43 BC: Birth of the Roman poet Ovid. Ovid was born at Sulmo, 90 miles from Rome. Ovid’s father, who was a respected member of the equestrian order, expected Ovid to become a lawyer and official and had him schooled extensively for that purpose. After working in various judicial posts, Ovid made the decision to dedicate himself to a life of poetry instead. Ovid’s elegance, both in verse and comportment, made him a favorite among the moneyed class of Rome, and it was not long before Ovid was widely hailed as the most brilliant poet of his generation. His elegant verses on love appealed to a society being forced into a period of moral reformation by the emperor, Augustus. It may have been these same poems, namely those of his The Art of Love (3 BC), that caused Ovid to be exiled to the barren region of Tomi in AD 8.
1314: Death of Jacques de Molay (b.1243), the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, burned at the stake. The Templars were a monastic military order that grew out of the First Crusade’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1096. Within a few years, Christian pilgrims again began arriving in the city, and two knights of the Crusade, Hughes de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer proposed establishing a monastic order that could protect them. They established their headquarters in what is now the Al
1413: Accession of Henry V as King of England.
1556: Death of British Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (b.1489), burned at the stake for heresy and treason.
1607: Establishment of the Dutch East India Company.
1617: Death of Virginia native and English social sensation, Pocahontas (b.1595), introduced to polite society in the Old Country as Mrs. John Rolfe.
1622: The first of the Powhattan Massacres at Jamestown. 347 settlers are slain, a full third of the colony’s population.
1685: Birth of Johann Sebastian Bach (d.1750).
1765: In an attempt to raise money to protect the vast territories recently gained by from the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War), Parliament authorizes the Stamp Act. The legislation is not well-received by the American colonies.
1766: British parliament repeals the hated Stamp Act.
1815: After effecting his escape from the island of Elba and making a dramatic march northward from the coast of Alpes Maritimes and onward through the Alps themselves, Napoleon Bonaparte enters Paris, thus beginning the final period of his reign as Emperor, known as “The Hundred Days.” From his perch on Elba, Napoleon correctly deduced that, given the ongoing diplomatic conflict at the Congress of Vienna, his presence on the mainland would provoke an uprising for his restoration as Emperor of France. He arrived from Elba with only 600 loyal troops, but as word spread of his presence, thousands of volunteers flocked into his train, eventually swelling his army to 140,000 regular forces (turned from Bourbon armies) and over 200,000 volunteer militia irregulars. The drama of “La Route Napoleon” cannot be overstated: when Royalist troops attempted to stop him at Lyons, Napoleon stepped out in front of them and ripped open his jacket: “If any of you will shoot your Emperor, shoot him now!” Of course, no-one dared to shoot the great man. On his arrival in the capital, he immediately re-established his imperial government. Louis XVIII already fled with his few remaining loyalists to the Vendee region, where he remained a thorn in side of the renewed Empire. Immediately after his escape the week prior (13th), the Congress of Vienna declared war (The Seventh Coalition) on the French Empire, which eventually led to the final battle at Waterloo on the 18th of June
1820: Death of naval hero Stephen Decatur (b.1779), killed in a duel with disgraced Commodore James Barron. The duel grew out of festering discontent from a court-martial that faulted Barron for his actions in surrendering his ship, USS Chesapeake, after a short action with HMS Leopard off the coast of Norfolk in June of 1807. The British captain refused Barron’s surrender and boarded Chesapeake to look for deserters from the Royal Navy. He took four crewmen off the ship, one of whom was hanged, the other three sentenced to 500 lashes. The incident inflamed Americans over both the high-handedness of the British, and also the apparent fecklessness of Barron, who only got off one shot before he surrendered. At the subsequent court-martial, Barron was convicted of not preparing his ship in advance for possible action and was suspended for 5 years without pay. Captain John Rodgers was the president of the court-martial, and Decatur was a member. When Barron finally returned to duty, he remained controversial and was greatly criticized. Decatur, once a former subordinate, was one of the most vocal critics. Barron finally challenged him to a duel with pistols, which they fought on March 22, 1820 at Bladensburg Dueling Field in Bladensburg, Maryland. After his suspension, Barron remained in the Navy on shore duty, becoming the Navy’s senior officer in 1839. He died right here in Norfolk, Virginia on April 21, 1851
1852: Publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. After he became President, Abraham Lincoln invited her to a White House reception and when they met, he warmly shook her hand and said, “So, you are the little lady who started this great war…”
1871: Fresh from Prussia’s stunning victory over France, and on the heels of the long-awaited unification of the fractious Germanic states and principalities, Otto von Bismarck is designated Chancellor of the newly created German Empire
1929: Death of General Ferdinand Foch (b.1851). One of the great thinkers and innovators of French military thinking in the post Franco-Prussian War (1876) era, he aggressively pursued doctrinal changes that inadvertently** led to a French army pre-WW1 fetish of “L’attaque! Toujours l’attaque!” (…like it sounds: “Always attack!”). Foch ended the Great War as the Allied Supreme Commander, and took the surrender of the German commander in November 1918. After the negotiations of the Versailles Treaty, Foch made the prescient comment, “This is not a peace, it is an armistice for twenty years.”
1931: Gambling is legalized in Nevada. You don’t suppose that had anything to do with the imminent construction of Boulder Dam (April, 1931), do you? Remember: “Correlation is not causation,” but a whole lot of “stimulus” money was about to pour into southern Nevada near the little town of Las Vegas.
1933: Completion of the Nazi government’s first concentration camp, at Dachau, a suburb of Munich. If you’re ever in the vicinity, it is worth your time to visit the place, if only to absorb the starkness and sterility of its current condition, remembering full well its condition in 1945. You will not go away unaffected. [The famous phrase, used at all the camps (Work makes you free); the Administration Building]. You may also find interesting the following contemporary press release that announced the opening:
“On Wednesday the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5000 persons. ‘All Communists and—where necessary—Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated here, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons, and on the other hand these people cannot be released because attempts have shown that they persist in their efforts to agitate and organize as soon as they are released.’”
1947: President Harry Truman, in a move to prove he is not soft on communism, orders sweeping loyalty investigations on all federal employees.
1850: Henry Wells and William Fargo start a new stagecoach line, called American Express.
1863: The new Confederate raider and blockade runner SS Georgiana is destroyed on the night of her first run out of Charleston harbor. Built in Scotland, she is designed for speed with heavily raked masts, auxiliary steam propulsion, and a deep hold for cargo. She is also pierced for 14 guns to act as a privateer once clear of the Union blockade. After her loss, rumors abound about 300 gold bars lost in the wreckage, which is quickly buried by the shifting sands of the barrier islands.
1865: Battle of Bentonville, NC, the last major engagement between the Union army of William Tecumseh Sherman and the Confederates of Joe Johnson. The fight lasted through the night of the 21st, when Johnson pulled back his battered remnants across Mill Creek, burning the bridge behind him. Both armies subsequently worked their way northward toward Virginia in an attempt to join up with their respective commanders, U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.
1865: The Confederate Congress adjourns for the last time. After 10 months of unrelenting pressure on Petersburg by Lt Gen Ulysses S. Grant, the Confederate government recognized it would be in mortal danger if it remained seated in Richmond. They began an orderly evacuation of the government to Mississippi, but the civilian retreat became a rout over the course of the next two weeks.
1869: Birth of Neville Chamberlain. When Stanley Baldwin retired in May 1937, Chamberlain took his place as Prime Minister. His premiership was dominated by the question of policy towards an increasingly aggressive Germany, and his actions at Munich were widely popular among the British at the time. When Hitler continued his aggression, Chamberlain pledged Britain to defend Poland’s independence if the latter were attacked, an alliance that brought his country into war when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939. Chamberlain resigned the premiership on 10 May 1940 as the Allies were being forced to retreat from Norway, as he believed that a government supported by all parties was essential, and the Labour and Liberal parties would not join a government he headed. He was succeeded by Winston Churchill but remained very well regarded in Parliament, especially among Conservatives. Before ill health forced him to resign, he was an important member of Churchill’s War Cabinet as Lord President of the Council, heading the Cabinet in the new premier’s absence. Chamberlain died of cancer six months after leaving the premiership.
1922: Commissioning of USS Langley (CV-1) at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. The world’s first aircraft carrier was converted from the collier USS Jupiter (AC-3), which was itself the Navy’s first electric-drive ship. To accommodate her new mission, Langley was fitted with a wooden platform for the flight deck, folding funnels (a.k.a., smokestacks), a retractable navigation tower, and a trolley system suspended underneath the flight deck to move aircraft from the centerline elevators to the “hangar” areas in the former cargo holds. Langley served as a test bed for any number of seaborne aviation operations, including catapult launches and arrested landings, among other. She participated in all of the major fleet exercises of the inter-war years, first by simply providing spotters for the fall of battleship shot, but soon providing long range striking capability in her own right. Of particular note, Langley and the other carrier conversions Lexington (CV-2) and Saratoga (CV-3), conducted surprise aerial attacks on both the Panama Canal and Pearl Harbor during the mid-30’s, but the “White Cell” referees of the exercises negated the tactics as invalid.
1940: German Furher Adolf Hitler and Italian Duce Benito Mussolini meet at the Brenner Pass to form the Pact of Steel against France and Great Britain.
1944: Just outside the teeming city of bella Napoli, Mount Vesuvius erupts, killing 26.
1965: Christian minister and activist Martin Luther King, on his third attempt, successfully leads 3500 civil rights protesters on a march between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama.
1968:The U.S. Congress repeals the requirement for a gold reserve to back U.S. currency.
1980: In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter announces a boycott of the Olympic Games to be held in Moscow.