323BC: Death of Alexander the Great (b.356BC). The young King of Macedon initiated a series of conquests that spread Hellenic civilization essentially throughout the known world of his day. He was never defeated in battle, but died at age 32 in Babylon, in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, just prior to beginning a planned campaign against Arabia.
632: Death of the Arab warlord and prophet Muhammad (b.570).
1184 BC: The Hellenic city of Troy, located on the Anatolian coastal plain, is sacked and destroyed by a Greek coalition led by King Agamemnon. You can read it all in The Iliad, if you like, by Homer. If you were educated in the classical tradition, i.e., before the 1960s took hold, you probably read it in the original Greek. The precision of the date here can be attributed to the great polymath Eratosthenes, librarian of the Library of Alexandria.
1190: Enroute to the Third Crusade, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Fredrick Barbarossa (name means “red beard”) (b.1122), drowns in the Saleph River. His loss causes his Germanic army to nearly collapse, but the remnants eventually join the armies of France’s Philip II and England’s Richard Coeur de Lion in Acre.
1509: Henry VIII marries his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon.
1664: Nieu Amsterdam is renamed New York.
1755: Birth of Nathan Hale (d.1776), who famously gave his one life for his country, hanged by a British noose for espionage.
1756: Birth of John Trumbull (d.1843), the American painter who created some of our most memorable images of the American Revolution.
1776: The Continental Congress appoints a “Committee of Five” led by Virginian Thomas Jefferson to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain.
1789: Virginian James Madison submits to the Continental Congress twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution. By 1791, ten of them are ratified by the states as the Bill of Rights. One more is finally ratified by the Several States in 1992, to become the 27thAmendment- prohibiting changes in Congressional pay and benefits without an intervening election.
1793: The Jacobin faction of the French revolutionary leadership takes over control of the ill-named Committee of Public Safety and converts it into the Revolutionary Dictatorship. You will not be surprised to know that Madame Guillotine begins to increase the pace of her work.
1809: Death of Thomas Paine (b.1737), one of the intellectual fathers of the American Revolution, whose 1776 broadside, Common Sense, laid down in clear rhetoric the foundation for the Colonies making a complete break with the United Kingdom. By 1789 he became an early enthusiast for the French Revolution and was in fact “elected” to the French Assembly, even though he spoke no French. As an ally of Robespierre, he eventually fell into disfavor and was imprisoned in 1793. While in prison he penned The Age of Reason, which excoriated the teachings of the Church in favor of “free rational inquiry” into any and all subjects. But before descending into the mire of revolutionary France, and during the course of the American Revolution, he published a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis. You may recognize these words:
“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
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. The original classical redoubt, now completely subsumed by the much larger Army post; Fort Wadsworth (multi-level Battery Weed) sits on the opposite shore of the Narrows, providing interlocking fields of artillery fire with Hamilton across the strait.
1837: In Boston, a race riot break 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. Estimates suggest there were about 800 principal pugilists, and another 10,000 or so cheering and egging them on. Alcohol was a factor. The Broad Street Riot lasted around three hours, 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.
1854: First graduation of midshipmen from the new US Naval Academy.
1891: Birth of songwriter and lyricist Cole Porter (d.1964) whose works include such classics as Begin the Beguine, Just One of Those Things, Anything Goes, In the Still of the Night…
1900: Birth of big band leader and choral director Fred Waring (d.1984). His choral group The Pennsylvanians recorded hugely successful albums from the early 20’s through the 1960’s, including a six year stint with a regular television program 1948-54. Waring was also the inventor of the first production electric food blender, the patent of which he jealously guarded throughout his life.
1903: Death of Serbian King Alexander Obrenovic (b.1876) and his wife, Queen Draga Masin. The 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 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.
1915: Birth of Les Paul (d.2009), prolific musician and inventor of the legendary Gibson solid body electric guitar that bears his name.
1918: First day of the first U.S. offensive in the Great War. Led by the Second “Indian Head” Division of the US Army, the Battle of Belleau Wood rages for three weeks and generates 10,000 U.S. casualties. German General Ludendorf resists with a furious onslaught of machine guns, artillery and poison gas but the American force presses forward to eventually drive the German army from its key salient in the Western Front. Of particular note for DLH purposes was the inclusion of the 4th Marine Brigade alongside the Army’s 3rd Infantry Brigade, all of whom operated on a front adjacent to the famous 3rd Army Division- “The Rock of the Marne.” The ferocious fighting also gives rise to some memorable language: German soldiers, un-used to the preternatural tenacity of the Marine Corps, dubs them Teufelshund- “Devil-Dogs” a moniker you will still hear today. The battle also gave us the stirring battle cry “Come on you bastards! Do you want to live forever?”
1920: At the Republican National Convention in Chicago, party leaders gather in a small meeting room in the Blackstone Hotel to privately come to consensus on the eventual Republican nominee, Warren G. Harding. Reporters from the Associated Press, not content to wait and see how things shake out, decide that there is perfidy afoot in the smoke filled room, thus creating an undying metaphor for the idea of responsible party leaders acting the part of leaders and making a decision.
1924: Death of George Mallory (b.1886), the British explorer and mountaineer who, with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine, attempted an ascent to the summit of Mount Everest this week and never returned. Irvine’s ice axe was discovered in 1933, but no trace of either man was found except for a cryptic Chinese report of finding “an English dead” on the north face above 26,000 feet. Mallory’s body was eventually found during a dedicated search mission in 1999, although the question of whether he and Irvine actually achieved the summit remains one of mountaineering’s great mysteries.
1940(a): Entering the Pact of Steel with Germany, Italy declares war on France and Great Britain.
1940(b): Under the command of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the German Wermacht reaches the English Channel.
1940(c): Canada declares war on Italy.
1940(d): Norway surrenders to Germany.
1944: Major League Baseball cancels all games this day in honor of the Normandy** invasion.
1949: Publication of British author George Orwell’s novel of life in a socialist paradise, Nineteen-Eighty-four, the work that brought us the unnervingly persistent**** idioms of the Thought Police, Big Brother, “War is Peace,” “We’ve always been at war with Oceana,” and… (…fill in your own blanks). When you hear commentators commenting on campus speech codes (for example) as Orwellian, this is what they’re talking about.
1964: Senate majority whip Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) finally sits down after 14 hours and 13 minutes of continuous talking at the end of a marathon 57 day Democratic filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. Once the “Conscience of the Senate” yielded the floor, his colleague Senator Richard Russell (D-GA) made his closing argument against the bill. Minority Leader Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) then took the floor to invoke cloture: “The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing in government, in education, and in employment. It will not be stayed or denied. It is here!” The final vote was 71-29, the first time since civil rights bills began moving through Congress in the 1950s that a cloture motion actually ended a filibuster.
1966: One of two prototype North American XB-70 Valkyrie supersonic bombers is destroyed in a mid-air collision with an F-104 chase aircraft during a photo shoot. Both crews are killed, and the XB-70 program is cancelled shortly thereafter. The remaining Valkyrie is on display at the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio.
1967: The US Navy intelligence gathering ship, USS Liberty (AGTR-5) is bombed and strafed in a coordinated Israeli air attack. 34 crew members are killed and 17 wounded.
1967: Five days into the war with its Arab neighbors, having conquered all of Sinai and the Jordanian territory west of the Jordan River, Israel opens a large-scale armor assault on Syria’s Golan Heights, from which the Syrians had been raining artillery shells on Israeli towns in the Galilee region.
1967: With the complete collapse of Syrian defenses in Golan, and the frontiers with Jordan and Egypt stabilized, Israel signs a ceasefire with Syria, thus ending the Six Day War.
1973: The Virginia race horse Secretariat wins the third race of the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes.
1985: In Brazil, the grave of a certain Wolfgang Gerhard is exhumed. The body is then examined and re-identified as none other than Joseph Mengele, the doctor known as “The Angel of Death” at Auschwitz. His experiments conducted on prisoners included subjecting individuals to multiple recurrences of progressively deeper hypothermia to see how low a body’s core temperature could get and still remain alive. Similar experiments were conducted in hypobaric chambers to study the effects of hypoxia to the point of death. He also performed grizzly surgeries on twins, switching body parts from one to the other, or killing both and performing dual dissections to compare parts. He escaped Allied custody in 1949 and lived out his life in South America, beginning in Argentina, and fled to Paraguay after Mossad captured Adolf Eichmann.
2018: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Kim Jon Un meet face to face in Singapore.