1184 B.C.: After 10 years of fruitless siege against the citadel of Troy, the Greek armies of Odysseus set sail from their encampment, leaving behind a huge offering to their goddess Athena, in the form of a massive, wheeled wooden horse. Despite ominous warning from the Trojan priest Laocoon: “Do not trust the horse, Trojans! Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks. even bringing gifts.” (Virgil: Aeneid, Book II), the besieged army and people of Troy, realizing their enemy has abandoned their camps, rapturously wheel the statue into the city, and use it as the centerpiece of their victory celebrations. For his efforts, Laocoon is strangled by two snakes. The Trojan “victory” celebration continues into the night, and in the ‘wee hours of morning darkness and quiet, 30 hand-picked Greek soldiers slip out of their hiding places inside the horse to unlock the city gates and signal the Greek fleet to return to the beaches. The result is a complete slaughter of Troy’s population, and a comprehensive sack of its wealth, and when the Greek army finally vacated the city, it left it a pile of smoldering rubble.
1184 BC: (Cont.) The ruins of the Hellenic city of Troy are located on the Anatolian coastal plain. It was conclusively discovered in 1873 by German Heinrich Schliemann, one of the fathers of modern archeology. He believed in the veracity of The Iliad, by Homer and worked downward from there. If you were educated in the classical tradition, i.e., before the 1960s took hold, you probably read it in the original Greek, and wrote a paper or two about it. Sadly for your DLH Scribe, he was raised in California in the late 1960s, Ground Zero for the “do your own thing” educational philosophy, so he has to rely on the DLH Research Archives to keep learning this stuff. But I digress… FYI, the precision of the date here can be attributed to the great polymath Eratosthenes, librarian of the Library of Alexandria.
1157: Albert “The Bear” of Saxony, is appointed Margrave of Brandenburg by the Holy Roman Emperor. So what? you might ask. Well, here’s the so what: the margraves were principalities (“marches”)* out on the borderlands of the Empire, tasked with protecting the Empire from invasion. As such, they required and were authorized to maintain significant military forces, with the Margrave himself given a great deal of autonomy to act in defense of the realm. In reality, the margraves became de facto independent kingdoms. Albert’s accession as Margrave began the process of expanding Brandenburg into the strongest and most prosperous of the northern Germanic sates. Added to this its role as Elector of for the Holy Roman Emperor, meant that Germany’s most powerful and ambitious families would continually seek a role in Brandenburg’s politics. In 1415 the Hohenzollern family was named Prince-Elector of Brandenburg. With a bit of DLH-acceleration the next six hundred years in Central Europe looks like this: Brandenburg–> Brandenburg-Prussia–>Prussia–> Kingdom of Prussia–> German Empire–> Germany–> Third Reich–> East and West Germany–> Germany.
1215: King John- a.k.a., Prince John whom Robin Hood harassed to distraction and who finally assumed the throne of England after the death of his popular brother Richard Lionheart- signs the Magna Carta on Runnymede plain. The 64-article “Great Charter” is the first royal acknowledgment that the king is subject to the rule of law rather than divine right. It laid the foundation for the revolution in civil governance that gave us English Common Law and eventually the Constitution of the United States. Four copies of the original are extant: one at Salisbury Cathedral, two at the British Museum, and one that makes its way around the world through various museums.
1389: Battle of Kosovo, in which a Serb nationalist army under the command of Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic fights an Ottoman Turk army under Sultan Murad I. The battle was fought on Kosovo Field just outside of present-day Pristina, and was a bloodbath for both sides. The Ottomans secured a nominal victory on the field, having not only killed tens of thousands of soldiers, but also the Serbs’ leadership cadre as well. Owing to the Ottoman’s massive manpower reserves back in the empire, they were able to force Serbia into submission as a tribute-paying principality. For the Serbs this battle represented all that was good in the Serbian character- the bravery and sacrifice (and simmering resentment)- and it remains a cultural touchstone to this day, most notably when President Slobodan Milosevic invoked it in a speech during the Kosovo War in 1998.
1509: Henry VIII- yes, him- marries his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon.
1525: Four years after his ex-communication at the Diet of Worms, and in defiance of the Vatican’s rules on priestly celibacy, Martin Luther marries the former nun Katharina von Bora. The two of them not only make beautiful music together (A Mighty Fortress is his most famous hymn), they raise six children of their own in addition to adopting four orphans.
1723: Birth of Adam Smith (d.1790), one of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, best known for his theories on the free market and the “invisible hand” that allows a market to establish a natural price that provides a reasonable return on land, labor, and capital. His magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations (1776), expands on the theme, including the dangers inherent in any concentration of wealth or power that distorts natural market effects.
1770: At the antipodes of his First Voyage of Discovery, Captain James Cook runs aground in HMS Endeavour on the Great Barrier Reef. When the ship does not float off with a kedged anchor during the next high tide, Cook immediately orders the crew to lighten ship, eventually discharging all of Endeavour’s fresh water, stores, and all but four cannons over the side. The weight loss, combined with a Herculean effort with two more kedge anchors, frees the ship from the reef. Now afloat again, but 24 miles from the mainland and with a large hole below the waterline, the ship is now in danger of sinking before they can safely beach it for repairs. Midshipman Jonathon Monkhouse was sent over the side with a wadded-up mass of old sailcloth and oakum. He swam down to the hole and thrust the mass into the flow, where it acted as a huge cork, staunching the leak long enough that Cook could cut back from three pumps to one. That process, by the way, is called fothering, and it can be done either as a plug or as a gigantic patch, i.e., sliding an entire sail under the ship from one side to the other.
1752: Philadelphia printer, inventor, philosopher, and political leader Benjamin Franklin conducts his famous kite-flying-in-a-thunderstorm experiment, proving that lightning is electricity.
1775: Eight weeks after the failed raids on Lexington and Concord, British General Thomas Gage declares martial law in Massachusetts. He offers amnesty to any of the American rebels who will lay down their arms, except for Samuel Adams and John Hancock, whom he promises to hang on the spot.
1775: Virginia militia Colonel George Washington accepts a commission to lead the fledgling Continental Army.
1777: Congress adopts the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States of America.
1815: Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras, both fought on this day, setting the stage for Napoleon Bonaparte’s final defeat at Waterloo. Ligny was a small town on the right of the French advance northward into Belgium; the sharp, house-to-house fighting there saw the tactical defeat and withdrawal of von Blucher’s Prussian army and was Napoleon’s final victory in battle. Napoleon’s left was ordered to capture the nearby crossroads at Quatre Bras, but they were held off by the western coalition forces under the Duke of Wellington who, after confirming the French withdrawal from the battlefield late in the afternoon, executed a strategic re-positioning of his army northward to a low ridgeline just south of the town of Waterloo. Although Napoleon’s grand strategy was designed around keeping Wellington and von Blucher’s forces separated, they in fact maintained active communications despite the increasing distances between them during their withdrawal and repositioning on the 17th.
1829: Birth of Geronimo, the great Apache warrior, and medicine man, who fought both US and Mexican expansion into tribal lands from 1858 until his capture in 1886. He was renowned for his close calls and narrow escapes, the most famous of which came in the Robledo Mountains of New Mexico. Under hot pursuit by the US Army, Geronimo and his followers ducked into a cave. US soldiers set up a perimeter to catch them, but they never came back out. After several days Geronimo was spotted nearby, but the second exit from the cave was never found. If this sounds a little like “Injun Joe’s Cave” in Tom Sawyer, you’d be right. After his capture, Geronimo was shuffled between Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama, and finally Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he died in 1909.
1864: With both armies having made strategic movements away from the battlefield of Cold Harbor, Union guns open fire on the crucial Confederate transportation junction of Petersburg, Virginia. Lee’s army throws up breastworks and entrenchments that will eventually stretch for miles around the eastern edges of the city as the siege deepens.
1864: Secretary of War Edwin Stanton authorizes a national cemetery on 200 acres of Robert E. Lee’s Arlington plantation. One of the early burials of Union soldiers takes place in a mass grave in the garden very near the residence itself.
1789: Eight weeks (since 29th April) after being set adrift in a 23-foot open launch with 18 loyal crew from HMS Bounty, Captain William Bligh lands on the Dutch East Indies island of Timor. The crew’s transit between the site of the mutiny and Timor was an extraordinary feat of survival and navigation, with Bligh using only his pocket watch and a sextant- no charts or compass- across 3600 miles of the South Pacific. The only casualty on the voyage was crewman John Norton, who was stoned to death by natives during a brief provisioning stop on the island of Tofua.
1811: Birth of Harriet Beecher Stowe (d.1896). When President Abraham Lincoln met the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” at a White House reception he is reported to have said, “So, you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”
1825: The cornerstone is laid for Fort Hamilton, sited on the north shore of the Verazzano Narrows, protecting the approaches to New York’s great harbor.
1837: In Boston, a race riot breaks out between “native” Yankee firefighters and immigrant Irish. The commotion began in the afternoon as a group of Yankee firemen left a pub together and forced themselves through a line of mourners in an Irish funeral procession. The whole interaction went peacefully, until, well, it didn’t. Estimates suggest there were about 800 principal pugilists, and another 10,000 or so cheering and egging them on. I have NO IDEA whether alcohol was a factor, but it may have been. The Broad Street Riot lasted around three hours, and was finally broken up by the mayor calling up several national guard (-type) units, both cavalry with lances and infantry with fixed bayonets. As the dust settled, the city decided it was time to professionalize and to a certain extent integrate the fire and police departments in the city.
1886: On the shore of Lake Starnberg, searchers late at night discover the body of King Ludwig II of Bavaria (b.1845), along with Doctor Gudden, who declared him clinically insane a day earlier, thus completing the planned usurpation of the Bavarian throne by his uncle Prince Luitpold. The death was ruled “suicide by drowning” but not surprisingly, controversy remains as to the reality of what really occurred that evening. Ludwig is best remembered as a patron of composer Richard Wagner, and for his nearly continuous construction of fanciful palaces and castles.
1903: Deaths of Serbian King Alexander Obrenovic (b.1876) and his wife, Queen Draga Masin. Their murders were part of a general restlessness within the officer corps of the Serbian army over Serbia’s status vis-à-vis the decaying Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Balkan League, the Russian Pan-Slavic movement, and their own irredentist goals regarding Bosnia & Herzegovina. As a group, the officer corps strongly objected to the marriage of their young king (an only child) to a foreign widow 12 years his senior, who was therefore unlikely to produce a legitimate heir. One of her brothers was rumored to be named as heir apparent at some point, which finally triggered the conspiracy between the officers and members of (believe it or not) the Black Hand: you’ll recall them as the anarchists that planned the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Although the formal Balkan wars didn’t start for another 8 years, this event can be seen as one of the myriad facets of the buildup to the eventual Great War.
1913: Birth of Vince Lombardi (d.1970), whose life defined the sport of professional football as player, coach and general manager.
1917: German Gotha bombers attack central London, killing 162 and injuring 450.
1919: Thoroughbred 3-year-old Sir Barton wins the Belmont Stakes, becoming the first horse to win the Triple Crown of American horse racing (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont). Between the Preakness and Belmont races, he also won the Withers Stakes, making it four wins in 32 days.
1922: President Warren Harding becomes the first president to have his voice broadcast over radio.
1926: Death of American impressionist painter Mary Cassat (b.1843), best known for her evocative depictions of children and their mothers.
1927: After making a celebratory tour of France and England, Charles Lindbergh returns to New York aboard ship, with the Spirit of St Louis carefully disassembled and stored in the cargo hold. He is greeted this day by a rapturous ticker tape parade.
1937: Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of communism’s acceptance by Russian society, initiates the military phase of the Great Purge, when he put on trial for treason the brilliant Marshall of the Soviet Army Mikhail Tukhachevesky and 8 other Soviet Generals. The Purge is one of those astonishing facts that today’s leftist and Progressive stooges often refuse to acknowledge, other than to repeat Stalin’s pathetic quote: “If you want to make an omelet, you have break a few eggs.” Unfortunately for the voluptuaries of collectivism, that omelet never turned out much better than scrambled eggs, and runny ones at that (with no salt and pepper). Total arrests during the Purge reached over 1.5 million nominal “citizens” of the Soviet Union, 680,000 of whom were summarily shot for the “crime” of disagreeing with the direction Stalin and his leadership circle were taking the Soviet state. As in the case of Marshall Tukhachevesky, you didn’t even have to actually disagree- simply the threat of potential disagreement in the mind of Stalin was enough to initiate torture to extract a confession, preparatory to the inevitable bullet to the head at the hands of the NKVD (a.k.a. KGB, a.k.a SVD today).
1940: Only days after the British evacuation from Dunkirk, the roughly 50,000 remaining Allied troops on the continent surrendered to the overwhelming juggernaut of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. French General Maxime Weygrand orders Paris to be an open city- “A cessation of hostilities is compulsory-” to save it from certain destruction. Weygrand bitterly blames the British for France’s defeat. France formally capitulates to German arms on the 25th.
1940: After the declaration of Paris as an open city, triumphant German troops enter Paris unopposed.
1944: United States Marines land on the South Pacific island of Saipan in Operation Forager. Despite intense naval gunfire support at near point-blank range, Japanese defensive preparation of the landing zone allowed for quick recovery from the barrage and created devastating accuracy from their defending artillery as the AMTRACS swam ashore. Over half the Marine amphibious tractors are destroyed in the first wave of the assault, and it takes the Marines over three days to expand their toehold beyond the surf zone. The three-week operation finally achieved Saipan’s eventual capture at a cost to the Marine Corps of 16,525 casualties, including 3,426 dead. It became the first operational B-29 base in the Pacific theater.
1958: Death of Imre Nagy (b.1896), former communist Prime Minister of Hungary, whose reforms in 1954-56 led to his forced ouster by the Hungarian Communist Party. A broad cross-section of Hungarian society rose up in revolt, with riots and burnings across the country demanding Nagy’s return to power and removal of the Communist Party from the country. The Soviet Union responded with an invasion of 200,000 soldiers and 2,500 tanks, crushing the uprising and killing thousands. Nagy was captured and imprisoned by the now-reinforced hardliners, who convicted him of treason and hanged him by the neck until dead on this day. As the communist empire collapsed in 1990-91, Nagy was reburied with full state honors in a funeral attended by over 100,000.
1961: President John F. Kennedy authorizes the expansion of the U.S. Assistance Mission to Vietnam, from 900 to 3200 advisors.
1962: Three men escape from Alcatraz prison using sharpened spoons and an improvised raft. They are never found and are assumed dead from drowning in the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.
1963: Russian skydiver Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space, making a 71 hour, 48 orbit journey in a Voshkod capsule. She remained the only woman cosmonaut or astronaut until the 1980s, with the launch of American Mission Specialist Sally Ride in 1983.
1964: Nelson Mandella and others from the African National Congress are sentenced to life in prison for treason and sabotage. Mandella never denies the charge and in fact proudly asserted that the violence planned by the ANC was a legitimate reflection of South African blacks’ grievances. After 27 years of hard labor he is released in 1990 and four years later is elected President of the now-desegregated country.
1971: The New York Times begins publication of a set of classified documents that came to be known as The Pentagon Papers. They were a 1968 top secret report ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, originally titled: United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense. The report outlined in close detail the thinking and decision-making behind the United States’ buildup and early execution of the Vietnam War, and bolstered the cause of the anti-war protesters nationwide. The legal wrangling that followed led to an extensive review and affirmation of First Amendment rights.The person who gave the classified report to the Times was one of the defense contractors who contributed to the report, Daniel Ellsberg. He justified releasing the documents on in a statement: “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision” The NYT rationale centered on publisher Arthur Sulzberger’s judgment that: “Newspapers, as our editorial said this morning, were really a part of history that should have been made available, considerably longer ago. I just didn’t feel there was any breach of national security, in the sense that we were giving secrets to the enemy.”
1977: Death of German-American rocket engineer and NASA visionary Wernher von Braun (b.1912). Von Braun led the brain trust of captured Nazi engineers who brought V-2 technology to the United States. He also lead the conceptual design work for the multi-stage rocket, which allowed for much higher payloads and altitudes than “conventional” single-stage rockets. He was the chief architect of the massive Saturn V that launched the Apollo program to the moon and back.
1978: The late King Hussein of Jordan marries American socialite Lisa Halaby who takes as her name Queen Noor.
1982: After six weeks of defeats at the hand of the British army, marines and navy, the Argentine garrison at Port Stanley, Falklands Islands, surrenders and a general cease fire is declared. On the Argentine mainland, General Galieri is deposed from the presidency and serves three years in prison for military incompetence. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stands for re-election in the spring of 1983 and wins in a landslide.
1985: Petty Officer Second Class Robert Stethem, USN, is murdered by Shi’ite terrorists aboard the hijacked TWA flight 847, his beaten and shot body dumped onto the tarmac at Beirut International Airport. In 1994 the Navy honored his memory by commissioning a ship bearing his name, USS Stethem (DDG-63).
1987: In what may be the defining speech of his presidency, Ronald Reagan stands in the shadow of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and issues his stirring call to Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
2018: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean tyrant Kim Jon Un meet face to face in Singapore.