1431: In the final act from her February trial, Joan of Arc is this day burned at the stake for heresy. In the years that follow her execution, the French peasantry attribute scores of miracles to her and she is eventually canonized as Saint Jean d’Arc.
1453: After a 53-day siege by the Moslem armies of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, the Byzantine capital of Constantinople falls to the Turks, closing the final chapter of the 1,500 years of the Roman Empire, and decisively ending the existence of Christianity in its Anatolian heartland. Ironically, the seeds of the defeat were planted by the massive depredations of the 4th Crusade some 200 years prior, when the city underwent another siege and sacking from its erstwhile Christian allies. The Ottoman Empire established this day remained a potent threat to Europe for nearly 500 years, until it was finally dismantled by the victorious Allies at the conclusion of the Great War.
1672: Birth of Peter the Great (d.1725). The joint reign of Ivan V and Peter I (the Great), and the three decades of the effective rule of Peter I. In the latter period Muscovy, already established in Siberia, entered the European scene. Upon its creation in 1721 the Russian Empire possessed a multinational population of about 17.5 million. Russia’s territory of about 4,633,200 square miles (12,000,000 square km) included some recent and valuable acquisitions. With his victory over Sweden in the Second Northern War, Peter regained Ingria and Finnish Karelia and acquired Estonia and Livonia, with the ports of Narva, Revel (Tallinn), and Riga. The Black Sea regions of Azov and Taganrog won from Turkey in 1696 had to be surrendered in 1711. Both parts of the adjacent area of Zaporozhye (the dominion over the left bank of the Dnieper and the protectorate over the right bank) were likewise lost to Turkey, and the Zaporozhian Sich, a Cossack stronghold on the lower Dnieper, was razed in 1709. On the Caspian, after defeating Persia in 1722, Russia temporarily occupied Dagestan, Gīlān, and Māzandarān. In eastern Siberia, in the 1720s, it annexed the territory of the Chukchi people and the Kamchatka Peninsula. St. Petersburg, founded in 1703 among marsh and woodland, a living symbol of the new era and of its initiator, replaced Moscow as the capital of Russia in 1712. There the sea routes of the Baltic met the system of overland waterways leading to the Caspian. He adopted the title of Emperor in place of the old title of Tsar in 1721.
1588: The Spanish Armada, a fleet of 130 ships loaded with over 30,000 men, sets sail from Lisbon enroute to the English Channel on a mission to invade Britain, de-throne Elizabeth I, and restore a Catholic monarchy on the island. Under King Philip II, Spain was the unquestioned superpower of its day, having grown rich exploiting the gold and silver of the New World. For its part, England had recently welcomed back the explorer and privateer Francis Drake from his Spanish-bashing circumnavigation, and between him and Sir Walter Raleigh (with an assist from the weather), the Armada was not long for the world.
1759: In the opening battle of the French and Indian War, the Virginia Militia, under the leadership of 22 year old Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, defeats a French surveying party in western Pennsylvania.
1763: A month into the war between colonial British forces and a coalition of Indian tribes led by Chief Pontiac of the Chippewa Nation, the warring tribes begin to sequentially capture five small forts in the upper Ohio valley and Michigan. The fifth to fall is Fort Michilimackinac, captured by Indians who entertained the British garrison with an exhibition game of lacrosse outside the walls of the fort. One player then lobbed the ball through the gates, and the rest of the “team” rushed through to get it, collecting weapons stashed just inside the gate by native women. 15 of the 35 defenders were killed outright and five more died by torture. The Indians kept control of the fort for over a year until the British negotiated them out with promises of regular supplies of goods.
1779: Colonel Benedict Arnold, hero of the attack on Quebec and multiple engagements throughout New England, is court-martialed for “malfeasance” including misuse of government wagons, illegal buying and selling of government goods. The trial is interrupted until December but the seeds of resentment are planted for his ultimate treason the following year.
1808: Birth of Jefferson Davis (d.1889). The West Point graduate served with distinction in the Mexican-American War, was later elected Congressman and Senator from Mississippi, and served as President Franklin Pierce’s Secretary of War 1853-57. Best remembered as the first and only President of the Confederate States of America. Captured by Union troops after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, he was held two years as prisoner in Fort Monroe, released on $100,000 bail raised by prominent citizens of both the North and the South. His indictment for treason was dropped in 1868. He died in New Orleans and was buried in Richmond after a funeral cortege that was attended by a continuous stream of mourners spanning the entire distance between New Orleans and his final resting place.
1813: In a naval battle just offshore from Boston harbor, HMS Shannon decisively defeats and captures USS Chesapeake. Chesapeake’s mortally wounded Captain James Lawrence is evacuated from the battle in a small boat. As he is lowered from the ship into the boat he utters what quickly becomes the Navy’s motto: “Don’t give up the ship!” The British did, however, capture the ship.
1854: Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, splitting the central portion of the Louisiana Purchase into proportional slave and free territories.
1863: The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the nation’s first all-black regiment, leaves Boston to begin fighting for the Union.
1864: First day of the two-week-long Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia.
1864: Union General U.S. Grant orders the third day of direct assaults against the fortified Confederate breastworks at the Battle of Cold Harbor near Mechanicsville, Virginia. The results are similar to the futile Union assault on Fredericksburg two years earlier, with multiple waves of uphill Union assaults repulsed by artillery, musketry, and in the end, vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Toward the end of this day Grant orders yet another push, but his Corps commanders Hancock and Meade resist, having witnessed firsthand the slaughter and complete lack of progress. Grant relents and allows for a strategic pause, and as the Union soldiers entrench for the night, many of them dig into the skeletal remains of their comrades who fell at the Battle of Gaines Mill, fought over the same ground during the Seven Days campaign in 1862. The next two weeks saw no further massed attacks, but settled into sniper fire and random artillery exchanges. The numbers are telling: Union casualties over 12,700 (1,844 dead) versus around 4,500 (83 dead) for the Confederates. Coming so late in the war, the battle provides a singular shock* to the country, including to Grant himself: “I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made… At Cold Harbor no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.” Lee, too, recognized the magnitude of the Union losses at Cold Harbor, but he also recognized the fragility of the Confederate’s strategically defensive positions, as he and Grant over the preceding months leap-frogged their positions in an ever-tightening knot around the Richmond-Petersburg corridor. After two weeks of entrenchment at Cold Harbor, Lee quietly withdrew his army from its redoubts, making a hasty retreat into Petersburg to establish a more secure defense perimeter around the city. At the same time, Grant was making his own move across the James River to City Point (now Hopewell), where he began massing the Army of the Potomac for its eventual siege of Petersburg.
1866: Death of General Winfield Scott, USA (b.1786). The old warhorse, also known as “Old Fuss and Feathers” served his country over the course of a 47-year active duty career, commanding forces in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Blackhawk War, the Second Seminole War, and for a short time after the opening guns, the War Between the States. He served 20 years as Commanding General of the United States Army (equivalent to the current Army Chief of Staff). He became a national hero after the Mexican campaign, which led to an unsuccessful run for the Presidency as a Whig in 1852. More important from his service in Mexico was his role in leading and training an entire generation of Army officers who would go on to distinguish themselves on both sides of the Civil War.
1878: Birth of Barney Oldfield (d.1946), pioneer automobile racer and protégé of Henry Ford, he was the first to drive faster than 60 miles an hour. “Who do you think you are, Barney Oldfield?”
1886: President Grover Cleveland marries Miss Frances Folsom in the White House. The wedding is a social sensation and remains the sole presidential White House marriage to date.
1888: The San Francisco Examiner publishes the baseball classic: Casey at the Bat. “But there is no joy in Mudville, Mighty Casey…”
1913: A peace treaty is signed ending the First Balkan War. The conflict aligned Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece against the Ottoman Turks in a successful attempt to separate Macedonia and Albania from Turkish control. A second Balkan war began a month later with Russian support. In response to Austrian moves designed to counter Russian influence in the region, Serbia increased its agitation against Germanic rule in favor of a pan-Slavism promoted by Russia. Strategic cooperation treaties begin to align the Great Powers into blocs. Serbia’s strategic planning for a third Balkan war looked to the summer of 1914 for its beginning.
1914: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels issues General Order #99, prohibiting alcohol aboard naval vessels, navy yards and stations. He substitutes traditional spirits with mass-produced coffee, giving rise to the expression to “have a cup of Joe.”
1932: The Bonus March: a group of unemployed World War I veterans converges on Washington, DC to demand early payment of a promised bonus for their service in the Great War. The payment of Army bonuses was long established to make up for the difference in what a soldier earned in service and what he would have earned as a civilian. A 1924 law set the rates for the recently returned veterans, but for payments due of over $50, it was in the form of a note that would not come due for 20 years, in this case 1945. Over 3.6 million service certificates were issued based on this law. The financial hardship of Depression triggered an increasing number of calls for early payment of the bonuses, and as the issue gained traction in the press, more and more veterans came to Washington to back up the demands. As the veterans arrived, some with their families, they ended up creating in the low land area near the Anacostia River a plywood shantytown that became known as “Hooverville.” The group also became known as the Bonus Army as its protests grew more forceful. The climax of the protests will occur at the end of July
1940: Completely overrun by the Wehrmacht, the Belgian King Leopold III capitulates to the Germans after 18 days of bitter fighting. Rather than fleeing to lead the government-in-exile, he remains in Belgium under house arrest for five years, including a forced deportation into Germany in 1944. The split between the king and his government remained bitter, even after the war ended, leading to his abdication in 1951 in favor of his son Baudouin, who reigned until his death in 1993.
1940: First flight of the Vought F4-U Corsair, the other coolest looking airplane ever to fly. The distinctive “gullwing” configuration of the plane was designed to raise the massive propeller higher from the ground during the takeoff roll. Enemy pilots called it “Whistling Death!”
1940: First flight of the German Focke-Wulf FW-190 Würger (D-OPZE) fighter. Although the Messerschmitt Bf-109 gets most of the press (like the Spitfire in Britain), the FW-190 was produced in numbers that nearly overtook the Bf-109: 29,001 to 30,480.
1940: Completion of the Allied evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk (DLH 5/25 has the numbers).
1940: The Luftwaffe makes its first bombing raids on Paris, killing over 500 civilians. The attacks were carefully calibrated to create a sense of impending panic without causing a complete collapse of order in the city.
1941: Death of Lou Gehrig (b.1903), the New York Yankees’ great first baseman and slugger, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Nicknamed “The Iron Horse” for his consistency and perseverance on the field, he held the record for most consecutive games played (2,130) until surpassed by Cal Ripkin in 1995. Over seventeen seasons he maintained a career batting average of .340, and he still holds the record for the most career grand slams (23). On the day of his emotional retirement ceremony in 1939, the Yankees retired his number 4, the first such retirement in baseball.
1953: New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay become the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest, 29,029 feet above sea level.
1953: In Westminster Abbey, the 27-year-old Elizabeth II is crowned* Defender of the Faith and Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories & Head of the Commonwealth. This is the 70th-anniversary in the Auld Sod this weekend–Elizabeth’s reign as sovereign began at the death of her father, 6th of February, 1952, a year prior to this coronation.
1965: Launch of Gemini 4, NASA’s first multi-day (4) mission, and the first extravehicular activity by an American astronaut.
1966: NASA’s lunar probe Surveyor 1 makes a controlled descent to a soft landing on the Moon. The spacecraft broadcast live television from the surface, albeit at an exceptionally slow data rate. During its active life it transmitted over 10,000 images from Moon’s surface, finally going dormant at the beginning of its second lunar sunset on 14th July, 1966.
1967: After two years of PLO attacks and a continuing buildup of conventional forces along Israel’s border, King Hussein of Jordan and Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt sign a joint defense agreement.
1971: Death of Audie Murphy (b.1924), the most decorated U.S. soldier in history. Awards include: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star (2), Legion of Merit, Bronze Star (2), Purple Heart (3), French Legion of Honor, French Croix de Guerre (2), Belgian Croix de guerre (2). At 5’5” and 110 pounds, he was rejected for service by the Navy and Marines. The Army initially slated him for cooking school, but he insisted on going into the infantry.
1980: John Paul II makes the first papal visit to France since 1814.
1982: British forces on the Falklands “yomp” their way across the island to defeat Argentine defenders in the Battle of Goose Green.
1986: After six weeks of student protests that grew increasingly assertive against the government, China’s communist leadership orders the Peoples Liberation Army to enter Tienanmen Square to decisively break up the demonstrations. Two days of violence result in the deaths of thousands and trigger virtually universal condemnation by governments around the world. The iconic image from the final days of the protests was taken on the 5th as the PLA was completing its encirclement and occupation of the square. The unidentified Tank Man intentionally stopped in front of the column of tanks, climbed up onto the lead machine and spoke to the driver. He then climbed down and defiantly remained in place until hustled away by police. He was never seen or heard from again. His identity remains unknown.
1987: 19-year-old German pilot Mathias Rust flies a Cessna 172 unscathed through hundreds of miles of Soviet air defenses and lands the machine in Moscow’s Red Square.