, then rescued by his daughter and buried in the Roper family vault in Canterbury. His death was (and is) widely seen as a travesty of justice. Winston Churchill wrote, “The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a noble and historic stand. They realized the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom…Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counselor, but a system, which…had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.” More was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1886 and was canonized, along with John Fisher, in 1935. He is remembered in the literary world as A Man for All Seasons.
1775: Three months after Britain clamped martial law on Boston and the Massachusetts Militia fought back at Lexington and Concord, General George Washington arrives at Cambridge to assume command of the fledgling Continental Army.
1775: Nearly four months after the breakout of open conflict, and a day after George Washington took command of what passed for a Continental Army, the Second Continental Congress approves the “Olive Branch Petition,” appealing to King George that the American colonies are not really seeking independence, and recommending that the Crown and colonies negotiate tax and trade policies in order to avoid war. John Adams is against it, reasoning that war is essentially inevitable, but the petition couldn’t hurt, so he didn’t block its passage.
1789: The French National Assembly, which on the 17th of June formed itself out of an uneasy alliance between the 3rd and 2nd Estates of the Estates Generale, almost immediately became embroiled with both the Crown and the 1st Estate over its legitimate authority. Banned from the Estates venue, on the 20th of June it met on a tennis court and took The Tennis Court Oath, which committed the Assembly not to adjourn until it had created a new national constitution. By this day, the Crown had moderated its demands on the group, and they, in turn, re-designated themselves the National Constituent Assembly, and assumed unto themselves sole legislative authority, an assertion not yet universally agreed upon. It did, however, provide a viable venue for the continued transformation- to full revolution– of the French government.
1798: The Quasi-War with France– After four years of increasing tensions between the United States and the revolutionary French Republic, including repeated capture of American merchant ships by French privateers, Congress on this day repeals all treaties with France. This includes canceling our Revolutionary War debt to France, justified on the basis that the money was owed to the Crown and not the Republic. The action infuriated the French government, who increased its issue of Letters of Marque in order to continue harassing American shipping. With its entire navy in layup after the war, the American coastline is completely naked to attacks. President Adams re-activated 25 ships, who go on to distinguish themselves by capturing 22 privateers and deterring hundreds of attacks on American shipping. The conflict lasts nearly two years, until Napoleon Bonaparte takes control of the French Directory and focuses French attentions elsewhere.
1839: Birth of John D. Rockefeller (d.1937): Cleveland native, oilman, industrial titan, and philanthropist.
1846: U.S. troops occupy Monterrey and Yerba Buena (San Francisco), beginning the American conquest of California.
1846: Congress authorizes the retrocession to Virginia of District of Columbia lands south of the Potomac River. So the Pentagon is, in reality, not in DC. Something along these lines, by the way, would be a viable solution to the problem of “representation” for District residents.
1853: Commodore Matthew Perry, with a United States Navy fleet, dubbed the “Black Ships” by the Japanese, steams into Tokyo Bay to begin negotiations to open trade relations between the United States and Japan.
1863: Third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. The opening guns sounded at dawn, as Union artillery in the northern sector fired on Confederate positions on Culp’s hill, followed by repeated infantry attacks against the moderately reinforced sections of the Confederate lines. The sudden intensity of the fighting forced Lee to alter his initial day’s strategy of following up on yesterday’s unsuccessful attempt to turn the Union left at Little Round Top with a similar, but larger effort there accompanied by general assaults across the remainder of the Union line. Accordingly, Lee shifted Longstreet’s command back to the north, to combine his troops with Major General George Pickett’s Virginia infantry, and to make a concentrated effort against the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. As the fighting at Culp’s Hill wound down late in the morning, Lee repositioned his artillery to support Longstreet’s expected movements. Knowing he was running low on artillery ammunition, Lee at 1:00 in the afternoon ordered a tightly coordinated barrage against the center of the Union defenses. Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, who commanded the entire Union left, also sensed the parlous state of Confederate artillery and intentionally held back his counter-fire for fifteen minutes. The two-hour Confederate barrage was the largest to date, and survivors remembered how the already phenomenal noise rose to an unprecedented level when the Union artillery finally opened up in return. Unfortunately for Lee, the noise did not translate into military effect, as the distance to the Union line was at the extreme range of his artillery. At 3:00 in the afternoon, Pickett’s division stepped out from behind the trees and formed into an attacking formation. The Confederate fire lifted, and the Virginians began their march across three-quarters of a mile of open field, directly into the face of well-ranged Union artillery and infantry forces shielded behind a low stone wall. Compounding their vulnerability was interlocking crossfire from elevated Union artillery on the Round Tops. The 12,500 Confederates in nine brigades were under withering Federal fire from the moment they stepped out, hampered yet again about halfway across the ground by a rail fence that forced an entangling pause in their movements. In the end, they suffered over 50% casualties. A significant number of Virginians fought their way to an angle in the stone wall near the “little copse of trees” that was the initial goal of the assault. But Union forces quickly reinforced the gap and counter-charged against the deeply depleted and now retreating Rebel force. Lee, seated on Traveler, met the remnants of his once-powerful army as they straggled back to their staging ground. His repeated lament, “It is all my fault, It is all my fault” was met by cheers and denials by his men. But when he saw Pickett and ordered him to rally his division to stand against an expected Union counter-attack, Pickett replied, “General Lee, I have no division.” The fighting at the angle in the stone wall became known as “The High Water Mark of the Confederacy,” and their success there- such as it was- was a credit to the leadership of the mortally wounded Confederate Major General Lewis A. Armistead, who led from the front with his hat stuck on the point of his sword. On the Union side, the successful defense of Cemetery Ridge is credited to Armistead’s best friend, Union General Hancock who rallied his troops for the entirety of the fight from a highly exposed position on horseback. In one of the more memorable quotes from the battle, he was cautioned by one of his subordinates that, “General, the corps commander ought not to risk his life that way,” Hancock is said to have replied, “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count.”
1863: The United States authorizes its first military draft to fill the ranks of the Union army. Exemptions and substitutions may be purchased for $300. A lucrative black market follows.
1865: At the Navy Yard in Washington, four conspirators convicted in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln are hanged by the neck until dead, three months after the President’s shooting by John Wilkes Booth.
1868: Final ratification of the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing full citizenship to former slaves.
1886: Birth of Raymond A. Spruance (d.1969). The USNA 1906 graduate went on to command the Navy’s 5th Fleet in WWII. “The Quiet Warrior’s” unerring instincts were the key to the Navy’s strategic victory at Midway in June, 1942.
1890: The great state of Idaho is admitted as the 43rd State of the Union.
1896: Former Congressman William Jennings Bryan delivers the defining speech of his lifetime, and possibly of the entire post-Reconstruction period: The Cross of Gold, a comparison of the lives of working men and farmers against the lives of elite city dwellers and market speculators. The comparison leveled the ongoing debate on monetary policy, which had been tightly regulated at a 16:1 ratio of silver to gold coinage, with gold being the standard of exchange between all the major economies, but the tight standard leaving the common man without the means to provide for his family, let alone expand his own farm or business. Bryan forcefully advocated for free silver to break the cities’ stranglehold rural America, concluding with the words, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Standing at the podium with arms outstretched, the convention delegates sat in stunned silence for what seemed like an eternity, remaining silent as he stepped off the platform and returned to his seat. The convention then suddenly erupted into chaos and Bryan was hoisted to the shoulders of the crowd and paraded around the convention floor. The next day’s voting reflected the delegates’ continuing enthusiasm, and Bryan swept the Democrat’s nomination for president, eventually losing to William McKinley in November.
1917: Under the leadership of Colonel T.E. Lawrence, troops from the Arab Legion capture the Ottoman port of Aqaba as part of the British-inspired Arab uprising against the Turks, whose empire was regularly referred to during the Great War as “The Sick Man of Europe.” Given Turkey’s alignment with the Central Powers, both Britain and France looked eagerly to the post-war dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and their eventual participation in the spoils.
1930: Under the guidance of industrialist Henry Kaiser, construction begins on Boulder Dam in southern Nevada. You may recall back in March when Nevada legalized gambling almost concurrently with the announcement of the project.
1937: That lunchmeat SPAM is introduced by the Hormel meatpacking company.
1941: German troops reach the shores of the Dnieper River, deep in the Soviet Union.
1943: First day of the Battle of Kursk, which will end up becoming the largest tank battle in history.
1943: Opening guns of Operation HUSKEY, the Allied invasion of Sicily. During this campaign Lieutenant General George S. Patton cements his reputation as “Old Blood and Guts” as he sweeps wide of his assigned lanes and captures not only Palermo at the western end of the island, but beats British Field Marshall Montgomery to Messina in the east.
1944: After three weeks of intense fighting, Saipan Island in the Marinas is declared taken. The final days of the assault included the Japanese staging a suicidal Bonzai charge that overwhelmed the combined Army and Marines units in their path but resulted in over 4,500 Japanese deaths, many of whom were already wounded. Saipan was also where Japanese civilian suicides were first ordered en masse. The island became a major US Army Air Corps bomber base for attacks on the Japanese homeland.
1946: The bikini “swimsuit” is re-introduced to the fashion world in Paris. French engineer Louis Reard and fashion designer Jacques Heim combine their talents for this event. Reard took credit for the name, likening the reaction to the swimsuit to the atomic explosions being tested on the Bikini atoll in the western Pacific.
1946: Birth of George W. Bush.
1947:The AK-47 rifle goes into production in the Soviet Union. It remains the most widely produced and distributed firearm in the world.
1950: The 500 American soldiers Task Force Smith become the first U.S. troops to directly engage with 5,000 troops of the onrushing North Korean army at the Battle of Osan, just south of Seoul. In a textbook example of how the Army no longer does business, the commander of the battalion was issued the following orders:
“When you get to Pusan, head for Taejon. We want to stop the North Koreans as far from Pusan as we can. Block the main road as far north as possible. Make contact with General Church. If you can’t find him, go to Taejon and beyond if you can. Sorry I can’t give you more information—that’s all I’ve got. Good luck, and God bless you and your men!” –Major General William F. Dean’s orders to Colonel Smith. They successfully blocked the North for over three hours before being overrun, buying critical time for the continuing U.S. troop debarkation at Pusan.
1951: The city of Paris celebrates its 2000th birthday.
1952: The steamship SS United States, built just up the James River from us at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, sets out on its maiden voyage from New York to Southampton, England. She shatters the transatlantic record, making the run between the Ambrose Light and Bishop Rock off Cornwall in 3 days, 12 hours, and 12 minutes- an average speed of 35.59 knots (~41 mph).
1960: Two months after being shot down on a U-2 reconnaissance mission over Russia, the Soviet Union formally charges Francis Gary Powers with espionage. He is convicted in August and spends two years in prison before being part of a prisoner exchange with the U.S. for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.
1962: Birth of actor Tom Cruise.
1962: The United States conducts the STARFISH high altitude nuclear test program. This burst was one of five conducted in outer space during the FISHBOWL series of tests. STARFISH was a 1.4 megaton W49 warhead carried by a Thor rocket to an apogee of 680 miles. The Mk.4 re-entry vehicle was detonated at 250 miles and produced an electromagnetic pulse that forced virtually all of the instrumentation off the scale, in addition to creating an orbital radiation belt and an aurora visible for hours after the burst.
1988: The USS Vincennes (CG-49), cruising in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, shoots down Iran Air flight 655, killing all 290 souls aboard. The ship quickly earned the sobriquet RoboCruiser, and not in a good way.
1996: The Stone of Scone is returned to Scotland. The block of red sandstone was used for centuries as the coronation seat of Scottish kings. In 1296 the stone was captured by Edward I of England, who mounted it under the seat of his coronation chair, symbolizing England’s dominance over its northern rival. The stone’s history provides employment for a cottage industry of folklore enthusiasts, but the whole point of this entry is to say that England wanted to quit hurting Scottish feelings in the late 1990s, and they thus returned the stone to its “rightful” place in Edinburgh Castle.
1996: Birth of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal.
2009: Death of Robert Strange McNamara (b.1916), Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he was one of General Curtis LeMay’s planners who designed the incendiary bombing campaign against Japan during the latter stages of the war, when they applied numerical analysis processes to measure the effectiveness of the bombing. He went on to become CEO of Ford Motor Company during the 1950s, and was brought into President Kennedy’s cabinet with the specific task of bringing organizational rigor to the Pentagon’s planning, programming, and budgeting processes.