203A.D: Death of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, one of the Fathers of the Church, whose incisive writings on the false teachings of the Gnostic sect played a primary role in establishing the canon of the New Testament.
1098: Three years into their campaign to re-capture Jerusalem from its Moslem occupiers, knights of the First Crusade win a strategic victory during the siege of Antioch, when they defeat a powerful Saracen relief army led by Kerboghan of Mosul. The subsequent victory at Antioch itself frees the Crusaders to continue their march toward the Holy City.
1358: Establishment of the Republic of Dubrovnik. The walled city was conquered by Venice during its march of conquest to the Fourth Crusade in 1205, and for a hundred fifty years afterward served as a naval base protecting Venice’s Adriatic approaches, in addition to providing substantial raw materials in support of Venetian trade. Ironically, today’s establishment was an unintended consequence of the Fourth Crusade’s fatal weakening of the Byzantine empire: the rising Ottomans took control of the Dalmatian coast, and while they extracted a substantial level of tribute from the city, they also gave it free reign to develop its own commercial interests, essentially permitting it to become a perpetual rival to Venice during the height of the Spice Trade in the 15th and 16th centuries. Fast forwarding to today, the historic city suffered substantial damage from Serb shelling during the Yugoslav Civil War in 1991-92.
1519: Charles V is elected Holy Roman Emperor. His election signals the high water mark of the Hapsburg dynasty in terms of territory under a single ruler: essentially all of civilized Europe, a feat not seen since Charlemagne, nor again until Napoleon. The Hapsburg dynasty continues to this day. The most recent leader in the public eye was Otto von Hapsburg (1912-2011), legitimate heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary from his father’s death in 1922 to his own death ten years ago. Hapsburg was president of the “International Pan-European Union” from 1973-2004, and a prominent Member of the European Parliament, consistently speaking out on the need for a viable political union for the nations of Europe. Just in case my point is not obvious: this family represents over 500 continuous years of actual and potential leadership over a unified Europe. Current head of the family is Otto’s son, Karl von Habsburg (b.1961), an Austrian politician.
1613: William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burns to the ground, a victim of a malfunctioning stage cannon that ignited the building during a performance of Henry VIII. Everyone escaped without injury.
1776: The Continental Congress receives and votes on the draft Declaration of Independence, produced over the last 17 days by the “Committee of Five” who were tasked to explain clearly and completely the rationale for the thirteen English colonies’ formal and irrevocable break with the mother country. The committee consisted of John Adams (MA), Benjamin Franklin (PA), Thomas Jefferson (VA), Robert Livingston (NY), and Roger Sherman (CT). Jefferson, as we all know, provided the bulk of the draft, including the stirring preamble and the intellectual underpinnings describing a free people creating a self-governing society. The vote on this day was 12 in favor and one abstention (NY- the government of which was nominally opposed to independence, but allowed for its delegation to abstain pending lack of instructions from Albany). The political maneuvering and deal-making had been going on since early June, when Virginian Richard Henry “Light Horse” Lee submitted the first- very terse– resolution of independence, from which the Committee of Five based much of their work. The Congress spent the next two days modifying the text of the Declaration, including removing a significant section on the British imposition of slavery, which bothered Jefferson greatly. The final version was approved and sent to the printers on the 4th. John Adams believed that July 2nd would be a day celebrated throughout history as our national birthday; on this score, he was mildly mistaken.
1778: The Continental Army, after its bitter wintering-over in Valley Forge and six months of intense military training under the tutelage of Baron von Steubin, intercepts the British army of Sir Henry Clinton enroute to New York. The Battle of Monmouth (NJ) is the first real force-on-force action between the Continentals and the British, and ended in a draw in terms of ground taken or lost, and also in casualties. General George Washington distinguished himself halfway through the battle as he rallied his men to re-group and press forward with the attack. Monmouth also saw Carlisle, Pennsylvania native Molly Pitcher in action, swabbing out guns and providing water to the exhausted Americans.
1782: An American force of 170 men aboard six privateer vessels slip out of Boston harbor under cover of darkness to raid Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, an important shipbuilding center in British Canada. The make a coordinated land and seaward attack, capturing one of the two blockhouses in town, including the leadership of the Lunenburg militia. After looting the town and burning a cache of military stores, the Americans return to their ships and withdraw back to Boston just as a small British relief squadron arrives in the harbor. The privateers easily outrun the British ships.
1863: First day of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg. The titanic clash between Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union General George Meade was a continuation of Lee’s strategy of bringing the war home into the Northern states, the first iteration of which culminated in the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland nine months earlier. Lee believed that if he could force the Army of the Potomac away from Washington to defend Union territory, he could weaken them enough and create enough civilian panic to strengthen the growing Northern anti-war movement and force the U.S. government to negotiate a peace with the Confederacy. After his victory in at Chancellorsville in early June, Lee saw his opportunity to move north. He was able to break contact with Joe Hooker’s Union forces on the 3rd of June, and made a rapid march up the Shenandoah Valley, crossing the Potomac at mid-month to advance into Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, where his troops lived of the bounty of the yet-untouched farms and towns along the way. Union forces began a parallel movement north, but remained largely uninformed of the Confederate positions except by way of refugee reports. For his part, Lee lost close track of Union movements when his cavalry commander, J.E.B. Stuart made an excessively ambitious move eastward and was blocked by Federal infantry. This decision by his subordinate forced Lee to continue moving his army northward into unfamiliar territory, essentially blind. He realized though, that the two armies would eventually meet, and he chose the crossroads at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as the place where he would make his stand. Lee halted the march to allow his army to concentrate near Cashtown, just west of Gettysburg. Union cavalry under Brigadier General John Buford had similarly scouted Gettysburg as good ground for combat and established an initial defensive perimeter around the northern and western outskirts of the town. At 7:30 in the morning, Confederate corps under General A.P. Hill began attacking Buford along the Chambersburg Pike, and although the initial attack was repulsed, Confederate reinforcements continued to fill in along a semi-circle running west to north. Union reinforcements, arriving later in the afternoon, filled in the original defensive arc, but as the battle progressed they could not hold, retreating through city streets to a position on the higher ground of cemetery ridge on the southeast section of the town. Confederate General Richard Ewell chose not to pursue the Union forces, and as night settled over the battlefield, the two armies continued to fill in their defensive and offensive positions in anticipation of the fighting to come on July 2nd.
1863: Second day of the Battle of Gettysburg– after the initial combat of the 1st and the Union’s southward withdrawal though town, the armies from both sides are this morning fully positioned and facing each other across a broad front. The Union army occupies a fishhook-shaped, reinforced line on high ground: from Culp’s Hill on the north (the Union right) running southward down Cemetery Ridge to an anchor position on the far left at Little Round Top, a steep and rocky slope over a mile away. Mead’s dispositions allow for relatively short internal lines of communication that permit quicker assignment of reserves to weakening spots along the line. Lee arrayed his substantial forces against the complete Union line in the hopes that a general assault would create a systemic collapse of the Union defenses. He also hoped to make a substantial turn against what he thought* was an unprotected Union left flank. General Longstreet’s brigades expected to move stealthily through a peach orchard and the rocks of Devil’s Den to sweep behind the Federals on Cemetery Ridge. But unknown to both Lee and Longstreet, the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment under Colonel Joshua Chamberlain was positioned at the very end of the Union line on flanks of Little Round Top, where they held commanding heights above both the peach orchard and Devil’s Den. In a particularly poignant scene from the book The Killer Angels, Chamberlain is instructed by General Sickles, “You must hold your position at all costs. You are the very end of the line- do I make myself clear? The very end of the line.” Furious fighting took place throughout the day along the entirety of the front, with most of the Confederate efforts against the end points: Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top. Chamberlain’s well-defended position held against two concerted attacks by Hood’s infantry, who were also being mauled in the orchard and the rocks of Devil’s Den. But after nearly five hours of continuous battle, the Mainers were essentially out of ammunition. When Chamberlain realized late in the afternoon that a third Confederate attack was coming back up the hill, he ordered his men to fix bayonets, and with an impeccable sense of timing, ordered a screaming bayonet charge directly into the face of the Southerners. The charge startled and shattered the Confederate offense and saved the weakening Union line from a devastating sweep of its rearward reserves and supporting forces. Similarly, the Culp’s Hill battle repeatedly blunted the Confederate assaults. Casualties were high on both sides, but neither side was defeated as night fell. Both sides again reinforced their positions, the Union filling in around both Little and Big Round Tops, and improving their artillery positions all along Cemetery Ridge, while the Confederates re-grouped behind a line of trees to the west of the Union line.
1864: President Abraham Lincoln signs into law a bill setting aside Yosemite Valley in California for “…public use, resort and recreation,” creating the nation’s first national park, albeit without the National Park designation, which goes to Yellowstone several years later.
1872: Birth of French aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot (d.1936), who became the first to fly across the English Channel (ou La Manche, si vous preferez) in 1909.
1885: Birth of Helen Keller (d.1968), the blind-deaf-mute woman whose inspiring story is told in The Miracle Worker, which details the love and patience of Anne Sullivan in opening her world to the joys and beauty of communication.
1891: Birth of Carl “Tooey” Spaatz (d.1974), commander of the US 8th Air Force during WWII.
1898: Canadian-American seaman and writer Joshua Slocum (1844-1909) arrives in Newport, Rhode Island, completing the first solo circumnavigation of the world. He wrote of his adventure in, Sailing Alone Around the World, published in 1899. To quote British author Arthur Ransome: “Boys who don’t like this book should be drowned at once.”
1898: A week and a day after landing on Cuba, U.S. Army troops under the command of Major General William Shafter launch an attack on the Spanish-defended San Juan Heights above the city of Santiago de Cuba. 15,000 U.S. troops, which included two black infantry battalions, fought against 800 fortified Spanish soldiers in the blistering tropical heat. The eventual American victory came at the cost of 205 dead and over 1,100 wounded. At a crucial point in the fighting, the “Rough Riders” dismounted cavalry regiment under Colonel Theodore Roosevelt broke cover and charged into the teeth of Spanish fire to force them from the “Kettle Hill” section of the heights.
1908: A massive airborne explosion, later estimated the equivalent of ~15 megatons, sears the morning sky over a remote Siberian forest, completely flattening an estimated 80 million trees over 830 square miles of the Tunguska region. There are no known human casualties, but the blast and its immediate aftermath provide a singular shock to nearby tribesmen. Because of its remoteness and the social turmoil of the Great War, the Russian Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War, the first scientific expedition to the area isn’t made until 1927 by Leonoid Kulik.
1914: On the final day of a State visit to his restive Balkan provinces, Austro-Hungarian archduke and heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie are shot and killed by Bosnian Serb anarchist Gavrilo Princip. Princip was part of a cabal of conspirators trying to goad Austria-Hungary into another brutal suppression of Balkan nationalism. Two Balkan wars had already been fought since the turn of the century, and Serbia was keen to get going on a third one in the summer of 1914, this time with more overt support from Russia. The relationship between Princip’s group and the Serb government is hazy, at best, but both parties had the same basic goal in mind, to wit: to shake off their Austrian overlords. Austria, for its part, was in the midst of a coordinated campaign to re-assert its authority and concern for its Balkan territories, and was confident of diplomatic and potential military support from its alliance with Germany. Final note: Princip had earlier positioned himself along the planned motorcade route, where he might get a clean shot and a clean getaway. But the motorcade never passed his position. He had already given up on the attempt when he learned that the royal motorcade was delayed and disoriented in the narrow streets of Sarajevo. As Princip made his way back to his hideout, he stumbled on the Archduke’s car driving right past him. He took the renewed opportunity and fired.
1916: After a week of furious Allied artillery bombardment- over a million shells expended against the entrenched and fortified German positions- “Zero hour” of the Battle of the Somme comes with a sudden silence as artillery shifts its aim-points, and whistles sound up and down the trench lines to send British forces “over the top” in what was to become one of the largest battles in the history of warfare. The Germans, though battered by the artillery siege, rose from their highly reinforced fortifications to re-establish their defensive positions and systematically begin to savage the British offensive. On this day alone, British losses were 19,240 killed, 35,493 wounded, 2,152 missing and 585 captured for a total loss of 57,470…a full 20% of the entire British fighting force on the Continent. The battle continued to rage for nearly five months until it finally ended from exhaustion, having failed to achieve any of its planned objectives.
1919: Five years to the day after the murder of Archduke Ferdinand, and with the shock of the Great War still roiling the continent, the Allied and Central powers sign the Treaty of Versailles, the terms of which were immediately used to stoke simmering resentment in Germany that it was not a true defeat of arms. French Field Martial Ferdinand Foch was not impressed with the work of his diplomatic colleagues, and publicly noted, “This is not a peace- it is a twenty year armistice.”
1919: Birth of Louis Burton Lindley, Jr., better known as the Western character actor Slim Pickins (d.1983) His roles included Major T.J “King” Kong, in Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Love the Bomb (1964).
1934: Consolidating his position within the National Socialist Workers Party, the recently elected German Chancellor Adolf Hitler orders the arrest and execution of the entire leadership of the SA “Brownshirts,” the paramilitary thugs who catapulted him to power and provided a backdrop to the accelerating implementation of the Nazi political program. Hitler personally arrested the head of the SA, his friend and colleague Ernst Rohm, and ordered him shot if he would not commit suicide. The purge became known as The Night of the Long Knives.
1937: Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan make their last radio transmission, somewhere in the South Pacific, presumably somewhere near Howland Island. They are never heard from again, nor was any trace of them found after an unprecedented Navy search.
1942: Birth of deep diving oceanographer Robert Ballard, discoverer of USS Scorpion, RMS Titanic, USS Yorktown, the German battleship Bismarck, and many other underwater treasures.
1950: Two days after the armies of North Korea pour across the 38th parallel, President Truman orders U.S. Navy and Air Force support to the disintegrating South Korean army. In the United Nations, the Security Council unanimously votes that member nations should assist South Korea in repelling aggression. One of the Permanent Members of the Security Council, the Soviet Union, did not vote, oddly enough, because they were boycotting the Council in protest of the UN’s interest in the Taiwan Straits earlier in the year.
1950: The North Korean army captures the South Korean capital of Seoul.
1953: The first production Corvette rolls off the Chevrolet assembly line in Flint, Michigan. Price was $3,513.00, sixty-eight dollars more than the popular Jaguar XK120, at $3345.
1961: Birth of Diana Spencer (d.1997).
1964: President Lyndon Johnson signs into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
1970: American Top 40 with Casey Kasem debuted, July 4, 1970.
1972: The first “leap second” is added to the UTC, also known as Coordinated Universal Time, defined by the moment the sun reaches its zenith over the 0’00” meridian (which passes through the observatory at the Royal Dockyards in Greenwich, England).
1985: Birth of swimmer Michael Phelps, who as of the 2016 Rio Olympics, became one of fewer than 500 athletes since 1896 who competed in 5 Olympiads.
2002: Adventurer Steve Fosset becomes the first man to fly a balloon solo around the world. He died in a private airplane crash in September, 2007.
2007- On the anniversary date of Steve Wozniak’s applying power to his first Apple prototype computer, Apple, Inc., releases its first I-phone.